And so Helen turns to her lawyer, Paul Blackshear, who makes it his mission to track down Evelyn. But things aren’t quite as simple as that might sound. Half of the people who know Evelyn describe her as an insane girl who will destroy herself one of these days. The other half is shocked at the first half, and describe Evelyn as a saint who would do anything for a friend and whose kindness knows no limits. What is the secret behind the enigmatic Evelyn Merrick?
Oddly enough… no! I was absolutely amazed at how Margaret Millar manages to pull off such an unconventional ending while playing perfectly fair with her readers. She never directly lies to us, you see. The only deceptions that are played out are those legitimately played out on the investigator, Paul Blackshear. And when the ending comes, you can really see why people back in 1956 were so astounded by it. It is one of Margaret Millar’s trickiest bits of misdirection, and even if you know the ending you can admire her for inventing the ending in the first place, and then for the clever misdirection with which people were fooled back when this twist was new.
But that’s not all. I was also genuinely shocked to see the topic of homosexuality discussed quite openly in the book. To be fair, the words “homosexual”, “gay”, and “lesbian” are never used (although the derogative term “fairy” is used once), but it’s quite clear that these things are going on. At one point, a lesbian makes a pass at another woman. Before she does so, another woman leaves the room sneering that she prefers the “normal ones”. The lesbian, Bella, runs an indecent abode, is overweight, ugly, and generally repulsive. She only appears for a handful of pages. Yet Margaret Millar manages to somehow turn her into a compelling character. Bella admits that the world has been cruel to her, and so to cope she began to eat, and eat, and eat, until she became the woman that we see in the present day. Although we see all the ugly things about Bella, this painful monologue shows that there is far more to her than meets the eye. There’s another homosexual character who is very important to the story, but describing this person and his backstory would give major spoilers for something that happens well into the book. (While Bella appears near the end of the book, her inclusion is only minor and I have used it to demonstrate just how talented Millar was at writing characters.)
All this proves yet again that gosh darn it all, Margaret Millar could write, and her work really has been unfairly forgotten. The characters in this story are among the most memorable you will come across in any novel ever written. The atmosphere of menace and dread in this story are absolutely top-notch, and it really tackles some risqué subject matter for the 1950s. The ending, although original at the time, has unfortunately become cliché since then through overuse, but that doesn’t take away from its emotional power. But even if you know the ending, like I did, you will undoubtedly find much to admire in Beast in View. This is another masterpiece from Margaret Millar and has reminded me once again why I love her stuff so much.