Ron Galloway is a wealthy Canadian businessman who plans a weekend getaway at his lodge with friends but never arrives. The friends – Ralph, Harry, Joe and Bill – eventually raise the alarm about Ron’s absence but it is some time before he is found. In the interim secrets held by various people in the small circle of friends are slowly revealed.
As is often the case with my Crimes of the Century reading Margaret Millar is a new author for me and I had virtually no expectations at the outset which is a delightful way to start any reading experience. I don’t know if the book is representative of her work or not but AN AIR THAT KILLS (published in the UK as THE SOFT TALKERS which actually has more meaning than I can ascribe to the original title) is a combination of psychological study and what today would be called domestic suspense. For about the first half of the book I was totally engrossed but did find my interest waning and my annoyance at the depiction of women growing somewhere around the half way point.
There’s never really much doubt that something is up with Ron even before he disappears as there’s a bit of portentous foreshadowing at the outset but the suspense comes from not knowing whether he has disappeared or even died of his own accord. Or had some help. There are plenty of candidates for the latter scenario including Esther, his second wife who is concerned he may be having an affair (just as he did with her when married to his first wife). I found it almost impossible to develop an image of Ron Galloway but Esther is very vivid thanks to her introduction which I share here as a nod to my blogging friend over at Clothes in Books
He was packing a duffel bag when his wife Esther came into his bedroom. She was going out for dinner and she had on a new pink taffeta dress trimmed with seed pearls and topped by a white mink stole.
The woman she accuses him of having an affair with is Thelma, the wife of his best friend Harry Bream. So there’s two more candidates. Then there’s his ex-wife Dorothy who claims to be a bed-ridden invalid and has cut of all contact with him since their divorce who receives a mysterious phone call on the evening of Ron’s disappearance. Or perhaps one of Ron’s other friends has a reason we don’t know of yet…Even when we start to learn that some of the people in Ron’s circle are not what they seem Millar manages to keep the reader guessing.
The book does a great job of introducing all the players and making the reader suspect them all. It does however get bogged down in details or irrelevancies a few times though I can’t cite examples without giving away more of the plot than is my want. The thing that bugged me more though was the depiction of women. It’s 1957 so I would have liked to see a female writer thinking a little more of her gender than them being universally obsessed with getting their man and/or having a baby. Of course it’s reasonable that a character be so obsessed, it just would have been nice if not every female character was depicted that way or pitied for their unmarried/childless state.
Overall then I liked but did not love AN AIR THAT KILLS. Millar’s writing and plotting is very clever, with the dialogue in particular hitting all the right notes. The character study element of the book is less evenly successful, at least for me, though the depiction of a group of friends slowly splintering apart is a good one even if some of the individual depictions are less compelling. I certainly enjoyed the book enough to seek out more examples of Millar’s work.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator George Newbern
Publisher This edition Audible Inc 2012, Original edition 1957
Length 6 hours 25 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone