Margaret Millar (1915-1994) had a nearly fifty-year career as a writer primarily of crime and suspense stories. She published her first novel in 1941 but did not hit her stride until The Cannibal Heart (1949). Seven more books followed in the 1950s, her most productive period. In all, Millar published twenty-five novels. She moved to California during World War II and lived in Santa Barbara until her death. Although her books have sold more than a million copies, she’s probably best known today as the wife of Kenneth Millar, whose famous series of detective stories appeared under the pseudonym Ross Macdonald.
Do Evil in Return by Margaret Millar. Random House (1950), 243 pp.
Charlotte Keating is a thirtyish physician with an independent practice in Salinda, a California coastal city much like Santa Barbara. Just as she's leaving the office one afternoon, Violet O'Gorman, young and pregnant, arrives seeking a (then illegal) abortion. Charlotte refuses but begins to have second thoughts after Violet leaves. She later discusses the incident with Lewis Ballard, a married lawyer with whom she's having a platonic affair. Charlotte then goes in search of the young woman only to learn that she may have been abducted. When Charlotte returns home, she's knocked unconscious and her purse is stolen. As other untoward events occur, Charlotte determines to figure out what’s going on.
Charlotte is a protagonist any feminist could love. She’s smart, well-educated, and independent. Granted, her love life is unsatisfying -- and peculiarly sexless, even for 1950. Fortunately, an attractive police detective will arrive to vie for her attention. The story has some implausible moments. A whirlwind trip to Violet’s home town in Oregon seems unnecessary, for example, and a minor character dies for no clear purpose. Unlikely or not, these and other incidents keep the action moving. Ultimately, the author turns out to be as interested in Lewis’s unhappy marriage as she is in Violet’s unwanted pregnancy. Millar has produced an entertaining book that could have a wide audience today among women who enjoy crime fiction.