Back to the many unread Margaret Millar books on my shelves, and this time it’s Vanish In An Instant with its almost comical cover which belies this depressing, suffocating moody of tale of deception, greed, and murder.
The book opens at the Detroit airport with the arrival of the fussy, not-very-pleasant Mrs. Hamilton and her companion, a young girl called Alice. Mrs Hamilton has flown in from sunny California to the snow and grime of Detroit–the weather sets the tone for the entirety of the novel. Mrs Hamilton is here on a mission to ‘save’ her spoiled daughter, Virginia Barkley, who has been accused of stabbing local lothario, Claude Margolis. While Mrs Hamilton expects to be met at the airport by her son-in-law, Dr Paul Barkeley, instead she’s greeted by Virginia’s newly-hired lawyer, Eric Meecham.
The sidewalk was dirty with slush and on the road the cars swished by with the splatters of mud. Even the wind was dirty. Somewhere, in the north of Canada, it had started out fresh, but it had picked up dirt on its journey, smoke and dust and particles of soot.
Mrs Hamilton is an unpleasant woman. She’s not interested in what happened to Claude Margolis or even why Virginia is accused of his murder. She’s the type who throws money at problems, and expects them to be fixed … pronto.
At first this seems to be an open-and-shut case with Virginia as the perp, but then a young man named Earl Loftus pops up at the police station and confesses to the crime. Everything seems to be very neatly sewn up: there’s a nice little confession and bloodstained clothes at the back of Earl’s wardrobe. Loftus didn’t know the victim but he has a plausible enough motive story to carry him all the way to the electric chair
Virginia is released, Loftus has confessed, and yet Meecham isn’t happy… he knows he’s missing something. Loftus, a sad, defeated man, has nothing to lose; he’s dying of Leukemia, and Meecham, driven by curiosity and a request from Loftus, starts digging below the fetid surface of this murder case.
In this moody tale, Meecham is drawn into the toxic worlds that surround Virginia and Loftus. The humiliations of poverty compounded by disease ensnare Loftus and almost make him welcome death, and even one hardened character grasps the poignancy of Loftus’s small, sad life. In contrast there’s Virginia who’d happily rip off her mother by bumping up Meecham’s fee–just as long as she gets a slice of the action. Most of the people who inhabit these two seemingly disparate worlds, the rich and the poor, are unpleasant, and Meecham’s probing peels back layers of disturbing domestic lives. What is it about these characters that leaves Meecham feeling slightly unclean as though contact brings a cloying moral stain?
Although I didn’t care for the implausible love story, there are some great lines here which added a lot to the tale:
Lawyers come high. The more crooked they are, the bigger their price. That’s how they stay out of the booby hatch, by rubbing the lesions on their conscience with greenbacks.
And here’s Jacqui’s review
And Marina’s review