Monday, September 10, 2012

A Stranger in My Grave: Review

We've all had those time when we're searching for something keys, our glasses, etc.  But have you ever gone looking for a day?  That's what Daisy Harker is doing in Margaret Millar's A Stranger in My Grave.  Well.  Not literally, of course.  But Daisy has had a dream, a very disturbing dream.  She dreams that she has died and she is faced with her tombstone. The date of death reads December 2, 1955--four years before the present day.  The dream is so vivid and haunting that she almost feels like it (or something equally traumatic) has really happened  When she tells her dream to her mother and her husband, they both tell her she's overreacting.  That's it's just a dream.  Nothing to worry about.

Daisy is determined to find out if anything really did happen four years ago and she hires private detective Steve Pinata to help her reconstruct December 2, 1955.  At first, he thinks she's just a bored little housewife with too much time on her hands.  And maybe just a little bit crazy.  But the deeper they dig the more apparent it becomes that something really did happen...and it was traumatic enough that Daisy has forgotten it.  Her estranged father keeps appearing and disappearing.  There's a young woman named Juanita whose name keeps popping up.  And Daisy's mother and husband both seem to be keeping things from her. They say they're protecting her or keeping her from worrying about things she needn't.  But she's not so sure. Whom can she trust?  And who will tell her the truth?

I hate to disagree with my friends John (Pretty Sinister Books) and Sergio (Tipping My Fedora), but this one just wasn't quite the knock-it-out-of-the-park that I expected.  It was very good, but my favorite is still Beast in View.  Millar, as usual, does a really good job building the suspense and keeping us guessing about what's really going on--and pulls a rather nifty twist at the end just keep us thoroughly off-balance.  I didn't plug into the themes of "childlessness, orphans, and parenting styles" the way John did when he read this one earlier this year. But I did get a lot of oppressive, smothering vibes from Daisy's mother (and to some extent her husband).  Going on about how close she and Daisy always were and "why won't you talk to me now, Daisy?"  Wanting to know everything about why Daisy feels the way she does and, yet, trying to keep Daisy from knowing anything that might explain the feelings.  Keeping important knowledge about her father from her as well as important information about her childless state. 

The suspense builds steadily throughout the book and it's a credit to Millar's skill that she can keep the tension at such a high pitch without feeling the need to break it with unnecessary humor.  And she deftly uses the prejudices of the time period to help set up the grand finale.  A book about relationships and deceit that makes the reader wonder how well we really know those we think we know the best.  Three and a half stars.

My ex-wife was always telling me I had no ego, in a reproachful way, as if an ego was something like a hat or a pair of gloves which I'd carelessly lost or misplaced. [Mr. Fielding; p. 39]

I didn't lose the day. It's not lost. It's still around someplace, here or there, wherever used days and old years go. They don't simply vanish into nothing They're still available--hiding, yes, but not lost. [Daisy Harker; p. 49]

Pinata looked surprised and somewhat annoyed, as if a pet parrot, which he had taught to speak a few simple phrases, had suddenly started explaining the techniques of nuclear fission. [p. 50]

When we don't know what's important, anything can be. [Stevens Pinata, p. 76]

DH: Camilla, it's a very pretty name. What does it mean, a camellia?
SP: No, it means a stretcher, a little bed.
DH: Oh. It doesn't sound so pretty when you know what it means.
SP: That's true of a lot of things.
[Daisy Harker; Stevens Pinata; p. 87]

People, alas, are more impressed by statistics than they are by ideas. [Charles Alston, p. 132]


Jennifer said...

Bev, it's great to visit your blog again! I've been out of the blogging loop for so long, I'm trying to stop by and reconnect with my favorite bloggers. <3

Fay said...

Millar just came to my attention recently, and I think I will try Beast in View. It sounds like one of those classics that should not be missed.

Yvette said...

I definitely have to get myself some Margaret Millar books. Believe it or not, Bev, I've NEVER read her. That I remember, anyway.

This hasn't been a great year for books - at least for me. I've slowed my reading pace down to molasses pace and I doubt I'll even make sit to a hundred books red this year. VERY unusual for me.

But, maybe next year I'll do better.

In comparison to you, Bev, I sometimes feel like a non-reader. :)

Bev Hankins said...

My pace is down this year too. I deliberately lowered my Goodreads Challenge number...and a good thing that was...but I still have way too many books sitting in challenge TBR stacks and mocking me.