Originally published 1962, this edition International Polygonics, Ltd, 1982
Source: I bought my copy of the book.
How Like an Angel is a spectacular book: the plotting is great, the characters are incredibly memorable, and I was totally surprised by the resolution. It’s one of the most memorable books I’ve read, and I think it’s even better than the only other Millar I’ve read, Beast in View.
The protagonist is Joe Quinn, a PI with a gambling problem who ran out of money in Reno, gets a ride to southern California, and visits a religious cult called the Tower after being dropped off in the mountains. Millar is great at capturing the desolate scenery, though I have to admit that I am not one for descriptions of local trees. Quinn spends the night at the compound, leaves for another small town after being hired by Sister Blessing, a member of the Tower, to find out the whereabouts of a Patrick O’Gorman of Chicote, a relatively nearby oil town. It’s a missing persons case that’s about five years old, and Quinn travels between Chicote and the Tower in a pretty confounding investigation.
Millar creates vivid characters, and their dialogues are witty and actually interesting. That’s quite a feat, given that I tend to lose my train of thought during some interview scenes in mysteries. Millar doesn’t mock the members of the Tower, which was refreshing as well. The mystery stayed pretty mysterious for me, and I felt that something was off about quite a few characters without being able to come up with a theory of the case.
While in some ways the books seems like a book of its time (there’s a reference to crazy tailfins on cars, it doesn’t seem to be a world that’s seen the dawn of the women’s movement), in another way it’s contemporary in its criticisms of the prison industrial complex. Most importantly, it doesn’t feel like a contemporary book because it’s not gruesome in its depiction of crimes nor is it structured the same way. Much like when I read A Fatal Inversion earlier this summer, I finished How Like an Angel and thought to myself how incredibly structured it was. And the title is quite a bitter take on people. I’ll stop now: this is a great book, and there’s much more I could say. Just read Millar.