Today has not been a particularly good day. The hot water tap on my bath stopped working, the washing machine stopped working mid cycle, and the kitchen sink won't drain. The last two are certainly related in some way, but it's not clear if that's because of a blockage further down in the drain pipes or something else to do with the washing machine itself. Either way it's expensive. A plumber has been, fixed the bath tap, poured gunk down the sink (it's not drained away yet), told me to let him know what happens, and taken all my money. I like the plumber, but I'd rather not see him again too soon (I can't bloody afford it) and I'm not confident this will be the case.
At least there are books to cheer me up, and I've finally read Margaret Miller's 'Vanish in an Instant', which is every bit as good as everybody has been saying. I got so excited by this book (a more or less forgotten noir classic, written by a woman, published by Pushkin Vertigo - that's ticking a lot of boxes) that I half expected that it couldn't possibly live up to my expectations and so avoided actually reading it for a bit (which is silly, but not totally unusual).
I don't know much about Margaret Miller beyond that she was married to Ross Macdonald, who also wrote noir, mostly set in Southern California. I read a few of his books around 6-7 years ago when Penguin reissued them as modern classics. My posts on them suggest that I enjoyed them, but they haven't proved particularly memorable - but it's been a while and at least I remembered that I had definitely read him.
It feels like a curious thing to find a husband and wife both writing in the same genre and both being very good at it though. This might happen more often than I realise, but I can't offhand think of any other examples. Maybe it's a good thing I don't remember Macdonald particularly clearly, at least I'm not tempted to try and compare or contrast the two of them.
'Vanish in an Instant' opens in a midwestern airport with a vague sense of unease. Mrs Hamilton and her companion have just arrived, they're not sure if they're being met, we're not sure why they're there, but something is obviously wrong.
The wrong turns out to be that Mrs Hamiltons nicely bought up married daughter has been found wandering through a snow storm, blind drunk, and covered in blood. She's promptly arrested for the murder of Claude Margolis, who she's been running around with, and who's been stabbed multiple times.
Virginia can't remember anything, her husband doesn't know quite what to think, Mrs Hamilton is determined to handle everything, and Meecham, the lawyer hired as her defence is having trouble believing in any of it, more so when a dying man steps forward to say he did it. Is it all going to be that simple?
The answer is no, and the final twist is a clever one, but what really makes this book is the characterisation of the minor players. A caretaker and his wife, a hospital orderly, the alcoholic mother of another character, Mrs Hamilton - they're all more or less peripheral, but the attention they and many others get gives the whole thing a life and atmosphere that gives the book real depth.
Nothing feels simple, or black and white, there's a whole community here of ordinary complex people. Actions all have consequences, and by the end I shared both Meechams cynicism and his occasional compassion as he slowly unravels the truth.