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It’s Margaret Millar week on Forgotten Books this week and my submission is this 1987 Crime Classics edition of the novel originally published in 1944.

You’ve seen this before. A group of people stuck in an isolated spot and they start dying. An assorted group: a young couple run off to get married, she not quite cut Mother’s apron strings. A middle-aged married couple, she not at all happy about the ski trip, let alone being stranded. A poet and his benefactor, a rich woman used to waving money around and getting what she wanted. A father and his college daughter, she with just enough education to be sure of her pronouncements on human behavior. And two singles: Isobel Seton, a thirtyish woman and Charles Crawford, a middle-aged man who on in the book cheerfully admits Crawford isn’t his real name and Isobel has already noticed a clink when he bumps the bus that tells her he probably has a gun in his pocket.

Here’s the set-up:

This group of folks are on a bus headed toward a ski lodge up in the Canadian Mountains. The bus breaks down, in this case one of the snow chains snaps. The driver gets off to fix it and it takes fifteen minutes before anyone notices he’s disappeared. One passenger tries to crank the bus and the engine is dead.

They get off to follow the footprints while they are still visible. A blizzard has started up. The trail leads to an old mansion and two shots are fired over their heads before Charles Crawford waves and hollers.

There appears to be only two people and a cat in the three story mansion. Miss Frances Rudd and her nurse, a competent looking woman named Floraine. Miss Rudd, called imaginative by Floraine, nutty by the others in short orde,r is the owner of the house. Her family doesn’t want her institutionalized.

Floraine doesn’t want them in the house. “There’s no food and not much fuel to heat the house. You will have to leave in the morning.” She claims to know nothing of the bus driver.

The third floor has been closed for years, the locks and doorknob are rusty, the seams around the door puttied shut. Bedrooms are on the second floor. The power goes out, “the diesel generator acts up often.”

As things quiet down for the night, Isobel Seton takes the opportunity to borrow a flashlight and look around. Contrary to what the nurse said, she finds plenty of food and a bin loaded with coal.

And she finds something else.

A jacket and hat, the bus driver’s name on the jacket, the bus line emblem on the hat.

The next thing is a scream from one of the passengers. She’d found the cat on her bed, it’s throat cut. They’d heard an earlier argument between Miss Rudd and Floraine about a pair of scissors. Miss Rudd is locked in her room.

The crowning end to the night is a scream that wakes the house and Floraine turns up missing. The house is searched and she can’t be found.

Margaret keeps the reader guessing and throws in a number of twists that keep one off-balance. Those twist go all the way to the end . This was my first exposure to Millar’s writing. Hopefully more will follow now that I’ve got a taste.

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