Born Margaret Ellis Sturm on February 5, 1915, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada to Henry William Sturm, who served as mayor of Kitchener, and Lavinia Ferrier Sturm. Attended Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute, where she studied music and graduated at the top of her class. First made passing acquaintance with Kenneth Millar, participating on the debate team together and publishing work in the same issue of the KCI Grumbler. Attended the University of Toronto, majoring in classics.
Encountered Kenneth once more in the University library, where she was reading Thucydides in the original Greek, and began dating shortly thereafter. Married Millar in 1938, the day after his graduation from University of Toronto; she did not graduate. Had a daughter, Linda, in 1939. Upon being ordered to rest in bed due to cardiac problems immediately after Linda’s birth, Millar read mysteries for the next two weeks and decided to try her hand at a novel. Published first novel, The Invisible Worm, in 1941 with Doubleday, featuring Paul Prye, a psychiatric detective, who later featured in The Weak-Eyed Bat and The Devil Loves Me (both 1942).
Moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1943 when Kenneth accepted an academic fellowship with the University of Michigan and quit his Toronto teaching job. Published Wall of Eyes (1943), featuring Toronto Police Inspector Sands, and a follow-up, The Iron Gates (1945), as well as a standalone, Fire Will Freeze (1944). Moved with her family to California, where Kenneth enlisted and served as an ensign in the Naval Reserves. Millar found work as a screenwriter, adapting The Iron Gates for Warner Brothers. The screenplay sale enabled Kenneth to quit his job as a teacher upon his return from the navy, and both husband and wife became full-time writers. (He would become celebrated for his Lew Archer novels, published under the pseudonym Ross Macdonald.)
Bought a bungalow in Santa Barbara while Kenneth returned to Ann Arbor to finish his doctorate at the University of Michigan. Millar published three non-mystery novels, Experiment in Springtime (1947), It’s All In the Family (1948), and The Cannibal Heart (1949), some of which were based on her childhood as well as her daughter Linda’s. From then on, with the exception of the novel Wives and Lovers (1954) and the memoir The Birds and the Beasts Were There (1968), Millar published psychological suspense novels, all published by Random House and largely edited by the publisher’s crime fiction editor Lee Wright. Published Do Evil in Return (1950), Rose’s Last Summer (1952), and Vanish in an Instant (1952). Moved to Santa Barbara, California, where Millar would live for the rest of her life. Published Beast In View (1955), winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel the following year.
Linda was involved in a fatal car accident in 1956, killing a thirteen-year-old boy and seriously injuring two others, but was given probation after a trial.
Published An Air That Kills (1957), The Listening Walls (1959), and A Stranger in My Grave (1960), nominated for a Best Novel Edgar Award. Rose’s Last Summer was adapted for Boris Karloff’s Thriller in 1960, and Beast In View was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1964). Published How Like an Angel (1962) and The Fiend (1964), a sympathetic portrait of a pedophile that was nominated for the Edgar Award.
Linda died in her sleep on November 4, 1970, at the age of thirty-one.
Published Beyond This Point Are Monsters (1970), dedicated to John Westwick, who as a young lawyer had represented Linda in the fatal car accident case. After a six-year hiatus, published three mystery novels featuring Hispanic lawyer Tom Aragon: Ask for Me Tomorrow (1976), The Murder of Miranda (1979), and Mermaid (1982). Published Banshee (1983); in the same year, Millar was named Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and Kenneth died of Alzheimer’s Disease. Published Spider Webs (1986).
Beginning the late 1970s Millar suffered from macular degeneration, which destroyed her eyesight except for peripheral vision. Died March 26, 1994, age seventy-nine, in her Santa Barbara Home. The Couple Next Door, a short story collection, was published by Crippen & Landru in 2004.
Books by Margaret Millar
The Invisible Worm (1941)
The Weak-Eyed Bat (1942)
The Devil Loves Me (1942)
Wall of Eyes (1943)
Fire Will Freeze (1944)
The Iron Gates (1945)
Experiment in Springtime (1947)
It’s All In the Family (1948)
The Cannibal Heart (1949)
Do Evil in Return (1950)
Rose’s Last Summer (1952)
Vanish in an Instant (1952)
Wives and Lovers (1954)
Beast In View (1955) (Edgar Award)
An Air That Kills (1957)
The Listening Walls (1959)
A Stranger in My Grave (1960)
How Like an Angel (1962)
The Fiend (1964)
The Birds and the Beasts Were There (1968)
Beyond This Point Are Monsters (1970)
Ask for Me Tomorrow (1976)
The Murder of Miranda (1979)
Spider Webs (1986)
The Couple Next Door (2004)