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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

Vanish In an Instant

cover image By: Millar, Margaret (female)
Publisher: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. (730)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 679: PS3563 .I48 V36 1952
Contributor: T. McElroy


Era: 1950s Author as on Cover: Margaret Millar Geographic Locale: Arbana, Michigan Date of Publication: 1952  |  Original Date: 1952 Setting: suburban; small town forty miles west of Detroit Motives: adultery, terminal illness, money

Plot Summary

When Virginia Hamilton Barkeley is found wandering along the highway, drunk and covered in blood, the police are led to a gruesome discovery. Claude Margolis is found dead of stab wounds to the neck. Though Virginia is the prime suspect, a most unlikely murderer soon steps forward, and Eric Meecham, Virginia's lawyer, is left wondering what really happened. His investigation of the crime and all persons involved results in an unexpected romance along with many twists and turns before the identity of the actual murderer is revealed.

Major Characters

Virginia Hamilton Barkeley adult female, 26 years old, long dark hair, very pale, housewife

Mrs. Hamilton adult female, middle-aged, plump, brown hair turning gray, head too large for her body, small-boned, brisk and vigorous nature

Alice Dwyer adult female, fresh-faced, girl-next-door looks, blonde hair, hired companion

Eric Meecham adult male, mid-30s, tall, well-dressed, slightly poor posture, lawyer

Claude Margolis adult male, 42 years old, tall, sleek, dark hair, contractor

Earl Duane Loftus adult male, short, young/old face, swollen misshapen body, sickly-looking, accountant

Clara Loftus adult female, elderly, small, very thin

Jim Hearst adult male, ruddy complexion, fair hair, pale eyes, body running to fat, sales representative

Emmy Hearst a.k.a. Jemima Falconer, "Birdie" Loftus, adult female, tall, slender, red (henna) hair, square forcible jaw, gentle mouth, boarding house owner, homemaker



Level of Violence

one victim is stabbed five times in the neck; there is a description of a lot of blood, but the actual scene is implied. There is one suicide by hanging; most of the details are implied.


sexuality is secondary to the plot. Adultery is discussed briefly and later referred to without detail. Although the lawyer and Alice Dwyer become romantically linked, sexuality is not explicit.

Gender Roles

traditional; gender is not important to the plot


one character refers to her husband as a "Wop" during an argument

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

the accused (Virginia Barkeley) drank to the point of loss of memory. Clara Loftus is an alcoholic, drunk in every scene in which she is involved.

Law Enforcement

the local sheriff is a minor character in the first one-third of the novel.

Added Features

class distinctions seem to impact the behavior of the characters. Mrs. Hamilton assumes that the lawyer is not capable because he practices in a small town, and she regards her companion as "hired help." Jim Hearst wants to be successful, but feels insecure because he isn't. Mrs. Clara Loftus lives in the past, thinking of when she was well off, had a husband, etc.

Subject Headings

Adultery/ Murder/ Michigan/ Law and Lawyers/ Alcohol/ Alcoholism/ Guilt

Psychological Elements

various characters deal with guilt, depression, substance abuse, terminal illness and insecurity.