The Dark Tunnel, by Kenneth Millar in 1944, was the writer’s first novel. It concerns a Nazi spy plot at a major American university at the height of World War II.
|Publisher||Dodd, Mead & Company|
|Publication Date (initial)||September 12, 1944|
Dr. Robert Branch is an English professor at a large Midwestern University who serves on the university’s War Board, along with his best friend, Alec Judd, who heads the board. Judd confides to Branch that he suspects one of the Board members, Dr. Herman Schneider (a refugee who fled Germany in 1935) to be a Nazi spy, along with Schneider’s son, Peter. Branch learns from Schneider that an old girlfriend, Ruth Von Esch (who Branch had met in Germany in 1937) has left Germany and is moving to Arbana (a stand-in for Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Millar was studying for his doctoral degree). Miss Von Esch also is soon suspected to be a spy, as well as a lover of Peter. An alleged suicide, two attempts on Branch’s own life and a murder for which Branch is framed, set up a series of violent acts and frightening chases that encompass Arbana, Detroit and even Canada.
The New York Times briefly reviewed The Dark Tunnel on October 1, 1944 in its Crime Corner section. After a short summary of the plot, it concludes with
The net result is the discovery of a cleverly contrived Nazi plot and the apprehension of the active participants in it. It is a thrilling story told with consummate skill.
It also notes the selling price of $2.
The Boston Globe said that The Dark Tunnel was “breath-taking,” while New Republic called it a “humdinger.”
At the time he wrote The Dark Tunnel, Kenneth Millar was married with a five-year old daughter, Linda, and studying for his doctorate in English Literature, which would be granted in 1951. Even though Millar was deeply involved in his studies, he also wanted to write thrillers and detective fiction, as his wife, Margaret Millar, was currently doing. In fact, her first novel, The Invisible Worm, had been published in 1941. Ken Millar stole away a few hours in the evenings, while working on his dissertation, to write The Dark Tunnel.
Readers with digital access subscriptions to The New York Times might find the digitized edition of the Sunday newspaper that the review of The Dark Tunnel appears in quite interesting. I mention this in the context of the plot and themes of The Dark Tunnel. The war was being fought as Millar wrote this book and as it was first read. In browsing through this edition of The New York Times, not only were there stories from the front, but engagement and marriage announcements (most of which featured young men serving in the armed forces) and advertisements for products that weren’t rationed (including rope sandals and someone offering horse-drawn carriages because of gas rationing). The war was everywhere and affected everyone.
The front page of The News of the Week in Review section features this map of the European campaign:
Additional Publication Information
The information is here is accurate to the best knowledge of the site’s author, but should not be presumed to be definitive.
|1944||Dodd, Mead||1st edition, 2nd printing|
|1944||The Toronto Star Weekly||Abridged version published on November 3|
|1950||Lion Books||2nd edition, 1st printing|
|1955||Lion Books||3rd edition, 1st printing
(as I Die Slowly)
|1972||Bantam||4th edition, 1st printing|
|1973||Bantam/Corgi Press (UK)||4th edition, 2nd printing|
|1980||Gregg Press||2nd edition, 2nd printing. Includes prologue by Bill Pronzini|
|2013||The Mysterious Press/Open Road||Includes prologue by Bill Pronzini.|
|Original Dodd, Mead 1st edition|
|Lion Books, 1950|
|Lion Books, 1955, published as I Die Slowly|
|Bantam, year unknown|
|Mysterious Press, 2013|