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Helen McCloy Locked Room Titles


mccloyHelen McCloy (1904 – 1994), was a pseudonym of Helen Clarkson, an American mystery writer, whose series character Dr. Basil Willing debuted in ‘Dance of Death’ (1938). Willing believes, that “every criminal leaves psychic fingerprints, and he can’t wear gloves to hide them.” He appeared in 13 of McCloy’s novels and in several of her short stories. McCloy often used the theme of the doppelganger, but in the end of the story she showed a psychological or realistic explanation for the seemingly supernatural events.

Helen McCloy was born in New York City. Her mother was the writer Helen Worrell McCloy, and her father, William McCloy, was the longtime managing editor of the New York Evening Sun. In the 1950s and 1960s, McCloy was a co-author of a review column for Connecticut newspapers. and in 1950, she became the first woman to serve as president of Mystery Writers of America. In 1954 she also received an Edgar award from the same organization for her criticism.

Having read Sherlock Holmes as a young girl, McCloy retained an interest in mysteries and began to write them in the 1930s. Her first novel, ‘Dance of Death’, was published in 1938. It was followed by several other mystery publications in the 1940s. Cue for Murder (1942) was a story of murder onstage during a Broadway revival of Sardou’s ‘Fédora’. ‘The One That Got Away’ (1945) explored the psychology of Fascism, postulating that it is rooted in woman hatred, and rejection of a mother’s tender care of her children. A non-Willing mystery, ‘Panic’ (1944), was set in a remote cottage in the Catskills and was notable for its use of cryptoanalysis.

In Mr. Splitfoot (1968), Dr. Basil Willing and his wife take shelter at a remote house in New England, where someone must sleep in a haunted room. The title refers to the Devil, but Mr Splitfoot is also a symbol for the two sides of our nature, as Willing points out. In 1987, the critic and mystery writer H.R.F. Keating included this work among the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published.

Another masterpiece is the eighth Basil Willing novel, ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ (1950), a supernatural puzzle in the tradition of John Dickson Carr. “If you want to scare yourself still in bed, it’s just the thing for you,” the English writer Pamela Hansford Johnson said of the book. Boucher and McComas praised the novel as “an eerie study of the phenomenon of the Doppelganger, . . . handled with such disquieting ambivalence that the ‘rational’ solution seems only an instance of man’s folly in the face of the unknowable.”

(Edited from: Wikipedia: Helen McCloy)

‘Through The Glass Darkly’ (also a short story), was rated #12 on Hoch’s famous 1981 list, and ‘Mr Splitfoot’ was also in the running. These are clearly McCloy’s most important contributions to the locked room genre, though six other works also deserve our attention.

Mike Grost on Helen McCloy 

“Helen McCloy also has affinities with the Freeman-Crofts tradition. Her psychiatrist-detective Dr. Basil Willing is in the Dr. Thorndyke tradition. There is a great deal of science of all types in McCloy’s tales. Dr. Willing is especially interested in human sensory perception, the mechanisms by which people see, hear and feel. These often play crucial roles in the stories. Although the designation of Willing as a psychiatrist might lead one to assume that Willing is a specialist in Freudian psychoanalysis, in actual fact he seems most interested in perception and thinking, what today we would call “cognitive psychology”. There are also scientific backgrounds to many of the tales, such as the lab and truth serum in The Deadly Truth (1941), and the UFO investigation in “The Singing Diamonds” (1949).”

More on Helen McCloy


See all Helen McCloy titles at GoodMystery.com


Helen McCloy Locked Room Novels


Dance DeathDesign for Dying (1938)
AKA: Dance of Death
Dr. Basil Willings

Best Review
****

Available only in ebook – and rare paperback and hardcover editions.

eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: Death by heatstroke in a snowbank?

“The novel opens with a scene featuring sanitation workers who are clearing the streets after a snowstorm. One of them uncovers the body of a young debutante buried in a snow heap. At first it seems as if the novel is going to be yet another treatment of the impossible crime – the body is extremely warm and the face is stained a bright yellow two things that seem incredible after being buried in snow.” (quote from Pretty Sinister Books – see Best Review)

When a prominent New York socialite is murdered by means of an impossible overdose of sliming medication, it takes Dr Basil Willing, a psychiatrist attached to the police department, to solve the case. But more mysterious accidents start occurring during his investigation, and Willing must look deeper to uncover the motive and prevent the murderer from striking again.

More on ‘Dance of Death’


One Got AwayThe One That Got Away (1945)
Dr. Basil Willings

 

Best Review
***

Available only in ebook – and rare paperback and hardcover editions.

eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: Technically a locked room puzzle – but not for long!

A castle, a deserted village, and murder in the Scottish Highlands. When child psychologist and US Naval Intelligence officer Lieutenant Peter Dunbar takes on a secret mission in the Scottish Highlands at the end of World War II, he finds himself drawn into the lives of a troubled boy and his beautiful young cousin. But why does Johnny Stockton refuse to explain why he keeps running away from his comfortable home? And how might the answer be entangled with the mystery of an escaped German prisoner and a dying man’s message? 

Not included in Robert Adey’s Locked Room bibliography, but included in “1001 Chambers Close’ by Roland Lacourbe. The problem appears to be quite simple, as Mike Grost notes in his background comments on on this book: “The second murder at first looks like a locked room puzzle: strictly speaking, a locked house. But soon, the sleuths discover that they have simply overlooked an exit from the house.” Mike Grost Comments

More on ‘The One That got Away’


Glass DarklyThrough a Glass, Darkly (1950)
Dr. Basil Willings

 

Locked Room Review
****

Note:  Number 12 on Hoch’s all time best locked room list!

Available in ebook, some used paperback editions available at a reasonable cost.

Book  eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: One of the spookiest locked room classics!

Gisela von Hohenems joins the teaching staff of an exclusive girls’ school in upstate New York, where she befriends fellow newcomer Faustina Coyle. But a climate of fear surrounds Faustina, and after several strange incidents that defy rational explanation, Faustina is forced to resign. Gisela asks her fiance, detective-psychologist Dr Basil Willing, to investigate these occurrences in this highly acclaimed Locked Room mystery, that was ranked #12 on Edward D. Hoch’s famous 1981 list of all time best Locked Room mysteries.

The central theme of this work focuses on the concept of a ‘doppleganger’, a ghostly double of a living person. This story exists in two different versions: a short story “Through a Glass, Darkly” (1948), and the novel of the same name, ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ (1949 – 1950). Both versions are quite close in terms of plot and character. 

More on: Through a Glass, Darkly


Slayer SlainThe Slayer and The Slain (1957)
Non-Series

 

Best Review
****

Available only in ebook – and rare paperback and hardcover editions.

eBook   Amazon.ca  

Note: Spoiler alert below! A missing locked room classic!

Gadetection refers to this as “McCloy’s masterpiece an admirable (and in my knowledge, unique) piece of bamboozlement with an unforgettable last line. Not to be missed.”  Comment The Slayer and the Slain (1957) primarily deals with the psychological effects of amnesia. Harry Vaughan’s uncle has just passed away, providing the young man with a sizeable fortune. He leaves his  job, and returns to the woman he loves. But nothing happens as planned. Harry falls on some icy steps and loses part of his memory. He later feels himself ten years older, suffers from headaches, meets people who know him but he doesn’t remember. “The book ends in a locked-room mystery: Harry is shot dead in a room where all the doors and windows are locked.” Gadetection: McCloy In our ‘Best Review’ it is also referred to as an apparent impossible crime – yet this book is not listed in either of the major locked room bibliographies. This one was clearly missed!

More on: The Slayer and Slain


Side of FearThe Further Side of Fear (1967)
Inspector Devlin

 

Best Review
****

Available only in ebook – and rare paperback and hardcover editions.

eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: McCloy’s first true locked room mystery?

Lydia Grey, an American returning to London after many years, is woken by footsteps in the night. There is someone in her room – of that she is sure. But that is also impossible. There is only one door and it is bolted shut. The windows are eight floors up, and are locked against the winter night. As the noise recedes she switches on her bedside lamp. No one is there. Was it a dream? An illusion of a half-awakened state? Or is someone out to get her?

Mike Grost in his review on ‘The One That Got Away’, remarks: “It will apparently not be till ‘The Further Side of Fear’ (1967) that McCloy will create a true locked room puzzle.” (Grost Review) Quite an amazing statement for a book published seventeen years after ‘Through a Glass Darkly” – which is #12 on Hoch’s famous list of all time best Locked Room mysteries! Grost also correctly notes that the late 1960’s was “an atypical era in mystery history for a writer to develop an interest in locked room puzzles”.


SplitfootMr. Splitfoot(1968)
Dr. Basil Willings

 

Best Review
*****

Available only in ebook – and rare paperback and hardcover editions.

eBook  Amazon.ca

Note: Laying a trap for The Devil

To wake the devil, Lucinda summoned the arch fiend with the ancient invocation, and from the secret room where her friend Vanya had agreed to hide came the eerie response. The rapping called up all the terror of the old tales, and the joke was going marvellously. Until Lucinda realised that Vanya had never arrived at the old house!

Mr Splitfoot is a name given to the Devil in the mountainous regions of New England, where Dr. Willing and his wife find shelter when their car breaks down. There is a shortage of lodgings so three men draw a card to decide who will spend the night in a long unused room where three people mysteriously died, that has been considered ‘haunted’ ever since. The story balances on that elusive line between between rational thought and superstition. They lay a trap for a ghostly devil – all the while proclaiming that “there are no ghosts, except in the minds of the living” – then must explain the macabre results of their experiment.

More on ‘Mr. Splitfoot’ (Mike Grost notes)


question timeA Question of Time (1971)
Alfred Neroni

 

Best Review
****

Available only in ebook, some used paperback editions available at a reasonable cost.

eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: Scared to death?

They told Lisa she was the daughter of an American aristocrat and an Italian princess both of whom died shortly after Lisa’s birth. They told Lisa she was heiress to a vast Boston fortune, and that her American family cherished her and wanted her to stay with them.

At first Lisa tried to believe it all. Then she tried to separate the truth from the lies. Finally, she would know one thing for sure. Somebody or something was out to destroy her!

“The stillness in the old ballroom was torn apart by a scream. Sophronia ran down the hall to her grandchild Lisa. ‘Why did you scream?’ ‘Because I have been here before. All this has happened before.” Is it really possible to die of ‘deja vu’ inside a locked ballroom? Mike Grost correctly notes that this is more of a paranormal thriller than a true locked room mystery – at least until near the end!

More on ‘A Question of Time’ (Mike Grost Notes)


Helen McCloy Locked Room Short Stories


Singing DiamondThrough A Glass Darkly (1948)
Dr. Basil Willings
Collection: The Singing Diamond & Other Stories

Available only in ebook – and rare hardcover editions.

eBook   Amazon.ca 

Note: A short version of the novel of the same name.

For a full discussion of this story see the novel ‘Through A Glass, Darkly’ listed above.


Singing DiamondThe Singing Diamonds (1951)
AKA:Surprise, Surprise! (1965)
Dr. Basil Willings
 Collection: The Singing Diamond & Other Stories

Best Review
****

Available only in ebook – and rare hardcover editions.

eBook   Amazon.ca

Note: Alien killers?

In ‘The Singing Diamonds’ – Mathilde Verworn enlists the help of Basil Willing, a psychiatrist-sleuth, to answer the question of whether there is such a thing as collective hallucination. Six people from six different locations testify to seeing diamond-shaped objects in the sky, and four of those six have died in peculiar circumstances in the past twelve days!   

As was common in this post Bond era – everything revolves arounds spies. Deals with US-Russian Cold War rivalry, Naval Intelligence, and the concept of psychological textual analysis. Not listed in Robert Adey’s bibliography, but listed by Roland Lacourbe. Lacourbe has a point, what appear to be impossible deaths caused by aliens – prove to have a more logical criminal origin. Not a true locked room – but clearly an impossible crime story!


See all Helen McCloy titles at GoodMystery.com


Helen McCloy Bibliography


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