Friday, 30 October 2020

Dance of Death: A Dr Basil Willing Mystery by Helen McCloy

Dance of Death: A Dr Basil Willing Mystery by Helen McCloy
First published in America by Heinemann in 1938. Republished by Agora Books on the 29th October 2020.

One of my Classics Club Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy via NetGalley courtesy of Crime Classics

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Mrs Jocelyn,” said Basil, evenly, “the most disillusioning thing about being a psychiatrist is discovering how many kind relatives wish that other members of their family could be declared insane.”

When a New York socialite is found dead in a snow bank, no one can believe it is debutante Kitty Jocelyn – let alone that she has died of heatstroke.

How has she ended up here, dead, on the morning after her coming-out party? Why is she wearing someone else’s clothes? What was the cause of her fatal overdose? As the questions around Kitty’s death mount, psychologist Dr Basil Willing is brought in to get the the bottom of her death.

With the help of Inspector Foyle, the pair investigate their long list of suspects, motives, and clues to solve this blistering mystery.

Also published as Design for Dying, McCloy’s first novel in her Dr Basil Willing series is part of Agora Books’ Uncrowned Queens of Crime series.

I'd never heard of Helen McCloy prior to receiving my Crime Classics email newsletter this month which surprised me when looking at how many mystery novels she published during the Golden Age of crime fiction. I really enjoyed reading Dance Of Death, the first in McCloy's Dr Basil Willing series. The mystery itself was convoluted enough to keep me happily baffled and I appreciated that many of the fairly large cast of characters - especially the women - actually felt like authentic people rather than flat stereotypes. I could have done without the strange opening pages which gave us not only a list of the characters we would be meeting, together with notes on their foibles, physical appearance and relationships to each other, but also a list of the important clues to look out for and a note that readers would not need to be well versed in chemistry to fully appreciate this story! It all seemed to be giving too much away up front although I did find that there was still plenty left to get my teeth into.

I loved McCloy's lively writing style which still felt fresh over eighty years after the book's first publication. Dance Of Death keeps up a good pace throughout with my attention frequently being diverted in one direction or another. Dr Willing is an engaging lead voice and, being a psychologist rather than a detective, he often has a different take on suspects' behaviours that lends an interesting slant to proceedings. I have discovered several new-to-me classic crime authors over the past year or so as I delve deeper into the genre and Helen McCloy makes an excellent addition to my shortlist of authors to search out. I look forward to unravelling more of Dr Basil Willing's cases soon!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Helen McCloy / Crime fiction / Books from America

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