Wednesday, 30 December 2020

The Man in the Moonlight: A Dr Basil Willing Mystery by Helen McCloy

The Man in the Moonlight: A Dr Basil Willing Mystery by Helen McCloy
First published in America by Hamilton in 1940. Republished by Agora Books on the 10th December 2020.

One of my More Than One Challenge reads

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

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'I take pleasure in informing you that you have been chosen as murderer for Group No 1. Please follow these instructions with as great exactness as possible.'

On his way to visit the dean at Yorkville University, Assistant Chief Inspector Foyle seems to stumble across a murder, or at least the plans for one. Chalking it all up to a gag (because real killers don't use the word 'murder'), Foyle is horrified to learn about the death of Dr Konradi, a scientist at the campus. Though it looks like a suicide, Foyle isn't so sure, and Dr Basil Willing, psychologist and sleuth, is called in to aid the investigation. With motives and murder piling up, the pair must solve the case before more lives are put at risk.

Set in WWII and filled with secrets and espionage, The Man in the Moonlight is part of Agora Books’ Uncrowned Queens of Crime series.

The Man in the Moonlight is the second of Agora's newly republished Dr Basil Willing Mystery novels that I have been given the opportunity to read. I was very impressed with the first in the series, Dance Of Death, so eagerly looked forward to again exercising my sleuthing wits in the company of psychiatrist Basil Willing. Unfortunately I wasn't so enamoured of this sequel and I'm not sure what it was about the novel that failed to grab my attention. Obviously I was prepared for Willing's idiosyncratic detection methods using psychiatry as his main tool so this didn't have the same novelty, however his deductions were as fascinating - and as complex to try and follow!

I did appreciate McCloy's atmospheric portrayal of the University grounds, especially during the night time scenes, and the different faculty staff's home accommodations illustrated their respective importance to the University. It was interesting to see the acceptance of war refugees to America being addressed in this 1940s novel, especially as immigration is again a prominent subject today. There are moments of casual racism and I did sense McCloy falling into stereotypes more when discussing her sole Chinese character than with the Austrian ones. In comparing the two novels, I think a lack of strongly defined characters is what I missed most. I particularly loved that aspect of Dance Of Death. The young Halsey does come into his own as the story progresses, but otherwise potentially the most intriguing person dies at the beginning of the book and those remaining around him felt too closed off and aloof for me to invest in them. That said, I would read more of Helen McCloy's series because I like her prose style and the intricacies of the plot kept me keenly turning the pages. The Man In The Moonlight is, I think, a good classic crime mystery. I'm just a little disappointed that it didn't feel like a great one.

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

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