Cover Image: Cue for Murder

Cue for Murder

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I continue to like this author's works more because of their entertainment value than actual scientific facts/investigation. There are times I felt like I should check the possibility of a certain train of thought/psychological pronouncement, but I left it alone in order to enjoy the plotline itself.
This story begins with a troubled setup. Basil Willing has a friend who gets him involved when he runs into her before the showing of a play. The play (or rather the murder) happens in such a manner that it amounts to a closed room mystery. There are random pieces of hints with a canary and a housefly that ultimately falls in place, but I for one could not have guessed how it would go.
Dr Willing is initially an unwilling participant but a chance notice of a newspaper article has him concerned, and rightly so. This provides him with the drive to get to the bottom of things. It is not a long tale, and things keep moving (even if the end result takes its time to arrive).
I would recommend this to fans of reprints of classical mystery fiction!
I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.
Was this review helpful?
This is my third Dr. Basil Willing novel and I think it may be my favorite.  The setting of this mystery is a play, wherein the victim was murdered on stage during a live production.  So, of course, most of the people involved in the investigation are actors, which can get tricky.  In the hands of a lesser author, they could have been caricatures, but not McCloy.  Almost like an impressionist painter, she gives just enough to imagine these larger than life personalities, but not too much.  The end result is a group of believable characters and a tricky investigation.  

While I can say that I figured out murderer and motive well before the reveal, it did not lessen my enjoyment one iota! She is quickly becoming one of my favorite golden age mystery writers, up there with Christie, Allingham, and Sayers. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Agora Books for providing a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Originally published in 1942 this gripping psychological thriller centers around the mysterious murders on stage of 2 minor figurants during the performance and the rehearsal of a revival of Victorien Sardou's Fedora. 

Dr Basil Willing, a winsome and talented psychiatrist employed by the District Attorney's office will painstakingly try to untangle the many threads behind the murders but only one out of the four people (all actors) physically present on the stage when the murderous acts were committed could be considered a suspect....

A riveting mystery, superbly written and choreographed around exquisitely drawn characters exhibiting a vast array of human weaknesses. 

This novel was a great discovery. I absolutely loved the author's style, its razor sharp edge, its tartness and the unflinching and almost disdainful looks she often casts upon her characters. 

I will definitely try to read more novels from Helen McCloy in the near future. 

Highly recommended and to be really really enjoyed without any moderation whatsoever

Many thanks to Netgalley and Agora Books for this terrific ARC
Was this review helpful?
I have read several in the Basil Willing series and enjoyed all of them. This one was no different in that respect. This mystery has a short list of suspects, four to be exact, and it takes some time to figure out which one did it. Did they all have motives? I enjoyed the story and could read it to settle into sleep as there was nothing gory or too dreadful. I recommend reading the whole series!
Was this review helpful?
Like I stated before, I was enraptured by how vividly the scenes were described - "Just as an object that is constantly handled acquires a patina - worn, hard, smooth, glossy and a little soiled - so the surface of Wanda's personality seemed to have been glazed and tarnished by the curious glances that were always sliding over her face and figure wherever she went." Her descriptions, once read, not only create a picture in the mind's eye but you also get the sense of atmosphere and the essence of the characters.
Too, the actual murder was intriguing because it took place on stage in full view of everyone in the audience.
<i>"That's not the only thing that makes a stage murder difficult,"</i> replied Basil.
<i>"Hell is there something else?"
"Timing."
"Timing?
"In a play, every line and gesture and bit of action has to be timed so accurately that the performance will last a certain period...I suspect that this murderer knew exactly how long the action of stabbing would take and that he timed that action to fit smoothly into the chronological mosaic of the play."
"This is a streamlined murder!" </i>exploded Foyle. <i>"Only three suspects and no clues, no alibis, no fingerprints, no footprints, no motives, no telltale looks or gestures! How can anyone crack a case like that?"</i>
Was this review helpful?
The story takes place some months after the attack on Pearl Harbor and it begins on a plane from Washington to New York, where Dr Basil Willing reads by chance the following story in the Times under the heading “Burglar Frees Bird”: "Police are puzzled by the odd behaviour of a burglar who broke into Marcus Lazarus’ knife-grinding shop near West 44th Street shortly before dawn yesterday. Nothing was stolen, but the intruder opened the cage of Lazarus’ pet canary and set the bird free. The shop is hardly more than a shack in an alley leading to the stage door of the Royalty Theatre."

At the time, Dr Willing, who is working in the FBI’s New York office as a psychiatrist and as an investigator, thought that his knowledge of this “crime” would be limited to the few facts found in the newspapers. But next, he stops by police headquarters to greet his friend, Assistant Chief Inspector Foyle, and their conversation lead them to the canary’s story in the morning news. Foyle admits it was kind of funny when he got the report from the precinct this morning. He first  thought it might be a publicity stunt. Wanda Morley’s new show opens in the Royalty in a day or two, and the knife-grinder’s shop is right next door. But her press agent swears he doesn’t know a thing about it, and Wanda Morley’s name hasn’t been mentioned in connection with the case. However, Dr Willing, like most modern psychiatrists, believes that no human being can perform an act without a motive, conscious or unconscious.

In any case Dr Willing manages to get an invitation to attend the premiere of the play at the Royalty that same evening. The play is Fedora by Victorien Sardou, a minor work by a playwright who is perhaps best remembered today because another one of his plays, La Tosca, was turned into an opera by Puccini. Fedora was written for Sarah Bernhardt, and Wanda Morley, it is said, wants to resemble her in everything she does.

During the first act, a mortally wounded young revolutionary is taken to the house of his lover Fedora, the main character in the play. The lover is treated by a doctor and discovered by a policeman, but he dies at the end of the first act. The dying revolutionary has no lines and must remain motionless all time he is on stage. The only actors who have been close to him are Rodney Tait as the doctor, Leonard Martin as the policeman and, of course, Wanda Morley, who kisses him goodbye before dying. But when the curtain falls it is found that the young man is really dead. To everyone’s surprise, no one knows the actor (a figurant) who was playing that part. According to tradition, Sarah Bernhardt herself used to invite her lovers to play that role. The result is a murder, committed in front of the public, and with only three suspects. The only three actors that have been close to the victim during the first act. But it seems impossible to unravel the mystery of his death.

Despite some opinions in the contrary, I loved reading Cue for Murder. In my view, the plot is quite ingenious and entertaining. As far as I understand, it was a great hit when it was originally published, even though, for today standards, the story might seem to be a bit dated. In any case I enjoyed reading about the ins and outs of a Broadway theatre in the early 40s and, in this sense, the story is well documented. No doubt, McCloy was very familiar in that environment. All in all, its is extremely interesting to recover thanks to Agora Books another one of Helen McCloy’s works difficult to find. As an author, she has been one of my great discoveries this year. My gratitude also to Crime Classics Advance Readers Club for providing me a digital copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange of my honest opinion. If you like Helen McCloy as much as I do, you should not miss Cue for Murder.
Was this review helpful?
Helen McCloy’s strength is in creating the world where her characters pursue their—usually criminal—activities, whether it’s the home of Long Island socialites, the Catskills, or South America. Here, she shines as she explores murder on a Broadway stage. The backstage routines and the conversations of the personalities who work in front of the footlights and behind the scenes ring true.  The gathering clouds of World War II are vividly evoked, painting the picture of a city and country not yet knowing what the war would look like for them, experiencing the first of the “dim-outs” Broadway was subject to as the Army prepared for the possibility that air raids would make blacking out the city a necessity.  
Ms. McCloy’s psychiatrist-sleuth Dr. Basil Willing does not have the indelibly eccentric personality of other Golden Age detectives such as Hercule Poirot or Lord Peter Wimsey, but her cast of suspects have unique voices and present the reader with a very entertaining read, probably much more enjoyable than the production of Sardou’s Fedora they memorably and repeatedly fail to bring to its close.  This book is part of a series but stands alone.
Was this review helpful?
I wavered between 3 and 4 stars for Cue for Murder by Helen McCloy.  This 1941 mystery is a solid whodunit with a very limited number of possible suspects, motives being slowly doled out and our hero, Dr. Basil Willing, patiently collecting and analyzing every physical and psychological clue.  The Psych 101 lectures that permeate the mystery are what make me nuts but if you can tolerate that, this is a good entry in the Dr. Willing series.
Was this review helpful?
This is the second book I’ve read by Helen McCloy, the first being Through a Glass, Darkly.  This book has no supernatural elements and so I found it much more believable and much more enjoyable.  In this novel, Dr. Basil Willing is back to investigate a murder that took place on stage during a play.  There are few suspects, but many questions that arise over the course of his investigation.  McCloy writes her characters very realistically — I would never have guessed just how old this novel is.  I only wish that there was more character development for some of the more minor characters as it would have probably added to the mystery a bit more.  It was kind of obvious who the killer was in this story if you paid enough attention, but I actually found that quite refreshing.  I feel like a lot of the more modern novels I read have hints that are far too subtle to make a good guess at who the killer is and you end up a bit perplexed at the end, but this was very straightforward.  All in all I highly recommend!  Thank you to Agora Books and NetGalley!
Was this review helpful?
Cue for Murder is a classic New York murder mystery set in the theatre. On the opening night, the actor playing the corpse is found to be actually dead - which of the cast dealt the fatal blow?  The clues include a mysteriously released pet canary and a house fly peculiarly interested in the murder weapon.

Can Dr Basil Willing use his psychological skills to deduce the murderer and their motive?

This was an enjoyable mystery with a fun plot and satisfying resolution. A recommended read.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for honest feedback.
Was this review helpful?
Thanks to Agora Books for a review copy.
Dr Basil Willing, psychologist and sleuth is a new character to me. Normally I prefer British to American crime fiction but I found this novel to be excellent. Set in New York during the World War Two, it follows the investigation of the murder of an actor, on stage in full view of the audience.
Dr Willing reminds me in some ways of Hercule Poirot as he concerns himself primarily with the psychology of the crime though he is a little more athletic than the Belgian super sleuth, climbing a New York fire escape at one point! He is a thoughtful detective and, as he is attached to the District Attorney’s department, he cooperates with the police and has their respect. This works well as the character would not, I think, be suited to an amateur versus professional type story.
The main clues in this story are a canary which is released during a robbery and the antics of a fly on the stage. As Dr Willing kept drawing attention to these seemingly unimportant, even trivial, facts he epitomised the best of the Golden Age Detectives who spotted the key clues and worked to discover their significance.
Although the story is set in New York, which is nicely described in the book and can be easily visualised, it could equally be transposed to any large city. The US setting was well differentiated from a European scenario by the practice blackouts which were taking place in preparation for America entering the war and being attacked by Axis aircraft.
The mystery has a totally fair solution though I would say the reader has to be very thorough to spot all the clues, I certainly didn’t! There is also plenty of sleight of hand by the author which is cleverly executed.
This is not the first in the series of Dr Willing novels but I had no difficulty in understanding the story which leads me to believe that there are few, if any, ongoing story arcs through the novels. I am very glad that I read this book and I will certainly read more of Helen McCloy’s Dr Willing stories. If they are all as enjoyable as this one then I am in for a treat. Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
Cue For Murder is a Dr Basil Willing mystery. For those that have not read Helen McCloy’s Dr Willing mysteries before, then this is a good starting point. 
The murder takes place on a New York stage on opening night in full view of an audience which includes Dr Willing, a psychiatrist attached to the district attorney’s office. We meet the main suspects Wanda Morley, the leading lady and her two leading men Leonard Martin and Rodney Tait. All three had the opportunity to kill the actor playing the part of the dying man in the play. 
Other characters of interest include Pauline, a costume designer and secret fiancée of Rodney (he is also reportedly a paramour of Wanda Morley in all the newspapers). Margaret Ingelow is the widow of the murdered man and Sam Milhau the Broadway producer who is determined that the show must go on even after a murder has taken place. A canary and a fly have bit parts and are the real keys to solving the murder mystery.
At the start of the book, Inspector Foyle and Dr Willing are discussing a case of breaking and entering at a knife shop and the mystery of why someone left the yellow canary out of it’s cage. The shop is around the corner from the theatre and the murder victim dies from a knife wound so we know it is all linked somehow.
When the identity of the corpse is discovered we find several people with motive as well as opportunity. There are plenty of red herrings, atmospheric descriptions of the theatre scene and New York at the beginning of WWII. There is even a blackout at a very opportune time in the story
Without giving away any secrets another murder occurs before Dr Willing figures out who the murderer is. When they are finally unmasked you realise what a good job the author has done by sprinkling clues all through the book but don’t worry if you don’t guess the murderer. Just enjoy the read.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed Cue for Murder and, for me, its the best Basil Willing book I have read - although I have enjoyed the others I have read as well.  I love the tense atmosphere of the theatrical world which was very well described. 
The solution is intriguing and the role of the canary and fly are clever.  I would definitely recommend this book for those who love classic crime/golden age mysteries.
 .
Was this review helpful?
‘The murder mystery at the Royalty Theatre was solved though the agency of a house fly and a canary.’

Opening night at the Royalty Theatre in New York for the play Fedora provides the setting for a very public murder. One of the characters in the play dies in the first scene — as does the character playing him — yet no-one saw who killed him. Dr Basil Willing, present because of the gift of a ticket, becomes involved in solving the case. It should be simple: there were only three people on stage when the actor was stabbed to death. But who murdered him, and why? Each of the three on stage could have a motive. There are a few strange happenings as well as clues that need to be differentiated from red herrings, but with Dr Willing on the case it is surely only a matter of time.

‘You overlooked three main clues ... a clock, a fly and a canary.’

I have read a couple of the Basil Willing mysteries, and this is my favourite (so far). While I identified the importance of two of the clues, I missed the third. A cleverly written murder mystery which held my attention from beginning to end.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Agora Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Was this review helpful?
Cue for Murder, by Helen McCloy, is a moderately entertaining and well-constructed mystery, first published in 1941 and set in that time in New York City. Dr. Basil Willing, psychiatrist and consultant to the DA’s office, is the central unraveller of the mystery from the reader’s point of view, though his friend Assistant Chief Inspector Foyle is the policeman in charge of the investigation. 

The opening sentence - “The murder mystery at the Royalty Theatre was solved through the agency of a house fly and a canary” - is eye-catching, and spurs the reader to puzzle out the behavior of the house fly (why is it so persistently attracted to the handle of the fatal knife?) and the significance of canaries to the various suspects (a pet canary was released by an intruder in a knife-grinding shop who neither stole nor damaged anything, but who may well have been sharpening that particular knife.)  

The victim, playing the nonspeaking role of a severely wounded man, is killed onstage during the first act of the opening night of a play – and, startlingly, everyone associated with the play initially denies knowledge of his identity. Three of the actors had opportunity to stab the man unobserved either by the audience or by the other actors – and so did a fourth suspect, who proves to be the wife of the victim. Once the dead man has been identified, and the connections between him and the suspects become known, motives multiply, and are distributed between the suspects as equally as their opportunities. 

The crime is eventually solved by Basil Willing, using both the psychological axiom that all actions are motivated, consciously or unconsciously; and the biochemical/physiological knowledge gained during the medical studies that are part of a psychiatrist’s training. The latter is not always useful to the reader trying to figure out the meaning of clues – what, for instance, does butyric acid have to do with anything?? My quick internet search didn’t turn up anything relevant.  

Both Dr. Willing and Inspector Foyle are likeable, even if not very deeply developed. The other characters had enough dimensionality to be plausible (with, in my view, one exception). Even the cold-blooded and egotistic murderer has admirable aspects as well; and the nice young woman (never a suspect) who is rewarded with happiness at the end of the story has aspects of spitefulness and immaturity. 

 An enjoyable read, taken on the whole, with some interesting theatrical and historical material. 


(This review was also been submitted to Amazon today, and when approved will appear with other reviews on their site.)
Was this review helpful?
This was great - well written, lots of interesting characters, with a fascinating Manhattan theatreland background. It's set during the Second World War, with references to how the war affected New York - rationing, recruitment, blackouts - and how this differed from the UK at the same time. Dr Basil Willing, the psychiatrist attached to the New York Police Department, is again involved in a murder investigation where a man playing a corpse during a first night performance is discovered to have been murdered. Very absorbing and an excellent read.
Was this review helpful?
This is the first book I have read by Helen McCloy, and it won't be my last. Set during the war in America, The story surrounds four people who have the opportunity to murder a "corpse" in he first act of a new play. There are many deviation and blocked ends, but the story moves along very quickly and very much a "could not put down book category.  The characters are well drawn and very true to the era. Loved the book.
Was this review helpful?
This is the third Basil Willing mystery that I’ve read and this one was even better than the others that I read previously.  I’m not ordinarily a fan of “psychological mysteries”, but somehow this series really appeals to me.  Helen McCloy writes with skill and humor, her plotting is excellent, her characters are interesting and well drawn, and the New York City setting is the perfect backdrop.  

In this novel, Dr. Willing is present at a play where a character that dies in the play, actually does die.  He has been stabbed to death onstage in front of the opening night audience.  You wouldn’t think that this would produce much of a mystery, what with all those witnesses and a fairly small group of suspects,  but it marks the beginning of a very complex plot.  I was totally clueless, even though there were plenty of clues.  As for the canary…….. you will just have to read the novel.  It made perfect sense, but I couldn’t explain it if I tried.

Thank you to the publisher, Agora Books and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review.
Was this review helpful?
This classic mystery book is a good read at a smooth pace and interesting clues. Dr. Basil Willing is always a pleasant character. For this book my exact score would be three and a half stars.
Was this review helpful?
3.5 stars

I am fond of vintage mysteries and of theater settings, so this was enjoyable. Early psychologist Dr. Basil Willing works with the NYPD to provide a viewpoint that delves into the mental aspects of murder cases. This time out, a play featuring a death on stage sadly turns into an actual murder.  And it could only have been committed by a few members of the acting company.

Threaded into the action is a somewhat unsatisfactory love story featuring a friend of Willing's and and old scandal.

Nicely drawn characters and intelligent writing. Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?