Dance of Death
A Dr Basil Willing Mystery
by Helen McCloy
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 29 Oct 2020 | Archive Date 3 Dec 2020
“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.
A Note From the Publisher
If you enjoyed reading Dance of Death, we'd really appreciate seeing your honest review on Amazon. Thank you and happy reading, Agora Books.
Average rating from 51 members
Golden Era mysteries warm the cockles of my heart and this fun book is the perfect escape into the 1930s. Not only is a body discovered in a snowbank but other crimes are plentiful as well, creating twists and turns and the unearthing of secrets. A debutante goes missing and two men shoveling snow are shocked to discover a body. Dr. Basil Willing, a psychologist, teams up with Inspector Foyle to search for the killer. Though their methodology and analyzing styles differ they complement each other nicely. Dr. Willing uses the psychology of the times to get into the murderer's mind. This is one of my favourite aspects of the story...or stories as there are also several subplots. Very interesting, akin to current profiling. The murder itself is thrillingly unique. In determining motives, many suspects are on the table. Objects...and people...disappear and the psychologist and inspector have their hands full untangling the webs of deceit. Also likable are the unexpected rabbit holes and dead ends. So easy to zip through as it's smoothly readable. As it is set in winter, I recommend reading it enveloped in a comfy blanket and sipping hot chocolate as I did today. Cozy mystery readers will enjoy this, especially those fascinated by the Golden Era. I've read other books by this author and have found her to be consistently good. My sincere thank you to Agora Books for providing me with an ARC of this delightful book in exchange for an honest review. Much appreciated.
The morning after her coming out party the body of beautiful socialite Kitty Jocelyn is found in a snowbank. An autopsy reveals death was due to the effects of a diet drug which Kitty advertised, but never took. Suspicion falls on family, as well as her small circle of family, swains, and employees, but none has a discernable motive. Who would murder a beautiful eighteen-year-old girl without an enemy in the world? By focusing on the unconscious actions of the suspects, Dr. Basil Willing uncovers the “psychic fingerprints” that will ultimately lead to the culprit. This is Helen McCloy’s first book, and the first of fourteen books featuring Dr. Basil Willing, a psychiatrist who acts as an adviser to the New York district attorney's office. There is quite a bit here that I liked. The character is well versed in Freudian psychoanalysis and it is this knowledge, as it applies to individuals and clues, which he uses in solving a case. It’s an interesting take on the role of the amateur detective. And while I’m aware of writers having their detectives base their investigations on the phycological makeup of the suspect/culprit, I’ve not seen it to this degree. The plot is clever and provides a lot more than murder for the reader to contend with. The murder is quite unique; McCoy’s use of a doppelganger leads to initial confusion over the victim’s identity; well-known party guests (and gate crashers) can’t be found, and almost everyone, including some servants, has something to hide. In addition, it’s hard to figure out who a murderer is when there is no obvious motive. Nearly everyone concerned had a reason for needing the victim alive. How’s that for a red herring? An intriguing mystery, and a very entertaining read.
this was a great mystery novel, the plot was interesting and I enjoyed trying to figure out who did it. I liked getting to know the characters and look forward to more in the series.
This is the first novel by Helen McCloy that I have read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The novel begins with a debutante ball for Kitty Jocelyn, at some point during the preparations Kitty is poisoned. Her cousin Ann is coerced into taking her place by both Kitty and Rhoda Jocelyn, Kitty’s stepmother and after a full makeover Ann attends the ball. At some point during the proceedings Kitty even though she is ill makes her escape to start a new life and dies outside a few streets away. The New York police including Dr Basil Winning investigate the case and with no motive and so many suspects they cannot seem to see the wood for the trees.
‘The snow began to fall Tuesday, about cocktail time—huge flakes whirling spirally in a north wind.’ And the following day, there are three cases of death by exposure. One of those bodies belongs to an unidentified girl who apparently died of heat exposure, a detail which has been kept from the papers. Her body was discovered by men shovelling snow. Who is she, and how did she die? So begins the mystery the local police dub ‘The Red Hot Momma Case’. Dr Basil Willing is a psychiatrist attached to the district attorney’s office in New York. He and Inspector Foyle investigate what becomes an intricate and involved case, full of mysteries, secrets, and red herrings. The identity of the girl is quickly discovered, but not before some misleading details are introduced. “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.” The main puzzle is who wanted Kitty Jocelyn dead? Most of the people involved had good reason for wanting her alive. But the autopsy reveals that her death was a consequence of poisoning, by a diet drug she endorsed but did not take. Dr Willing uses his knowledge of psychology to try to get into the murderer’s mind. Intriguing, because there were several people with opportunity, several secrets which could explain motivation. The story moves at a rapid pace, and while I worked out who I thought was responsible just before the end, I needed confirmation. ‘The answer came in a flash of illumination as sudden as lightening.’ This novel was first published in 1938 and is being republished in 2020. It is the first of a series of fourteen novels by Helen McCloy (1904-1994) to feature Dr Basil Willing, and I have added the others to my reading list. A great ‘Golden Era’ mystery. 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
I would like to thank Netgalley and Agora Books for an advance copy of Dance of Death, the first novel to feature New York based psychiatrist Dr Basil Willing, originally published in 1938 under the title Design for Dying. When a young woman is found dead from heatstroke in the snow Dr Basil Willing is asked to assist Inspector Foyle in establishing what happened but there are only more questions when she is identified as debutante Kitty Jocelyn, killed on the night of her coming out ball. I enjoyed Dance of Death, which, as expected from the era, has a puzzling mystery at its heart, not least who would want want to kill a young woman recently arrived in New York from Europe and quite unknown? No one it would appear, but several people had the opportunity so it’s a question of finding a motive and a killer. This is an interesting read as a product of its era. The psychology is rather naive and unnuanced in comparison with our modern understanding and can be, at times, a slog but the effort is there and I imagine that the novel was quite modern in its approach at the time. What I noticed more, however, was the class of the novel. The majority of the characters are well heeled, if not so well bred and the inference is that the Police should leave them alone. Maybe not so different from nowadays, on reflection. It’s also a remarkably homogeneous society with an emphasis on European roots, the only non white has a minor role as gullible and deceived. Despite the old fashioned nature of the narrative I enjoyed the whodunnit nature of the novel and have no hesitation in recommending it as a good read.
This is the novel that introduced Dr Basil Willing, a psychiatrist working out of the district attorney's office in New York. He's a character who reappeared in a whole series of novels by Helen McCloy, offering a very different approach to golden age detecting ad he searched for psychic clues rather than physical clues. Written in 1938 it has aged. well and has a clever plot, and a solution to the mystery that won't disappoint. Helen McCloy and Basil Willing are almost forgotten today but the ever-pioneering Agora books are championing a revival of her novels. Once you have read one of them, I am sure, like me, you will be hooked.
Dance of Death or Design For Dying as it is also published as is the first book from Helen McCloy to introduce us to Dr Basil Willing and Inspector Foyle. Dr Willing is a psychologist that is always looking to see what a suspects subconscious is trying to tell him. A New York socialite is found dead of heatstroke in a snowbank the day after her coming out party. Her family claim Kitty Jocelyn is alive and well in their townhouse and even go so far as having her sighted at the opera. That is until a woman looking remarkably like Kitty comes to the police station claiming she is Kitty's cousin Ann Claude and she has been imprisoned and made to impersonate Kitty since the night of the coming out party. The family and Kitty's maid have also been calling her Kitty and telling her she is just tired from the dance and so putting doubt in her mind whether she is sane. Basil believes her story and so the police need to try to infiltrate the Jocelyn house and make sense of it all. The list of characters is small but at times I got confused with the male characters but that may because I read the book over a few days. There is a handy guide to all the suspects at the start of the book which is useful. Kitty used to advertise a slimming product called Sveltis which is discovered to be the cause of her death but as Kitty never actually used the product then the hunt is on to find out how she came to take it and who is responsible. Although there are several unsavoury characters there seems no real motive for the death and it was in Rhoda Jocelyns' (step mother) interest to have Kitty alive and married off to a wealthy man as she is secretly broke. Her boyfriend Luis Pasquale is leaching off her and has a drug habit he needs money to maintain. Nicholas Danine is the director of a German explosives company and the man Rhoda insists was keen on Kitty. Phillip Leach is the writer of a gossip column that has disappeared and Mrs Jowett is the social secretary responsible for Kitty's coming out party. A few servants act a bit funny and are added to the suspects list but few knew Kitty more than a few weeks as she and Rhoda had lived in Paris for years so motive is absent. Overall I found this to be very well written book and was fascinated with Dr Willings methods of detection. I did not suspect the real killer until close to the end so the sleight of hand was well done. I love Golden Age mysteries and am delighted to have found a new author to add to my reading lists as I will definitely look out for more books with Dr Willing in them.
Before I ever got past the first page of the first chapter, I almost dismissed Dance of Death, by Helen McCloy, as mere high-society fluff. The character list included such descriptions as “slim, dark-eyed debutante”, “attractive, young-looking, beautifully dressed...with a low, dulcet voice and crisp brown hair”. The first sentence told me that the snow began to fall about cocktail time. Cocktail time – really! Who knows, or cares, about cocktail time?? Well, I was quite mistaken, and I’m glad I kept reading. The discovery of a fever-hot corpse under a blanket of snow at the end of the first chapter – with a canary yellow face, no less! - was sufficiently unusual and startling to ensure my interest. The two men central to the investigation – Inspector Foyle, who had the “alert scepticism of a wire-haired terrier”, and Dr. Basil Willing, the half-Russian psychiatrist attached to the district attorney’s office – are presented as intelligent and humane. The characters connected to the dead young woman, and those connected to the police investigation, are varied and distinctive. Even the cocktail hour turns out to be relevant to the case. And the book brings out serious themes, predominantly the differences in attitude by both professionals and general public to those who are, or at least are perceived to be, wealthy, and to those who are impoverished. The victim’s death attracts much less concern when she is believed to be an unknown pauper than when she is believed to belong to the social elite. Ann, cousin to the debutante Katherine, correctly observes that no one had noticed her particularly because she was “both shabby and poor”. Inspector Foyle’s attitude towards one of the suspects, Katherine’s Aunt Rhoda who was giving the fabulously costly debutante ball, changes markedly when he learns that Rhoda is actually bankrupt. Even the police commissioner exclaims “It can’t be murder!....[The victim’s uncle] belongs to my club!” Related to this theme, but more briefly developed, are issues related to dangerous fads, poor body image among young women, and celebrity product endorsements. Like Holmes with his acute observation of details, and Poirot with his little grey cells, and Father Brown with his understanding of the mind of the murderer, Dr. Willing has his signature method of elucidation. In Dr. Willing’s case, it is his reliance on the tenets of Freudian psychoanalysis. The mysteries in this book are unraveled partly by formal and informal psychological examination of the suspects; but mainly by his interpretation of the subconsciously motivated significance of various mistakes made by various characters. The reader does not, however, need to believe Freud’s theories in order to enjoy this book. I don’t, and I did. I expect many other readers will enjoy it too. Thanks to Agora Books for the opportunity to read and review this book.
A very welcome addition to the Uncrowned Queens of Crime series published by Agora Books. This was the first in a series of thirteen novels and two short-story collections featuring Dr. Basil Willing, a Freudian psychiatrist and advisor to the NYPD. Having previously read one of McCloy's mysteries and found it underwhelming, I was more than pleasantly surprised by this debut from 1938 about the murder of a debutante and socialite by means of a slimming drug. The plot is fairly complex, but full of interesting characters and red herring. The reader does feel at one point as if anyone could have done it, but that no-one has a viable motive. The author does not really play fair although there are a few not too obvious clues and the solution certainly comes as a surprise. This was very readable and well-written, with insights into the social life of the rich in 1930s US society and the advertising ethics of the period. The emphasis on Freudian interpretations of behaviour is not too obtrusive and Willing is a genial and believable detective. The plot is cleverly- constructed and the writing never seems dated. Highly enjoyable reading and eminently recommendable. Thank you to NetGalley and Agora Books for the digital review copy.
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!
I was delighted to receive the latest offering from Agora Books in their Uncrowned Queens of Crime Series. This really is a spectacular series and the most recent offering, Dance of Death by Helen McCloy, easily lives up to their previous titles. Just to clarify, I receive an advance copy in exchange for an honest review and believe me, I only post honest reviews - if I don't like something I will refuse to review it, so if you see a review from me you can guarantee that I have read it and enjoyed it. Now, back to Dance of Death, I loved this book, detective stories from the golden age are my favourite genre. The morning after her coming out party, New York socialite Kitty Jocelyn is found dead in a snow drift, not only that but she is wearing someone else's clothes and died from an overdose. The psychologist Dr. Basil Willing is brought in to assist the police in getting to the bottom of the mystery. This is the first in Helen McCloy's series featuring Dr Basil Willing and Inspector Foyle and I enjoyed it so much that I will be on the lookout for other titles in the series. The plot was admirable in its complexity and I didn't guess the end, I always feel cheated if I can, but I also feel cheated if the author cheats and pulls the murderer from nowhere...DEFINITELY not the case here! Helen McCloy writes beautifully and produces three dimensional characters, another must for me. So Helen McCloy and Dance of Death both pass the acid test of my reading and get my 100% seal of approval, definitely recommended.
I may have read another in this series but it would have been later in the series. I really did enjoy this book. There were many little twists in the in the plotting and in the characters involved around the victim. But the continuing characters who will continue to be developed are interesting and I will enjoy getting to know them. I did not suss out the "perp" which I often do. Odd because there was a clue given early on which should have helped me but I ignored. Overall, I want to go on and read more in this series. The author writes well and although as another reviewer noted, there were some small errors, I think due to e formatting and not original with author. Good read!!
Murder mystery that introduces Dr. Basil Willing, psychiatrist attached to the NY District Attorney’s office in 1930’s as a detective - described as perhaps a little crazy himself, he maintains that no acts are completely accidental and that in so-called blunders, the guilty unconsciously give themselves away. Great characters in a well-written, well-clued, entertaining mystery. The author has a knack for turning the reader’s expectations on their head. I’ll definitely be seeking out other books in this series.
.This was a find. I am a fan of Golden Age Crime fiction and Agora’s diligent reprinting of some of the long neglected books of that era inevitably produce some that disappoint. They also, however, produce some that excite and this, for me, was one of those. Just as the science of fingerprinting and photography applied to policing and detection gave writers from the late nineteenth century a tool to engage readers in the quest of ‘who dunnit?’ via detective novels, so the emerging science of psychology provides Helen McCloy with a similar opportunity. Dr Willing, practising psychiatrist, applies his psychiatric knowledge to the behaviour of those involved in a specific murder, helping Inspector Foyle, experienced, intelligent detective prepared to listen, learn and use science to solve a case. The science being used is not chemical, but McCloy and her lead characters treat it with respect and use it to their advantage. This makes, in my view, for detective fiction at its best. In its time it must have been new and exciting. McCloy knows how to use it to create tension, explore options and connect the reader to the minds of the detectives. She creates characters who are more than stereotypes. Whether they are empathetic or unattractive, they remain understandable and believable. It is a book of its time, but one in which the writer’s skill gives readers eighty years later both insight into New York in the 1930s and a detective puzzle to engage the mind. Thanks to Agora Books and NetGalley for the review copy
Dance of Death by Helen McCloy I received this e-book from Crime Classics via NetGalley. It is published in the series from Agora Books called Uncrowned Queens of Crime. It’s very nice to get to know other writers who have written classic crimes, and I have thus been inspired to read authors unknown to me before. In this novel a young debutante is found dead buried in snow. Although she is covered in snow her body temperature is high and the cause of death resembles a heat stroke. It is not a heat stroke but she has been poisoned with an overdose of a diet drug. In charge of the investigation is Inspector Foyle with the help of psychiatrist Dr Basil Willing. Foyle and Willing have different ways of solving cases, and Willing tries to convince Foyle about the value of psychology in criminal investigation. He states that a blunder is the one form of clue a criminal can neither remove, conceal nor destroy - the one clue that is entirely beyond his conscious control. So when trying to find out who the killer is you will have to look for blunders. Alas I did not succeed, but was well entertained trying to. This is the first of 14 novels featuring Psychiatrist- detective Basil Willing - so I will hopefully be able to get hold of some of the others. What I also like about this book is the list in the beginning : "Persons of interest in this mystery". Makes it so much easier if you forget a name. Each person is also shortly described. I read the e-book on NetGalleys new app: NetGalley Shelf and it was fine.
This book truly deserves the title of Crime Classic. The story is unusual and very different and the plot is intriguingly clever - just my type of book. The front of the book gives a list of other Dr. Basil Willing books by this author - perhaps more will be republished. That would be a treat indeed.
Death Of A Socialite.... Hugely enjoyable entry into the excellent Agora Books’ Uncrowned Queens of Crime series. The first Dr Basil Willing mystery finds the credible psychologist with the death of a socialite to investigate. The plot is complex and rather unique, the characters colourful and well drawn and the suspects numerous. A pleasure to read and thoroughly entertaining.
This author was new to me, but having read and enjoyed this book, I will certainly be on the look out for more titles. A great mystery, with many twists and turns with a psychiatrist employed by the district attorney, thrown in the mix. Given that this book was written in thirties, this is quite a change from crime stories of the era. The story starts with a young girl being found in the the snow, frozen, yet very hot to the touch. It quickly moves on to a normal murder investigation, a real page turner right up to the end.
A young girls body found in the snow ,but the victim is far from frozen in fact the body is hot ! But the strangeness of the case doesn't stop there for when the coroner says she died a hundred or more witnesses were watching her dance at her coming out party! Dr Basil Willing psychiatrist attached to the D.A's office is brought in to help to find a motive a method and perpetrator.The girl had only been in the country a few days who could hate her enough to kill hr in that time,and how was it done and by whom.But there are so many things that don't make sense to the police led by Inspector Foyle and it takes the special skills of Basil Willing to put it all together and bring the case to it's shocking conclusion. This is the first of the Dr Willing/ Inspector Foyle mysteries of Helen McCloy and this newly revived novel the first of her books I have read .I enjoyed it immensely and found it well written and thought out.The psychology is very much of its time but perhaps even more interesting because of that. I myself had gone through several suspects before I settled on the eventual killer with the uncovering of the final piece of evidence.A quirky plot a nice collection of characters including two very likeable central characters in Dr Basil Willing and Inspector Foyle .I will certainly be on the lookout for the release of further mysteries.
When a young woman is found dead from heatstroke in the snow, Dr Basil Willing is asked to assist Inspector Foyle in establishing what happened but there are only more questions when she is identified as debutante Kitty Jocelyn, killed on the night of her coming out ball!! I enjoyed Dance of Death, which, as expected from the era, has a puzzling mystery at its heart, not least who would want to kill a young woman who recently arrived in New York from Europe and was quite unknown? No one it would appear, but several people had the opportunity so it’s a question of finding a motive and a killer. This is an interesting read as a product of its era. The psychology seemed rather naive and primitive in comparison with our modern understanding but it can be, at times, a little tiresome but the effort is worthwhile and I believe that the novel was considered modern in its approach at that time. What I noticed more, however, was the class of the characters in this story. The majority of the characters seem fairly wealthy, if not so well bred and the inference is that the Police should leave them alone. Maybe not so different from life nowadays, on reflection. It’s also a remarkably homogeneous society with an emphasis on their European roots. Although the book was originally published in 1938 I don’t think the narrative seemed at all out of date except of course there were no detailed investigations by Scene Of Crime investigators but the police seemed to rely more on paper records rather than computers which was refreshing. Telegraph and telephone communication replaced mobile phone and computers and the emphasis was rather on the interview of witnesses. Despite this, the narrative was fast flowing and I enjoyed the investigative nature of the novel and have no hesitation in recommending it as an excellent book. I would like to thank Netgalley and Agora Books for an advance copy of Dance of Death the first novel to feature the psychiatrist character Dr Basil Willing.
My favourite thing- a new writer and new detective to add to my list! Dr Basil Willing is intriguing in his own right coupled with a plot full of twists and turns this was a great read! The characters were three dimensional and the developing relationships were interesting to observe. The plot line worked well and contained enough red herrings to keep you guessing but like a good Christie novel the reader was told everything alongside the detective. I will definitely read more by this author and hope that the Dr Basil’s personality will continue to impress me! Foyle was more than a sidekick and the relationship between the two worked well. The panic felt by Ann the morning after the party was very realistic. The forensic detail was also explained well and was easy enough for a non expert to follow! I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.
This is the latest addition to Agora Books’ Uncrowned Queens of Crime series, making long-forgotten crime novels by female authors available again to modern readers. I think it’s probably my favourite so far. Originally published in 1938, it’s the first of several books written by American author Helen McCloy which feature the psychiatrist Dr Basil Willing. The novel begins with the discovery of the body of a young woman, buried under a heap of snow in a New York street. Bizarrely, the cause of death appears to be heatstroke and the girl’s face is stained bright yellow. The police think they have identified her as Kitty Jocelyn, a beautiful debutante who has become famous as the face of an advertising campaign, but things take an even more confusing turn when they speak to her cousin, Ann Claude, who closely resembles the dead girl and who claims that she had been persuaded to impersonate Kitty at her recent coming out party. Inspector Foyle begins to investigate this intriguing mystery, assisted by Basil Willing, an expert in Freudian psychoanalysis who provides a very different and, for the time, probably quite modern approach to crime-solving. While Foyle looks for tangible evidence and clues that will point to the culprit, Willing is more interested in the ‘blunders’ people make: a slip of the tongue, a lost item, a forgotten name. “Every criminal leaves psychic fingerprints,” he says, “And he can’t wear gloves to hide them.” I found Willing’s methods of solving the mystery fascinating, whether it was suggesting psychological reasons for the blunders, conducting word association tests or using his knowledge of the human mind to find out the motivation behind the crime. Apart from Basil Willing, whom I liked and will look forward to meeting again, the other characters in the book are well drawn and believable too, which is important as the psychological angle of the story wouldn’t have worked if the characters had been nothing more than stereotypes. I didn’t manage to solve the mystery myself; although I suspected the right person, their motive came as a complete surprise to me, so I was content to let Willing do the investigating and explain the solution to me at the end. There are other aspects of the novel which I found nearly as interesting as the mystery, though, such as the ethics of advertising, attitudes towards money in 1930s society and the responsibilities of being a public figure. I thoroughly enjoyed Dance of Death and I’m sure I’ll be looking for more by Helen McCloy.
What a great find! I had never heard of Helen McCloy till reading this book. It is everything a golden age mystery should be...well written, interesting characters, engaging plot, and satisfying conclusion. I wish more of her books were available as e-books!
Second-hand copies of early McCloy are difficult to come by, so I was pleased to see Agora Books were going to be reprinting some of them. Also pleasingly, it appears that the Agora copies have retained the Dell Map back (?) feature of including persons and objects of interest before the story begins, written in a typically elliptic bullet style of writing which gives a hint of what is to come. It is December and Butch and Buddy get the shock of their lives, shovelling snow into a truck, when one of their shovels unveils a corpse. This alone would be horrifying in and of itself, but there is more to come. For this corpse, despite being buried underneath the snow is far from frozen and is in fact hot… An initial autopsy says her organs look like those from a victim who has died of heat stroke, but how is that possible in the depths of winter? To begin with they don’t know who she is, but when they do, matters only become more baffling… Overall Thoughts Having read a few titles by this author, it was interesting to see her first Dr Basil Willing novel containing two themes which she would return to many times in her work. The first of these is the use of pharmaceutical type drugs. In the case of The Deadly Truth (1943), a woman foolishly inflicts a truth telling serum on her dinner guests, only to wind up dead, and in this book another drug, this time part of a slimming product, is the cause of another woman’s death. This is not particularly a spoiler as such, as in the author’s note at the beginning we are informed of: ‘the most important character, thermol, or 2 4 di-nitro-phenol, is taken from real life.’ Though those not well informed on science will be relieved to know that ‘no scientific knowledge is needed for the solution of the crime, beyond that which is given in the course of the narrative before the solution is reached.’ The slimming product aspect of the work, and the tied in theme of advertising, are very well used in the book and I thought they gave the story a modern feel. The second theme which McCloy perhaps returned to even more was identity, and the potential for misidentification. This is most famously seen in Through a Glass Darkly (1950), in which a woman keeps being seen in places she says she was not, whilst in Alias Basil Willing (1951), the book begins with Basil hearing someone else using his identity and in A Question of Time (1971) there are doubts as to whether a woman is who she says she is. Usually this theme takes up a considerable part of the mystery, yet this is not the case in Dance of Death. It really only concerns the first few chapters. Some aspects are a little too melodramatic, but because they only feature at the beginning they do not derail the plot and instead this area of deception is used to further fuel the puzzle of the book, especially in terms of understanding the suspects and their motivations. The initial discovery of the body is engrossingly baffling and surprising with its use of contrasts and it sets up the novel’s puzzle effectively. Once the source of death has been identified there is still much to discover; not only who did it and why, but also how the drug was administered, as for some time certain pieces of information appear to block the most obvious answer. McCloy is also good at establishing her central sleuth, Dr Basil Willing and the type of role he is to play. His first page appearance sees him listening to the Police Commissioner who belittles the psychological value of detective work: ‘there's no place of psychology in detection. Police work deals with physical facts...’ Basil himself retorts that: ‘Every criminal leaves psychic fingerprints […] and he can't wear gloves to hide them.’ Moreover, in the middle of the investigation Basil raises the issue of looking at the blunders the suspects make, and what these mistakes or slips of the tongue might reveal. I felt this was a fairer use of psychological clues as it means they are not hurled at the reader out of nowhere at the end of book. At one point they are even listed as questions, (something other novelists of the era did), by the police and Basil talks through the possibilities. However, I should reassure fans of physical facts that such pieces of information are not lacking – though of course beware of the red herrings! The fourth rule of Ronald Knox’s Decalogue is concerned with writers not using unknown poisons, nor using ones which require a very long scientific explanation and looking back on this book, I think McCloy’s story is an excellent example of how to use a science component, without alienating or boring the reader. The information tends to be given in bite sized pieces and you find out the facts at the same time as the detectives who are discussing the case. I felt this meant the detective did not steam ahead of the reader leaving them miles behind and I also think the information we are given is focused on being relevant. We are not given lots of extraneous detail. I was not wholly surprised by the final solution, as it is one which dropped into my brain early on during one of the police interviews. It was one of those moments where you just notice the inclusion of a piece of information and you think hmmm I wonder…? However, it was not an idea I was fixed on, and being typical me forgot all about it until the end. The solution I had considered was no certainty in my mind and I think the book keeps you guessing. The motive has its unusual aspects, though a central component is one I have seen before. So all in all, like the Puzzle Doctor, I think this is a very strong first novel, with its interesting puzzle and plot features and I definitely look forward to trying more. This is a great place to start your McCloy reading, if you are new to her, and thankfully Agora have now made this title a far more accessible one to track down and buy. Rating: 4.5/5 Source: Review Copy (Agora Books)