With these words, B. A. Pike in Detective Fiction: The Collector's Guide described the extraordinary novels and short stories of Helen McCloy (1904-1993). Beginning with Dance of Death (1938), her first novel about psychiatrist-detective Dr. Basil Willing, McCloy experimented with daringly imaginative concepts within the framework of the formal, fairplay detective story. Her short stories, for example, include "The Singing Diamonds," which combines death, detection, and apparently genuine sightings of flying saucers (in the shape of diamonds), and in her classic "Through a Glass, Darkly," McCloy deals with the issue of the doppelganger or the unknown double that we all (supposedly) have.
The Pleasant Assassin, the eighth volume in "Crippen & Landru Lost Classics," assembles in one volume all ten short stories about Basil Willing, including eight previously uncollected tales. The reader will soon discover why Helen McCloy was one of the finest authors of the Golden Age of Detective Stories.
New introduction by B. A. Pike. Cover illustration by Gail Cross. Lost Classics cover design by Deborah Miller.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9" Width: 6" Height: 0.6" Weight: 0.6 lbs.
Release Date Aug 29, 2003
Publisher Crippen & Landru Publishers
ISBN 1932009078 ISBN13 9781932009071
Reviews - What do customers think about The Pleasant Assassin and Other Cases of Dr. Basil Willing (Lost Classics)?
Trilling Makes a Fellow Willing May 11, 2007
I have to agree with Mark McGlone here, that the plotting of some of the stories is pretty weak! But on the other hand I think McCloy's got a stronger batting average than he does, for besides "Through a Glass, Darkly" and "The Singing Diamonds," I'm quite fond of "Murder Stops the Music" as well. What he sees as a flaw I see as a plus--the short story form constricted McCloy into pouring all the elements of a full-length novel into a mere 20 pages, resulting in a series of tales in which page after page swims with action and genuine surprise. For I find some of McCloy's novels intolerably padded, and here you get all the twists without having to sit through all the interruptions and local color.
"Murder Stops the Music," from 1957, is set at a beachside summer resort rather like the ones Patrick Quentin/Q. Patrick used to feature in his 30s and 40s novels. In fact you might almost believe that this story had been written by Patrick Quentin for it has all of his best qualities. It is, simply, bizarre as all get out, and the central incident, of a muddy boxer accompanying a lovely young lady on a charity call to a retired concert pianist in retirement, is sufficiently mysterious to fuel a whole regatta of speculation. The dog tracks mud over every one of Gertrude Ehrenthal's lovely furnishings, even the pearl-gray satin fittings of her window seat, and politely she says nothing, believing the beast came with her guest, the enchanting ingenue Sybilla Swayne, who in turn thinks the dog is her hostess's. What a pickle and yet on this kooky episode turns the whole complicated plot of jewel theft and public murder. Basil Willing bases a complex chain of reasoning on one suspect's use of the verb "to ignore." It's not his finest hour but, does Basil ever really get one? His pronouncements always seem pretty off the cuff when they're not completely mad by modern standards. In one story he deduces that the writer of an anonymous letter (that quotes Shelley) must be a teenage girl, for "Shelley is an adolescent's poet." I don't think so, Helen McCloy.
I love "The Singing Diamonds" too, in which all the guests at the dinner party are challenged to produce their own solution to an amazingly puzzling mystery, and each of them do, without preamble, in the space of a page and a half. Even the crime experts of Anthony Berkeley's "Poisoned Chocolates Case" needed a little more foreplay than these guys! And then, when Basil produces his own solution to the case, does any reader believe that the murderer's plot could possibly have worked? Maybe I'm missing something, but how did the killer insure that all the incidents necessary to make it work would transpire? Answer me that, Riddler! And yet, there has never been a story like "The Singing Diamonds," with as much romantic and suspense appeal, such a contemporary sci fi twist, such a devious plot underlying the whole.
There are two great stories here Jun 2, 2005
Two of these stories, "The Singing Diamonds," and "Through a Glass, Darkly," are mystery classics (the second of these was expanded into a novel of the same name). Not coincidentally these are the two longest stories by far. Unfortunately, the rest are pretty weak.
The problem is that the short length of these stories is too confining for McCloy. Red herrings are too few, and characters are often one dimensional. McCloy's plots, which are usually excellent, aren't fully fleshed out. In addition, these stories suffer from that too-common malady of mystery stories--"unmotivated spontaneous confession syndrome." When confronted with the weak speculative evidence against them, the culprits confess immediately, apparently just to get the story over with.
I had to remind myself that these stories were written by Helen McCloy--an outstanding mystery novelist, a graceful stylist and skilled plotter who wrote convincingly about intelligent people. She is under-appreciated today. To get a true taste of her talent, look for her novels. I especially love her wartime suspensers, such as "Panic" and "Do Not Disturb." Also I'd suggest "Goblin Market," and "Two-Thirds of a Ghost."
Enjoyable and well worth your time Sep 8, 2004
At last Helen McCloy's novels and short stories are back in print! She is a wonderful writer who doesn't cheat; she gives the reader all the clues needed to solve the mystery. Her clever detective, Dr. Basil Willing, usually puts the clues together in ways that wouldn't occur to most of us. McCloy often includes a delicious little frisson of the the supernatural in her stories, something to make you wonder "what if?" Her characters are well drawn, in few strokes, and the resolutions have that certain inevitability of the best detective stories. Well worth your reading time.
A LOST CLASSIC! Sep 25, 2003
At last Helen mccloy will receive the attention she deserves. In this book (another in the great LOST CLASSICS SERIES BY CRIPPEN&LANDRU)you will unravel mysteries in the great golden age tradition, and perhaps will lead you to try the novels of Dr. Basil Willings. A great read.