Classic Crime Review: Alias Basil Willing by Helen McCloy

41tEe7zfHQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When I spoke about Elizabeth Daly at Bodies from the Library in June, a fellow speaker, Christine Poulson, suggested I try Helen McCloy who writes in a similar vein to Daly. I already had Alias Basil Willing on my shelf, number 1251 in my vintage Penguin collection and I’ve been reading it over the last couple of days. The book has an intriguing if unlikely premise. Psychiatrist Dr Basil Willing leaves a New York tobacconist at the same time as a man who has rushed in to buy his favourite brand of cigarettes. The man hails a taxi and while giving instructions to the driver proclaims ‘I am Basil Willing.’ The real Willing, of course, follows the taxi which leads him to a three-story house in a shabby street furnished with unexpected luxury by its owner Doctor Zimmer, a fellow psychiatrist. The cast of characters (and suspects) are introduced as Willing mingles amongst them during which the fake Willing’s deception is exposed. Before he can explain the circumstances of the alias, however, he dies from an overdose of codeine.

Basil Willing is clearly a series detective but it’s a mark of McCloy’s skill that I was able to pick up his back story fairly quickly although as a protagonist I’m not sure I completely warmed to him. There’s a devilish heart to the plot though which reflects its post war setting which considers the treatment of those a burden to their husbands, children and other family members. The final part of the book left me chilled which rarely happens with modern psychological thrillers.

51FcLcMDKRLLike Daly, McCloy is excellent at depicting New York polite society and the endemic boredom which encourages drug taking and excessive alcohol. I was impressed by the fact the police didn’t appear too stupid here and the psychiatry explanations were done with a light touch which means they’re not too old-fashioned for the modern reader. I think this is the only Penguin edition of McCloy’s books but they’re available on kindle and well worth a read for the intelligent writing and strong plot.

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9 thoughts on “Classic Crime Review: Alias Basil Willing by Helen McCloy

  1. I’ve recently encountered McCloy for the first (and second) time. I didn’t warm to The Goblin Market, a war-time thriller, at all but Mr Splitfoot, a locked room murder with ghostly overtones, is better, although it has the amount of puzzle plot of a short story, so it felt a bit padded to me. This one sounds interesting, so I might take a look if I return to McCloy.

  2. This is one of those authors I read when I was much younger but haven’t returned to. I would like to but there are only so many books I can read (or own, and I don’t really do Kindle books). Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed with the good books out there, both vintage and contemporary and in between.

  3. Haven’t heard of this author, but am always willing to take a look at new ones to me. I’m looking forward to getting and reading A Patient Fury Sarah.

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