Santa Teresa, a Caribbean island that was once a holiday hotspot, but in the midst of the second World War – 1943 – it is nothing more than an industrial port, home to oil workers, diplomats and the occasional newspaperman – one of them, Halloran, now lies dead at the bottom of the stairs to his office.
Philip Stark, a US expat, arrives in town and sees an opportunity – namely, Halloran’s job. Stark needs the money but soon discovers that he’s taken on more than he expected. Needless to say that it looks like Halloran was murdered and Stark is sure that the secret to his death lies in his final story. But as he hunts for the truth, it seems that the killer may be hunting him.
Another #1943book for Crimes Of The Century, and a new author to me in the shape of Helen McCloy. McCloy wrote about thirty novels, of which thirteen featured Basil Willing, her series sleuth. He turns up for a cameo here, but I won’t say any more than that – if you’ve read the book, you’ll know why – so I can’t really say much about him. Maybe next time.
If there is a next time, that is. This is an odd book – odd in the sense that I know that I read it, but it basically went through my eyes and out… wherever memories go to die, without leaving much of an impact at all.
Part of that is due to the spy-story nature of the tale – the espionage genre has never really clicked for me, and this didn’t do much to change it. The setting is intriguing, an island stuck in the middle of the conflict and the nature of “neutral” Spanish population (despite Franco clearer being more inclined toward the Axis powers), but I felt that McCloy was assuming that the reader of the day was more aware of the global situation than the modern day reader (well, me anyway) would be. Of course, she may have explained it perfectly and I just dozed off…
The mystery doesn’t really hold up as a mystery – while the central character of Stark, and his immediate circle, are intriguing, the suspects really aren’t, so it was hard to care who did what to who. But is it supposed to be a clued whodunit? To be honest, I’m really not sure.
Sorry about this review – not positive, not really negative, but just… not a particularly engrossing read, although I can see why some people might like it. But from me, this would be Worth A Look if you like spy tales.
Sorry that you hit a strange one from Helen McCloy. From what I’ve read, she’s a good writer, and but vacillates between the spy novel and the ‘classic’/ Golden Age mystery novel. Of those I’ve read, ‘Deadly Truth’ certainly qualifies as a fairly-clued and traditional entry to the classic genre; I’ve also heard good things about ‘Mr Splitfoot’ as an impossible crime novel of sorts.
I haven’t read this one, PD – and, as I’m not big on espionage either, I probably won’t. But I have read a few of her classic mysteries and plan to read more, because I find her plotting is very good and her control of the atmospherics of the story is excellent. Mr. Splitfoot is first-rate, as are Through a Glass Darkly and Panic>. I think you might enjoy any of those and strongly recommend giving her another try.
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Thanks, Les. There was enough here to make me want to read her again – appreciate the recommendations.
Not sure you have started with a strong example of her work. Only read the one but I really enjoyed Alias Basil Willing, which all begins when Basil overhears someone assuming his identity. Brad has read a lot more of her work so would be a good person to get informed recommendations off.
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Les did a great job with recommendations, PD! I enjoyed Mr. Splitfoot very much, as well as Through a Glass Darkly, Alias Basil Willing and The Deadly Truth. The One That Got Away also features Willing in a cameo, and it wasn’t as strong. I fear that may be the case with the non-Basil titles, but I have a ways to go. The Slayer and the Slain IS a non-BW book that I enjoyed very much. It has a very intriguing twist.
You’ve already said that you’re not totally put off McCloy, but thanks for this review. It may be that we don’t have to read ALL her books! 🙂
Thanks PD, helpful review. I am just starting to brach out with McCloy, so will know to leave this till a bit later. But as has been said above, highly recommend Through A Glass Darkly.
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Like everyone I recommand the greta locked romm Through a glass darkly.
And I’ve just bought “Cue for Murder” with a lot of other mysteries from the french editor “Le masque”.
Of the dozen or so of her books that I have read, my favourites are: The Slayer And The Slain, Dance of Death, Alias Basil Willing, and Through a Glass, Darkly.
Thanks. Out of curiosity, are there any to avoid?
Some of heres I have liked quite a bit (GLASS DARKLY) and others I found very forgettable(ALIAS BASIL) but MR SPLITFOOT is the one I want to get hold of as everyone seems to love that one.
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