Dance Of Death (1938/2020) by Helen McCloy

The body of a young woman lies dead in the snow – a woman who has died, apparently, of heat stroke. Moreover, the woman, Kitty Jocelyn was seen the previous evening at her coming-out party looking hale and hearty.

Enter Dr Basil Willing, psychiatric advisor to the D.A.’s office, but he soon finds a perplexing puzzle. While it seems that everybody had the opportunity to kill Kitty, there seems to be no motive. With no physical clues, it falls to Willing to seek more psychological clues…

McCloy wrote almost thirty mystery and suspense novel, many of them featuring Dr Basil Willing. I’ve read two of them – Cue For Murder, which I enjoyed a lot and The Goblin Market, which I didn’t enjoy at all. This is her first book, recently re-released by Agora Books in paperback and ebook, and it’s an impressively strong debut.

It does start a bit oddly, with a plan to try and brainwash someone into thinking she’s Kitty – the notion of doppelgangers is something McCloy would return to – but after that aspect sorts itself out, the mystery develops nicely.

McCloy is a good writer and has a clever hook at the centre of the story. I did think the middle third sagged a tad, as the motive does expose the killer, hence the need to avoid addressing it for the most part. The motive is one that I’ve not seen before in books of this era – indeed, it almost seems to come from a modern day situation – but that does help misdirect the reader nicely.

Agora Books have been doing sterling work reprinting “lost” authors – Hilda Lawrence, George Bellairs, Margaret Newman, Henrietta Hamilton, Nicholas Blake, Richard Hull… and McCloy is an excellent choice to add to this stable. I’m looking forward to reading more of McCloy’s work.


  1. Through A Glass, Darkly is the one that made several lists of the best locked room murders. I cannot say it bowled me over, but it has its virtues, and you might like it. I read a Basil Willing short story that was unmemorable. I think Kate liked a few of hers.


  2. I’m a fan of Helen McCloy and very much liked this one – though partly because of the clothes! Agree with you, surprisingly modern elements to the plot, I found it intriguing that some of those considerations had been around so long.


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