Burn This (Helen McCloy)

By Helen McCloy

First published: US, Dodd Mead, 1980

3 stars

McCloy was rather hard on herself; her last novel shouldn’t be incinerated on sight, merely lightly singed.

McCloy - Burn ThisKirkus called it “mildly diverting nonsense for those not put off by McCloy’s graceless style”. It’s not that bad – but it’s a long way from her best.

We are, you see, very much in cozy territory.

The viewpoint character is a nice, middle-aged, widowed writer, who runs a boarding-house for fellow authors.

One of them has a secret identity: a noxious critic named Nemesis.  And two of them want Nemesis dead.

Outrages occur; so does murder – by dog.

Harriet worries that her son (Vietnam vet prone to blackouts) did it, and calls in psychiatrist sleuth Basil Willing – his first appearance in a dozen years.

The plot’s pretty slight, without many sub-plots or McCloy’s usual keen insights into psychology and sociology. The use of the gadget in the murder is, as far as I know, original.

Like many writers’ late books, it seems to take place in a time-warp; the book was published in 1980, but observations on characters’ clothes smack of the ’50s.


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