The Man in the Moonlight (Helen McCloy)

By Helen McCloy

First published: USA, Morrow Mystery, 1940


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The Americans wrote better detective stories than anyone.

[Discuss.  Argue.  Argue furiously.]

Here’s a good example why.


McCloy - The Man in the Moonlight.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

“It was only when Lambert lifted his eyes from the decapitated mouse in his hand that Basil knew something was wrong.”

Murder interrupts a psychological experiment at Yorkville University.

A student pretends to be a murderer, to foil a lie-detector. He finds the body of refugee biochemist Franz Konradi, shot through the head.

At first glance, it’s suicide.  At second glance, it looks like the suicide was faked.  And at third glance: is he really Konradi?

It’s a detective story. A proper one.

There are seven likely candidates, including a Chinese psychologist; an experimental psychologist who thinks his baby is an ideal specimen; a banker; a beautiful Viennese; and an anthropologist.

The clues are elaborate, both psychological and material (a particularly good one about typewriters).

The murderer is well-concealed.

There are convincing but wrong solutions; McCloy knows what the intelligent reader will think, and anticipates.

And is there nothing she doesn’t know? The plot involves psychology, physiology, medicine, somnambulism, epilepsy, symbolism, ballistics, international politics, and metallurgy.

It reminds me of the days when I devoured Carr and Queen and Blake and Marsh and Van Dine and Crispin and Innes and Brand.

It reminds me, in fact, that, yes, I actually do like this genre.


Blurb

will enter Southerland Hall as the library clock is striking the hour of eight in the evening…  This will give you ample time for the murder…

It was a macabre letter to find on the peaceful campus of a New York university.  No names were given – no address, no signature.  But at eight that evening, with uncanny punctuality, someone murdered Franz Konradi, Austrian bio-chemist and refugee, in his laboratory at Southerland Hall.

The police summon Dr. Basil Willing, young medical assistant to the district attorney.  He is glad of the excuse to leave a dull dinner-party – all the more glad when he loses his way on the moonlit campus and encounters romance in the beguiling Viennese, Gisela von Hohenems.

But why does she try to keep him from going to Southerland Hall?  Before he traps Konradi’s murderer, Basil Willing has to answer other oddly disturbing questions: How was Konradi shot and killed without a bullet?  What has become of his laboratory notes?  Who is responsible for the wall of silence that baffles Willing whenever he tries to find out anything about Konradi from people connected with the university?  And who was “the man in the moonlight” – described so differently by each witness who saw him the night of the murder?


Reviews

Isaac Anderson, The New York Times:

Even better than Helen McCloy’s first mystery.

 

Saturday Review of Literature:

Top-drawer.

 

William Boehnel, New York World-Telegram:

For your must list.

 

Will Cuppy, Herald Tribune:

Should place her definitely in the mystery hall of fame.

 

Jack Ketch, New York Herald Tribune:

Basil Willing … mixes psychiatry and sleuthing most admirably.

 

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 3rd November 1940):

Next three are detective stories.  Miss McCloy is something of a discovery.  The Man in the Moonlight can be vigorously recommended to connoisseurs and includes some good satire on behaviourist psychology.  First victim is Austrian refugee scientist working at American university.  Murder coincides with elaborate sham-crime experiment staged for idiotic behaviourist.  Suspects range from high financier, Chinese professor, crypto-epilept millionaire student, beautiful Viennese brunette…  Investigation by sane, suave, young psychiatrist who, after two more murders, outwits fiend in exciting showdown.  Elaborate ingenious clues.

 

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 9th November 1940):

PSYCHOLOGICAL DETECTION

Psychology has been pushing its way into the most ordinary crimes.  So what chance is there of escaping it when a professor is murdered in a university half full of lie-detectors and startle-pattern experiments?  Miss McCloy begins by laughing at them, but before long the subject hypnotises her and spoils her tale.  On the slightest provocation her Dr. Basil Willing, most scientific of sleuths, airs theories about emotions and memories.  These rise like a mist of intellect to obscure what is actually a straightforward detective story.  The clues which reveal the murderer’s identity are simple enough for any policeman to follow; they are so simple, in fact, that it is rather unreasonable to imagine how an ingenious criminal would have left such plain traces behind.  Detective stories that proclaim themselves as psychological usually contain less psychological interest than some unpretentious ones.  The Man in the Moonlight is a fair example.

 

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 7th December 1940):

Superfluous complications again figure largely in The Man in the Moonlight, the murder of a refugee scientist at an American university.  I always like a campus murder, but I found it hard to like this one.  Still there is some pleasure to be got from watching a lie-detector in action.  The motive for the crime proves to be such an outrage to reason that even the preceding psychological mumbo jumbo has not prepared one for it.  As for the man in the moonlight, he was just the criminal whom everyone was being too psychological to recognise.