By Helen McCloy
First published: US, Random House, 1951; UK, Gollancz, 1951
He was a little man, undistinguished and frightened. He borrowed Basil Willing’s name, attended a strange dinner party – and was murdered! Did he die because the real Basil Willing occasionally advised the D. A.’s office on matters psychiatric? Or was there a more mysterious reason? Something, perhaps, that linked him with his host, Dr. Zimmer, or with the rich and important patients who frequently dined with this eminently respectable psychiatrist?
When Basil Willing set out to discover why he had been impersonated, why tragedy had struck his unknown alter ego, he had little to go on: A cryptic note hidden in a book by a blind woman, now dead; the queer phrase “no bird sang” mumbled by the little man before he died; the general atmosphere of suspicion and concealment that surrounded the people who’d been present at the dinner. Why, he had to ask himself, did the great society beauty taunt him? Why did the Long Island matron make a wax image and pierce it with a hairpin? What secret was troubling the poet’s young daughter? Who was plotting death and who was in danger? As the suspense mounts, Dr. Willing works his way to a climax and conclusion shocking yet logically satisfying. You will agree that once more Helen McCloy provides a brilliant and original puzzler, the equal of Through a Glass Darkly and She Walks Alone.
Quietly sinister, but no surprises.
Times Literary Supplement (Alfred Leo Duggan, 25th January 1952):
Miss Helen McCloy will be remembered for that excellent nightmare, Through a Glass, Darkly. Alias Basil Willing also opens with a bang and moves rapidly to a thrilling conclusion, which accounts for nearly all the queer happenings that have gone before. The English reader will be amused by the criticism of modern American life, in particular the very up-to-date house where the designer, wishing to give a feeling of space, has combined drawing-room, dining-room and kitchen in one squalid loose-box. The book is first-class of its kind, and if the author had troubled to invent genuine characters, instead of taking wealthy spinsters and sinister psychiatrists from stock, it would be first-class in any kind.