The Man in the Moonlight by Helen McCloy

I loved Dance of Death, the first book in Helen McCloy’s Dr Basil Willing mystery series which I read last month, so I was pleased to see that Agora Books have now reissued the second in the series, The Man in the Moonlight. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the first, but it was still a good read and it was nice to meet Dr Willing and Assistant Chief Inspector Foyle again.

Helen McCloy (a pseudonym of Helen Clarkson) was an American crime author whose career spanned five decades and included several standalone books as well as the Basil Willing series. The Man in the Moonlight, first published in 1940, is set during World War II and the war has a part to play in the plot.

Inspector Foyle is visiting Yorkville University, where he is planning to send his son, when he finds a discarded piece of paper with the message: ‘I take pleasure in informing you that you have been chosen as murderer for Group No 1. Please follow these instructions with as great exactness as possible.’ At first Foyle doesn’t take this too seriously – he assumes it’s part of a game of some sort and doesn’t believe that real killers refer to each other as ‘murderers’ anyway – but he is forced to change his mind when Professor Konradi, an Austrian biochemist who escaped from a concentration camp, is found dead in his laboratory.

Konradi’s death appears to be suicide but Foyle isn’t convinced and enlists the help of Dr Basil Willing, psychiatric consultant to the New York District Attorney’s office. As Foyle and Willing begin to investigate, they uncover some intriguing and unexpected aspects of the case, ranging from a psychological experiment being carried out by another of the university professors to the potential involvement of a group of Nazi spies. As in Dance of Death, it’s Willing’s understanding of how the human mind works that leads to the eventual solution.

This is quite a complex mystery novel and incorporates lots of interesting psychological and scientific ideas. The sort of methods Basil Willing uses to obtain the information he needs include lie detector tests and word association tests and I found it fascinating to see him explain his analysis of these tests to the other characters. The focus on the personalities of the suspects, their possible motives and their reasons for behaving the way they do, is much more appealing to me than reading long discussions of alibis and timelines which often dominate other mystery novels and this is one of the reasons why I’m enjoying Helen McCloy’s novels so much. Most of her books are still currently out of print but I’m hoping more of them will be made available by Agora Books soon.

10 thoughts on “The Man in the Moonlight by Helen McCloy

  1. piningforthewest says:

    I’m sure I read a few of her books years ago so it’s good to know some are being reprinted. I agree that long discussions of alibis can be tedious. I can’t remember ever seeing any of her books in secondhand bookshops, but it’s so long since I’ve actually been in one!

    • Helen says:

      She seems to be a truly ‘forgotten’ author, which is a shame as her books are so interesting. I hope we’ll be able to start visiting secondhand bookshops again soon!

  2. jessicabookworm says:

    I am pleased you are continuing to enjoy this author’s mystery novels and I hope more will be republished for you to read, Helen. I have just enjoyed a good mystery read too: O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King, from King’s Mary Russell series. 🙂

  3. FictionFan says:

    I wish I could fit in more of these Agora books – they seem to find loads of interesting authors and I haven’t read enough American crime fiction. This one certainly sounds intriguing…

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