Who’s Calling? by Helen McCloy

This is the fourth novel in American mystery writer Helen McCloy’s Dr Basil Willing series. I have read and enjoyed all of the previous three – Dance of Death, The Man in the Moonlight and The Deadly Truth – but it’s not necessary to read them in order as each mystery stands alone.

Who’s Calling? was first published in 1942 and begins with a young doctor, Archie Cranford, becoming engaged to Frieda Frey, a glamorous nightclub singer. Although he knows his mother won’t be happy to hear the news, Archie arranges to bring Frieda home to Willow Spring, near Washington, to meet his family and friends. Just before Frieda sets off from New York, she receives an anonymous phone call warning her not to go to Willow Spring. Deciding to ignore this threat, she goes ahead with the visit only to find herself the victim of more sinister calls, as well as other strange phenomena. Could this be the work of a poltergeist or is there a more rational reason for what is going on?

At a dinner party held by the Cranfords’ friends, Senator Mark Lindsay and his wife Julia, a murder takes place which may or may not be connected with Frieda’s ghostly experiences. It’s time to call in psychiatric consultant Dr Basil Willing in the hope that he can solve the crime and identify the murderer.

This is another entertaining Basil Willing mystery – although Willing himself doesn’t make an appearance until halfway through the book. The first half is devoted to setting the scene and introducing the characters, the most memorable being the Cranfords’ cousin, Chalkeley Winchester, an annoying, self-absorbed man described by the others as a ‘spoiled child grown up’ and a ‘male old maid’. I also found the relationship between the Lindsays interesting, as we soon discover that Senator Lindsay is bored and disillusioned with his work and that it’s actually his wife Julia who is the driving force behind his political career.

McCloy begins each of her books with a list of ‘Persons of Interest’, briefly describing the characters who will appear in the novel, and then a second list of ‘Objects of Interest’ – in other words, some of the clues or significant happenings you need to look out for. In this book the objects of interest are particularly intriguing and include ‘a loud KNOCK on the front door – and nothing more’, ‘a BEAD CURTAIN which rustles for a while after a murderer passes’ and ‘a KNITTING BAG that moves without being touched.’ Being given this information in advance doesn’t help at all with solving the mystery, though, and doesn’t really have much purpose other than to add a bit of fun to the book!

I quickly narrowed the suspects down to two, and then correctly guessed which one was the culprit, but I couldn’t work out exactly why they had done it. The solution relies on Basil Willing’s psychiatric knowledge and I don’t think it’s something that would occur to most readers, so I was left feeling that McCloy hadn’t been very fair to us this time. Still, I did enjoy this book and will look forward to reading more from the series.

Thanks to Agora Books for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

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