Cover Image: Dance of Death

Dance of Death

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This was the first book I had read by Helen McCoy and certainly wasn’t the sort of book I usually read but I am so glad it was recommended; it is in the first in her Dr Basil Willing’s series.
It starts with a list of characters to who we are to be introduced to throughout the story, this wasn’t something I was used to and I found it to be a bit confusing, personally I like the characters to introduced through the story telling but for any future books I would just skip past that bit. 
The discovery in New York of a woman’s body, dead from heatstroke buried under the snow and with a bright yellow face is what starts this clever whodunnit. 
The relationship between Dr Basil Willing, a psychiatrist attached to the District Attorney’s office and his friend Assistant Chief Inspector Foyle was interesting and developed well with the story line.
It's cleverly plotted with several twists and numerous red herrings to keep you guessing throughout this book. I found this to be a very engaging cosy mystery story transporting me back to the Golden Age.
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The discovery of a debutante's body in a snowdrift is the starting point of this "puzzle" murder mystery set in the 1930's New York City.  Kitty Jocelyn was the centre of attention at an extravagant "coming out" dance at a family mansion on Manhattan's Upper East Side.   The evening of the dance she suddenly takes ill and, in her place, a look-alike cousin plays the role of debutante.  This ruse complicates the identification of the body for both the police, and the reader: who is dead -- the debutante, or her cousin?
The resulting investigation takes place in a high society setting involving the New York City Police Commissioner, the District Attorney as well as the city police, led by Inspector Foyle.  A psychiatrist Dr. Basil Willing participates too, as an ally of the District Attorney, and plays the role of the semi-professional detective providing psychiatric advice.  This is the first of several mysteries by the author in which Dr. Willing plays this role.

It's a cleverly plotted whodunit, with several plot twists and numerous red herrings to divert attention. There's plenty of scientific and psychiatric information too.  It's a tossup whether this is meant to misdirect readers, or to educate them.  Regardless, it provides some tedious reading.

The cast of characters (and suspects) includes several exotic mysterious people: a shady East European businessman, a swarmy South American artist/gigolo, Kitty's wealthy uncle and several incidental hangers on.   The story moves along briskly for the most part (there's bit of a sag towards the middle of the story).  In due course, Dr. Willing unveils the identity of the killer and there's a flurry of activity to prevent another murder.  It's a plausible resolution of the puzzle and results in a satisfying conclusion.

It's an entertaining mystery story, with no gore or violence.   Recommended for fans of sophisticated cozy mysteries.   This edition includes an excerpt from "The Man in the Moonlight", another Dr. Willing mystery story.  

I received a complementary advance reading copy of this eBook from Agora Books via Netgalley. Opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
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This is a reprint of a 1938 novel by Helen McCloy who was a highly regarded crime fiction writer before the war. This is her first that includes Dr Basil Willing (who also appears in the attached short story). He is a self confessed psychological detective. He vocally expounds the necessity of his approach to crime detection as being superior to the usual anodyne police procedures. In the course of this novel he will be an interested observer, but will also “know” people and will be officially consulted about the mental state of one character. But in the book his views can be the linking analysis that drives the reader’s understanding faster than the police procedures.
The storyline is of a seemingly simple mystery that expands to more and more possibilities of what exactly is going on, discovered through the actions of a not particularly large run of characters. Inspector Foyle is the official detective on this case going through the official procedures and systematic questioning and research – only to find that that the crime is not that straightforward after all – amidst the lies, evasions and avoidances of characters whose otherwise lives are not squeaky clean. 
A “coming out party” is being arranged for Katherine Jocelyn. She has recently arrived back in the States from Europe with her step-mother Rhoda.  As her uncle Edgar has offered to underwrite the event, Rhoda has employed an official organiser Mrs Jowett. But she has also started to employ Katherine’s cousin Ann Claude (orphaned, homeless and short of money) as her live in “secretary”. There is another household hanger-on, Luis Pasquale described as a South American Artist. There are rumours that Katherine might be getting engaged to either Nicholas Danine a wealthy German Industrialist or maybe an American gossip columnist and writer called “Lowell Cabot” who travelled across the Atlantic on the same ship..
In spite of the stress of the pre-party arrangements the event itself is a vibrant social success. Katherine is visibly admired. But during the course of the evening, by chance, a body of a young woman is found dead in a snow drift. Initially she cannot be identified. Nobody comes forward to report a missing person, but then suggestions are made that she is the cousin Ann who has “left the house to work elsewhere”. Complications arise when….. But that would be a spoiler to the tale.
Who is the body in the ice, was she killed, a suicide or accidentally dead. If it is Ann why did nobody come forward? If it is not, who is she?  Why are so many people in the household so shifty – is it involvement? Or are they hiding other things? If so what?  And so the plot becomes deeper and deeper. As this is a crime novel it has to be unravelled successfully. We have Inspector Foyle being expected to solve the mystery, but with the constraints of not upsetting powerful social people who were at the party. People are not necessarily who they say they are – Danine a German Industrialist in the USA as war approaches, what is he doing?  And Foyle is being “helped” by Dr Willing who is so very convinced of his methodologies, and who will be constantly critical of his methods.  A very structured storyline as a result, but a very busy plot for the readers to work out.
But this is a historic crime novel too, so some of the entertainment lies in the depictions of the period, the class attitudes, the power plays, and of course Dr Willing’s “new” theories – which might in all honesty be regarded as slightly clunky now. But the analysis of characters involved has a side swipe in this story; because it ultimately comes down to what do you see of a person? Is their public life the same as their inner circle life and then the same life when they are alone? Is what you see the truth, or a social or other construct? How closely did you look?  I ultimately saw a good fun classic crime read.
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I must say that I love these covers! They are so atmospheric and contain these tiny clues to the content which actually make a lot more sense after the reading. This is a new author that I saw some pretty good reviews of towards the end of the year. I am always willing to try something new in these reprints of older lesser-known classic mysteries. I must say my foray with these was so good that I read both back-to-backs in a long almost single sitting today. I must say my foray with these was so good that I read both back-to-back in a long almost single sitting today. Everything about the introductions here was entertaining, from the discovery of the dead, the state they find her in, and our lead protagonist Dr Basil Willing. He is in a discussion about how people leave information inadvertently by both their action and even inaction. Into this situation comes the information about the unknown female found under the snow. 
The deduction process begins almost immediately, but the case does not get enough traction until a crucial witness makes a statement that shakes the whole thing up. At this point, I thought I might actually be looking at a psychological thriller, but it moves back to a slightly eccentric version of the classic detective novel. There are suspects, alibis and even motives under scrutiny. Each part comes with its own difficultly, but I got to the solution just as Dr Basil did. This is always a treat because I feel more in sync with the author.
Some explanations may have gone on longer than I am accustomed to, but on the whole, I enjoyed the book.

I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers but my review is entirely based on my own reading experience.
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A great mystery novel. The plot was interesting and this description was more detailed than usual.
I enjoyed trying to figure out who did the murder and why.
Getting to know the many characters was the best part, just so many red herrings in this story.
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This is the first of Helen McCloy's books and it's a fascinating start to her series. The book's theme deals with celebrity, which not a subject broached often at the time. She had an interesting take on the matter which made for a fascinating read.
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Helen McCloy is a Golden Age writer whose books are being re-published in ebook by Agora Press.  Dance of Death is the first of McCloy’s Basil Willing series, and I very much enjoyed the advance reading copy of this title that Agora provided for me to read.  

Although it can sometimes feel quite odd to read a book that was written more than 80 years ago, Dance of Death has weathered the years pretty well.   Mostly the plot felt surprisingly modern, including one of the key themes of the book, “thermol”, which turned out to be a dangerous method for losing weight and staying thin – and which reminded me of the problems with fen-phen just a few years ago.   There were occasional jarring references – for example, one of the first things the Police Commissioner says about the first victim is that she was a virgin, which seemed sort of odd to mention right away, and sounded, to me, at least, like shades of the old Madonna/whore complex.    But I was mostly able to overlook these as just indicative of the time the book was written.    

As far as the plot, it had some nice twists and turns along the way, and kept me guessing until the end.  Although I found Basil Willing to be little bit annoying personally, it was really interesting to see his early use of psychological clues and methods in crime detection.   I ended up reading the book in just a couple of sittings, and now am looking forward to reading more books in the series.  

Overall, I really enjoyed Dance of Death.   Please note that I don’t give very many five-star ratings, and for me, four stars is a very solid recommendation for a book.  And my thanks to Agora Books and NetGalley for the ARC!
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A fascinating and entertaining novel by a new to me author. I loved it and couldn't put it down.
It's a complex, somehow very modern mystery full of twists and turns. I assume it's the first that ever featured a sort of profiler as detective.
The descriptions of the setting, the well thought characters and the tightly knitted plot kept me hooked and I loved Basil Willing as he's a great characters.
The mystery is solid, full of twists and turns, and the solution came as a surprise.
I can't wait to read the rest of the series, this one is strongly recommended.
Strongly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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Well, not exactly identical, but close enough to fool everyone at the coming out party! This was a super enjoyable read from an author with a great writing style. This is my first book by Helen McCloy, but it won't be my last. She hails from the Golden Age of Crime, but her story telling is not outdated by any means. I admit there are aspects of the story that date the book (a coming out party!), but the premise could certainly be made into a modern story. Dr. Willing, the protagonist, is thoroughly brilliant without being arrogant or off-putting. The other characters in the story are very well written and well formed, which makes the book a pleasure to read. The facts surrounding the death are fairly unique, and finding the culprit is fun. I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read mysteries, especially Golden Age mysteries - mysteries that are cerebral without being gruesome.
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Second-hand copies of early McCloy are difficult to come by, so I was pleased to see Agora Books were going to be reprinting some of them. Also pleasingly, it appears that the Agora copies have retained the Dell Map back (?) feature of including persons and objects of interest before the story begins, written in a typically elliptic bullet style of writing which gives a hint of what is to come. 
It is December and Butch and Buddy get the shock of their lives, shovelling snow into a truck, when one of their shovels unveils a corpse. This alone would be horrifying in and of itself, but there is more to come. For this corpse, despite being buried underneath the snow is far from frozen and is in fact hot… An initial autopsy says her organs look like those from a victim who has died of heat stroke, but how is that possible in the depths of winter? To begin with they don’t know who she is, but when they do, matters only become more baffling…
Overall Thoughts
Having read a few titles by this author, it was interesting to see her first Dr Basil Willing novel containing two themes which she would return to many times in her work. The first of these is the use of pharmaceutical type drugs. In the case of The Deadly Truth (1943), a woman foolishly inflicts a truth telling serum on her dinner guests, only to wind up dead, and in this book another drug, this time part of a slimming product, is the cause of another woman’s death. This is not particularly a spoiler as such, as in the author’s note at the beginning we are informed of: ‘the most important character, thermol, or 2 4 di-nitro-phenol, is taken from real life.’ Though those not well informed on science will be relieved to know that ‘no scientific knowledge is needed for the solution of the crime, beyond that which is given in the course of the narrative before the solution is reached.’ The slimming product aspect of the work, and the tied in theme of advertising, are very well used in the book and I thought they gave the story a modern feel. 
The second theme which McCloy perhaps returned to even more was identity, and the potential for misidentification. This is most famously seen in Through a Glass Darkly (1950), in which a woman keeps being seen in places she says she was not, whilst in Alias Basil Willing (1951), the book begins with Basil hearing someone else using his identity and in A Question of Time (1971) there are doubts as to whether a woman is who she says she is. Usually this theme takes up a considerable part of the mystery, yet this is not the case in Dance of Death. It really only concerns the first few chapters. Some aspects are a little too melodramatic, but because they only feature at the beginning they do not derail the plot and instead this area of deception is used to further fuel the puzzle of the book, especially in terms of understanding the suspects and their motivations.  
The initial discovery of the body is engrossingly baffling and surprising with its use of contrasts and it sets up the novel’s puzzle effectively. Once the source of death has been identified there is still much to discover; not only who did it and why, but also how the drug was administered, as for some time certain pieces of information appear to block the most obvious answer. 
McCloy is also good at establishing her central sleuth, Dr Basil Willing and the type of role he is to play. His first page appearance sees him listening to the Police Commissioner who belittles the psychological value of detective work: ‘there's no place of psychology in detection. Police work deals with physical facts...’ Basil himself retorts that: ‘Every criminal leaves psychic fingerprints […] and he can't wear gloves to hide them.’ Moreover, in the middle of the investigation Basil raises the issue of looking at the blunders the suspects make, and what these mistakes or slips of the tongue might reveal. I felt this was a fairer use of psychological clues as it means they are not hurled at the reader out of nowhere at the end of book. At one point they are even listed as questions, (something other novelists of the era did), by the police and Basil talks through the possibilities. However, I should reassure fans of physical facts that such pieces of information are not lacking – though of course beware of the red herrings!
The fourth rule of Ronald Knox’s Decalogue is concerned with writers not using unknown poisons, nor using ones which require a very long scientific explanation and looking back on this book, I think McCloy’s story is an excellent example of how to use a science component, without alienating or boring the reader. The information tends to be given in bite sized pieces and you find out the facts at the same time as the detectives who are discussing the case. I felt this meant the detective did not steam ahead of the reader leaving them miles behind and I also think the information we are given is focused on being relevant. We are not given lots of extraneous detail.
I was not wholly surprised by the final solution, as it is one which dropped into my brain early on during one of the police interviews. It was one of those moments where you just notice the inclusion of a piece of information and you think hmmm I wonder…? However, it was not an idea I was fixed on, and being typical me forgot all about it until the end. The solution I had considered was no certainty in my mind and I think the book keeps you guessing. The motive has its unusual aspects, though a central component is one I have seen before.  
So all in all, like the Puzzle Doctor, I think this is a very strong first novel, with its interesting puzzle and plot features and I definitely look forward to trying more. This is a great place to start your McCloy reading, if you are new to her, and thankfully Agora have now made this title a far more accessible one to track down and buy. 
Rating: 4.5/5
Source: Review Copy (Agora Books)
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What a great find! I had never heard of Helen McCloy till reading this book. It is everything a golden age mystery should be...well written, interesting characters, engaging plot, and satisfying conclusion. I wish more of her books were available as e-books!
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This is the latest addition to Agora Books’ Uncrowned Queens of Crime series, making long-forgotten crime novels by female authors available again to modern readers. I think it’s probably my favourite so far. Originally published in 1938, it’s the first of several books written by American author Helen McCloy which feature the psychiatrist Dr Basil Willing.

The novel begins with the discovery of the body of a young woman, buried under a heap of snow in a New York street. Bizarrely, the cause of death appears to be heatstroke and the girl’s face is stained bright yellow. The police think they have identified her as Kitty Jocelyn, a beautiful debutante who has become famous as the face of an advertising campaign, but things take an even more confusing turn when they speak to her cousin, Ann Claude, who closely resembles the dead girl and who claims that she had been persuaded to impersonate Kitty at her recent coming out party.

Inspector Foyle begins to investigate this intriguing mystery, assisted by Basil Willing, an expert in Freudian psychoanalysis who provides a very different and, for the time, probably quite modern approach to crime-solving. While Foyle looks for tangible evidence and clues that will point to the culprit, Willing is more interested in the ‘blunders’ people make: a slip of the tongue, a lost item, a forgotten name. “Every criminal leaves psychic fingerprints,” he says, “And he can’t wear gloves to hide them.” I found Willing’s methods of solving the mystery fascinating, whether it was suggesting psychological reasons for the blunders, conducting word association tests or using his knowledge of the human mind to find out the motivation behind the crime.

Apart from Basil Willing, whom I liked and will look forward to meeting again, the other characters in the book are well drawn and believable too, which is important as the psychological angle of the story wouldn’t have worked if the characters had been nothing more than stereotypes. I didn’t manage to solve the mystery myself; although I suspected the right person, their motive came as a complete surprise to me, so I was content to let Willing do the investigating and explain the solution to me at the end. There are other aspects of the novel which I found nearly as interesting as the mystery, though, such as the ethics of advertising, attitudes towards money in 1930s society and the responsibilities of being a public figure. I thoroughly enjoyed Dance of Death and I’m sure I’ll be looking for more by Helen McCloy.
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My favourite thing- a  new writer and new detective to add to my list! Dr Basil Willing is intriguing in his own right coupled with a plot full of twists and turns this was a great read! The characters were three dimensional and the developing relationships were interesting to observe. The plot line worked well and contained enough red herrings to keep you guessing but like a good Christie novel the reader was told everything alongside the detective. I will definitely read more by this author and hope that the Dr Basil’s personality will continue to impress me!  Foyle was more than a sidekick and the relationship between the two worked well. The panic felt by Ann the morning after the party was very realistic. The forensic detail was also explained well and was easy enough for a non expert to follow! 
I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.
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When a young woman is found dead from heatstroke in the snow, Dr Basil Willing is asked to assist Inspector Foyle in establishing what happened but there are only more questions when she is identified as debutante Kitty Jocelyn, killed on the night of her coming out ball!!

I enjoyed Dance of Death, which, as expected from the era, has a puzzling mystery at its heart, not least who would want  to kill a young woman who recently arrived in New York from Europe and was quite unknown? No one it would appear, but several people had the opportunity so it’s a question of finding a motive and a killer.

This is an interesting read as a product of its era. The psychology seemed rather naive and primitive in comparison with our modern understanding but it can be, at times, a little tiresome but the effort is worthwhile and I believe that the novel was considered modern in its approach at that time. What I noticed more, however, was the class of the characters in this story. The majority of the characters seem fairly wealthy, if not so well bred and the inference is that the Police should leave them alone. Maybe not so different from life nowadays, on reflection. It’s also a remarkably homogeneous society with an emphasis on their European roots.

Although the book was originally published in 1938 I don’t think the narrative seemed at all out of date except of course there were no detailed investigations by Scene Of Crime investigators but the police seemed to rely more on paper records rather than computers which was refreshing. Telegraph and telephone communication replaced mobile phone and computers and the emphasis was rather on the interview of witnesses.  Despite this, the narrative was fast flowing and I enjoyed the investigative nature of the novel and have no hesitation in recommending it as an excellent book.

I would like to thank Netgalley and Agora Books for an advance copy of Dance of Death the first novel to feature the psychiatrist character Dr Basil Willing.
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A young girls body found in the snow ,but the victim is far from frozen in fact the body is hot ! But the strangeness of the case doesn't stop there for when the coroner says she died a hundred or more witnesses were watching her dance at her coming out party!
Dr Basil Willing psychiatrist attached to the D.A's office is brought in to help to find a motive a method and perpetrator.The girl had only been in the country a few days who could hate her enough to kill hr in that time,and how was it done and by whom.But there are so many things that don't make sense to the police led by Inspector Foyle and it takes the special skills of Basil Willing to put it all together and bring the case to it's shocking conclusion.
This is the first of the Dr Willing/ Inspector Foyle mysteries of Helen McCloy and this newly revived novel the first of her books I have read .I enjoyed it immensely and found it well written and thought out.The psychology is very much of its time but perhaps even more interesting because of that.
I myself had gone through several suspects before I settled on the eventual killer with the uncovering of the final piece of evidence.A quirky plot a nice collection of characters including two very likeable central characters in Dr Basil Willing and Inspector Foyle .I will certainly be on the lookout for the release of further mysteries.
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As I read the 1938 classic Dance of Death by Helen McCloy I could envision the black and white film version, complete with opening credits listing the entire cast of characters.  It is a well written story, over and above the mystery.  There is a tad too much armchair psychiatry and fascination with obscure chemicals for my taste, but it was typical of that era and adds to the atmosphere.  The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act was passed in 1938 and, given the poisonous over-the-counter diet aids in this tale, that was none too soon!
This is a great read, with many obvious suspects but it takes the entire book to figure out whodunnit.
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This author was new to me, but having read and enjoyed this book, I will certainly be on the look out for more titles.
A great mystery, with many twists and turns with a psychiatrist employed by the district attorney, thrown in the mix. Given that this book was written in thirties, this is quite a change from crime stories of the era.
The story starts with a young girl being found in the the snow, frozen, yet very hot to the touch. It quickly moves on to a normal murder investigation, a real page turner right up to the end.
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I really liked this. It was a quick page turning read, with lots of great period detail of New York in the late 1930s, and excellent characterisation. I found it quite similar to the Nero Wolfe crime novels of the same period, though with less wisecracks but still lots of drama. I would definitely recommend and look forward to reading more of Helen McCloy's work.
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This book started promisingly with a description of the heiresses' body found in the snow and the introduction of Basil wilding and his psychological theories.  The language was quite verbose, as is common in stories from this era and genre, and I struggled to get through it and even find the meaning in some cases. i think this is due to reading it many decades and three thousand miles from it's setting. There were several red herrings along the way so I did persevere as I wanted to find out the solution. When it came, it was neat and quite guessable.  An interesting read for fans of the genre but I won't be indulging myself with further titles.
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Dance of Death by Helen McCloy  was painstakingly plotted, but the solution was evident once the correct suspect was interviewed. The main investigator is a psychologist, Dr Willing, attached to the NY City DA's office. There are other stock characters involved in solving the murder, but they clutter up the plot and are mostly irrelevant except as sounding boards for Dr Willing. 
The milieu of debutantes and coming-out parties was not convincingly described, and most of the characters are cardboard . There was a great deal of unnecessary psychological and scientific vocabulary dropped into the story, giving the impression that the author was trying to impress an uneducated readership with her grasp of chemical formulas. 
Ms McCloy presents the results of all this meticulous research in a grade-school-level style with huge blocks of explanation embedded in unlikely dialogue with characters ever-so willing to reveal themselves because they are being interviewed by a clever psychologist rather than a police officer.
A mystery novel needs more than technical research and timetable plotting to make the characters seem like living humans that the reader could care about rather than chess pieces in an improbable drama.
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