My Book Notes: Through a Glass, Darkly, 1950 (Dr Basil Willing # 8) by Helen McCloy

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The Murder Room, 2014. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 891 KB. Print Length: 256 pages. ASIN: B00NT7EFY8. ISBN: 978-1-4719-1247-4. First published in the US by Random House, in 1950 and in the UK by Gollancz, in 1951. The novel is based on McCloy short story “Through a Glass Darkly”, published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (September 1948). It was subsequently serialized in The New York Daily News from Nov. 6, 1949 to Jan. 15, 1950, and later expanded into the 1950 full-length novel by the same title.

9781471912481Description: Gisela von Hohenems joins the teaching staff of an exclusive girls’ school in upstate New York, where she befriends fellow newcomer Faustina Coyle. But a climate of fear surrounds Faustina, and after several strange incidents that defy rational explanation, she is forced to resign. Gisela asks her fiancé, detective-psychologist Dr Basil Willing, to investigate in this highly acclaimed horror-mystery with shades of M. R. James. 

My Take: The story opens at Brereton, an exclusive female boarding school in Connecticut. The headmistress, Mrs Lightfoot, has called Faustina Coyle, a newcomer art teacher, to tell her she must leave at once. Tomorrow, at the latest. She’s fired with six months’ pay, of course, as per her contract but without further explanation. When Faustina requests a clarification, the only reply she gets is that she doesn’t quite fit into the Brereton pattern. Even more surprising, Mrs Lightfoot won’t provide her any letter of reference, what will jeopardize her professional career. We soon realise Faustina doesn’t seem to get along well with the rest of the staff at Brereton, with the only exception of Gisela von Hohenems, whom we met previously at The Man in the Moonlight (Dr Basil Willing # 2). Gisela has now become Willing’s girl friend –as a matter of fact she will married Willing in later novels and will become the mother of Basil’s only daughter. Therefore she writes a letter to Willing, who at the time is abroad, pointing out to him ‘there is something sinister about the whole affair, and, to tell you the shameless truth, I’m beginning to be a little bit frightened myself. More than ever, I wish you were in New York. I know that you would find some reasonable explanation for the whole thing.’ I wouldn’t like to add a lot more not to spoil you the pleasure of finding it out by yourselves. Suffice is to say the story revolves around paranormal phenomena, and it will depend on Dr Basil Willing to find a rational explanation for what happened and for what will take place afterwards.

Since I read the first Helen McCloy’s novels, I was convinced she will soon become one of my favourite writers, and this novel, in particular, confirms it. In Through a Glass, Darkly, I find Helen McCloy on top form. The story, an impossible crime, is wildly original and is carefully crafted. I can understand why is frequently  regarded a masterpiece. Not in vain, it came up number twelve in the famous list of top impossible crime novels, collected in 1981 by Ed Hoch. It is well possible that its ending might not be to the liking of all readers, although for my taste it’s superb. Furthermore, McCloy has manage to create the right atmosphere in which the plot unfolds. It is quite true that, occasionally, the story departs from the subject with particulars that, even though interesting, are beside the point, but this is something I can easily forgive. And as Martin Edwards stresses McCloy was clearly a highly intelligent person with whom it would have been interesting to be able to speak to. I would like to conclude citing Noah Stewart: Through A Glass, Darkly is certainly a well-written book with a great deal of creepy atmosphere, effective and subtle characterization, a good deal of interesting observation of the minutiae of dress and ornament of the late 1940s in the US of interest to social historians, an intelligently conceived plot and a theme that is woven through the action of the book. I highly recommend this novel to you.’

Now I’m off to read Mister Splitfoot, usually considered another of her masterpieces, while expecting that Agora Books reissues the rest of her oeuvre.

Through a Glass, Darkly has been reviewed, among others, at At the Scene of the Crime, Ho-Ling – Where I write about detective fiction, Death Can Read, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, Clothes in Books, Noah’s Archives, My Reader’s Block, Tipping My Fedora, ahsweetmysteryblog, Classic Mysteries, The Green Capsule, Dead Yesterday, Suddenly at His Residence, Cross-Examining Crime, and In Reference to Murder.


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Random House (USA), 1950)

About the Author: Helen McCloy was born in New York City, on 6 June 1904 to writer Helen Worrell McCloy and William McCloy, managing editor of the New York Evening Sun. After discovering a love for Sherlock Holmes as young girl, McCloy began writing her own mystery novels in the 1930s. In 1938 she introduced her psychiatrist-detective Dr Basil Willing, who debuted in her first novel Dance of Death (William Morrow & Co., 1938). He appeared in thirteen of McCloy’s novels and several short stories acting as a paid consultant to New York City’s District Attorney. Willing is famous for saying, “every criminal leaves psychic fingerprints, and he can’t wear gloves to hide them.” Dr. Willing also appears in McCloy’s 1955 supernatural mystery Through a Glass, Darkly — hailed as her masterpiece and likened to John Dickson Carr. Although McCloy was known primarily as a mystery novelist, she published under the pseudonym Helen Clarkson also a science fiction story, The Last Day (1959), regarded as the first really technically well-informed novel on the subject. McCloy went on in the 1950s and 1960s to co-author the review column for a Connecticut newspaper. A rather prolific author, McCloy won Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine awards for the short stories “Through a Glass, Darkly” (reprinted in The Singing Diamonds, 1965) and “Chinoiserie” (reprinted in 20 Great Tales of Murder, 1951). In 1950, she became the first female president of Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and in 1953, she was honoured with an Edgar® Award from the MWA for her critiques. She helped to establish MWA’s New England Chapter in 1971, and was named an MWA Grand Master in 1990. Her contributions to the genre are recognized today by the annual Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship to nurture talent in mystery writing—in fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, and screenwriting. Helen McCloy died in Boston, Massachusetts, on 1 December 1994. aged 90. Although, based on other sources, she died in 1992. In 1987, critic and mystery writer H. R. F. Keating included her Basil Willing title Mister Splitfoot in a list of the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published.md11682504259

The Dr Basil Willing Mysteries: Dance of Death (1938) (UK title: Design for Dying); The Man in the Moonlight (1940); The Deadly Truth (1941); Cue for Murder (1942); Who’s Calling (1942); The Goblin Market (1943); The One That Got Away (1945); Through a Glass, Darkly (1950); Alias Basil Willing (1951); The Long Body (1955); Two-Thirds of a Ghost (1956); The Singing Diamonds aka Surprise, Surprise (1965) short stories; Mister Splitfoot (1968); Burn This (1980); and The Pleasant Assassin and Other Cases of Dr Basil Willing (Crippen & Landru, 2003) short stories, some of which originally appeared in The Singing Diamonds.

Other Fiction: Do Not Disturb (1943); Panic (1944); She Walks Alone (1948) aka Wish Your Were Dead; Better Off Dead (1949); Unfinished Crime aka He Never Came Back (1954); The Slayer and the Slain (1957); Before I Die (1963); The Further Side of Fear (1967); Question of Time (1971); A Change of Heart (1973); The Sleepwalker (1974); Minotaur Country (1975); Cruel as the Grave (1976) aka The Changeling Conspiracy; The Impostor (1977); and The Smoking Mirror (1979)

Recommended Short Stories: “Chinoiserie” (1935); “Through a Glass, Darkly” (1948) later expanded into a novel of the same name in 1950; “The Singing Diamonds” (1949); “Murder Stops the Music” (1957); and “Murphy’s Law” (1979).

The Orion Publishing House publicity page

Helen McCloy at Golden Age of Detection Wiki

Helen McCloy – by Michael E. Grost

Murder in Mind by Christine Poulson

Helen McCloy (1904-1994) – pseudonym Helen Clarkson

Through a Glass, Darkly, de Helen McCloy

Descripción: Gisela von Hohenems se incorpora al profesorado de una exclusiva escuela femenina en el norte del estado de Nueva York, donde se hace amiga de otra compañera recién llegada Faustina Coyle. Pero un clima de miedo envuelve a Faustina, y después de varios incidentes extraños que desafían toda explicación racional, se ve obligada a dimitir. Gisela le pide a su prometido, el psicólogo y detective Dr. Basil Willing, que investigue este muy aplaudido misterio de terror con matices de M. R. James.

Mi opinión: La historia comienza en Brereton, un exclusivo internado femenino en Connecticut. La directora, la Sra. Lightfoot, ha llamado a Faustina Coyle, una profesora de arte recién llegada, para decirle que debe irse de inmediato. Mañana, a más tardar. La despiden con seis meses de sueldo, por supuesto, según su contrato, pero sin más explicaciones. Cuando Faustina solicita una aclaración, la única respuesta que recibe es que no encaja del todo en el modelo de Brereton. Aún más sorprendente, la Sra. Lightfoot no le proporcionará ninguna carta de recomendación, lo que pondrá en peligro su carrera profesional. Pronto nos damos cuenta de que Faustina no parece llevarse bien con el resto del personal de Brereton, con la única excepción de Gisela von Hohenems, a quien conocimos anteriormente en The Man in the Moonlight (Dr. Basil Willing # 2). Gisela ahora se ha convertido en la novia de Willing; de hecho, se casará con Willing en novelas posteriores y se convertirá en la madre de la única hija de Basil. Por eso le escribe una carta a Willing, que en ese momento se encuentra en el extranjero, indicándole que “hay algo siniestro en todo el asunto y, para ser sincera, estoy empezando a asustarme un poco. Más que nunca, desearía que estuvieras en Nueva York. Sé que encontrarás una explicación razonable para todo esto.” No quisiera añadir mucho más para no estropearles el placer de descubrirlo por ustedes mismos. Basta decir que la historia gira en torno a fenómenos paranormales, y dependerá del Dr. Basil Willing encontrar una explicación racional de lo que sucedió y de lo que sucederá después.

Desde que leí las primeras novelas de Helen McCloy, estaba convencido de que pronto se convertiría en una de mis escritoras favoritas, y esta novela, en particular, lo confirma. En Through a Glass, Darkly, encuentro a Helen McCloy en plena forma. La historia, un crimen imposible, es tremendamente original y está cuidadosamente elaborada. Puedo entender por qué con frecuencia se considera una obra maestra. No en vano, ocupó el puesto número doce en la famosa lista de los principales misterios imposibles, recopilada en 1981 por Ed Hoch. Es muy posible que su final no sea del agrado de todos los lectores, aunque para mi gusto es soberbio. Además, McCloy ha logrado crear la atmósfera adecuada en la que se desarrolla la trama. Es muy cierto que, en ocasiones, la historia se aparta del tema con detalles que, aunque interesantes, no vienen al caso, pero esto es algo que puedo perdonar fácilmente. Y como Martin Edwards subraya, McCloy era claramente una persona muy inteligente con la que habría sido interesante poder hablar. Me gustaría concluir citando a Noah Stewart: Through A Glass, Darkly es ciertamente un libro bien escrito con una  atmósfera tremendamente espeluznante, una caracterización efectiva y sutil, una buena cantidad de observaciones interesantes sobre las nimiedades de los trajes y adornos de finales de la década de los 40 en los Estados Unidos de interés para los historiadoree sociales, una trama inteligentemente diseñada y un tema que se entrelaza con la acción del libro. Le recomiendo encarecidamente esta novela.”

Ahora me voy a leer Mister Splitfoot, generalmente considerada otra de sus obras maestras, mientras espero que Agora Books reedite el resto de su obra.

Acerca del autor: Helen McCloy nació en la ciudad de Nueva York, el 6 de junio de 1904, hija de la escritora Helen Worrell McCloy y William McCloy, editor en jefe del New York Evening Sun. Después de descubrir su afición por Sherlock Holmes cuando era niña, McCloy comenzó a escribir sus propias novelas de misterio en la década de 1930. En 1938 presentó a su psiquiatra-detective, el Dr. Basil Willing, en su primera novela, Dance of Death. El Dr. Basil Willing aparece en 13 novelas de McCloy, así como en varios relatos breves actuando como consultor remunerado del fiscal de distrito de la ciudad de Nueva York. Willing es famoso por decir: “todo criminal deja huellas dactilares psíquicas y no puede usar guantes para ocultarlas”. El Dr. Willing también aparece en el misterio sobrenatural de McCloy de 1955 Through a Glass, Darkly, aclamado como su obra maestra a semejanza de John Dickson Carr. Aunque McCloy era conocida principalmente como una novelista de misterio, también publicó bajo el seudónimo de Helen Clarkson una historia de ciencia ficción,The Last Day (1959), considerada la primera novela realmente bien fundamentada sobre el tema. McCloy pasó a ser coautora de la columna de reseñas de un periódico de Connecticut en las décadas de 1950 y 1960. Escritora bastante prolífica, McCloy ganó los premios Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine por los cuentos “Through a Glass, Darkly” (reeditado en The Singing Diamonds, 1965) y “Chinoiserie” (reeditado en 20 Great Tales of Murder, 1951). En 1950, se convirtió en la primera mujer en presidir la Asociación de Escritores de Misterio de Estados Unidos (Mystery Writers of America, MWA) y en 1953, fue galardonanda con un premio Edgar® de la MWA por sus reseñas. En 1971 contribuyó a crear la sección de la MWA en Nueva Inglaterra, y fue nombrada Gran Maestro de la MWA en 1990. Sus contribuciones al género son reconocidas hoy por la Beca anual Helen McCloy/MWA para fomentar el talento en la literatura de misterio, ficción, ficción, obras dramáticas y guiones. Helen McCloy murió en Boston, Massachusetts, el 1 de diciembre de 1994. a los 90 años. Aunque, según otras fuentes, murió en 1992.En 1987, el crítico y escritor de misterio HRF Keating incluyó su título de Basil Willing Mister Splitfoot en una lista de los 100 mejores libros de crimen y misterio jamás publicados.

Serie de misterio del Dr. Basil Willing: Dance of Death (1938) (UK title: Design for Dying); The Man in the Moonlight (1940); The Deadly Truth (1941); Cue for Murder (1942); Who’s Calling (1942); The Goblin Market (1943); The One That Got Away (1945); Through a Glass, Darkly (1950); Alias Basil Willing (1951); The Long Body (1955); Two-Thirds of a Ghost (1956); The Singing Diamonds (1965) libro de relatos; Mister Splitfoot (1968); Burn This (1980); and The Pleasant Assassin and Other Cases of Dr Basil Willing (Crippen & Landru, 2003) relatos breves, algunos de ellos publicados originalmente en The Singing Diamonds.

Otras Obras Recomendadas: Unfinished Crime (1954); The Further Side of Fear (1967); The Sleepwalker (1974); The Impostor (1977).

Relatos Breves Recomendados: “Chinoiserie” (1935); “Through a Glass, Darkly” (1948); “The Singing Diamonds” (1949); “Murder Stops the Music” (1957); and “Murphy’s Law” (1979).

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