My Book Notes: Two-Thirds of a Ghost, 1956 (Dr Basil Willing # 11) by Helen McCloy


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St. Swithin Press, 2012. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 654 KB. Print Length: 256 pages. ASIN: B008D2INTW. ISBN: 978-1-927551-08-0. First published in the US by Random House, 1956 and by Gollancz, 1957 in the UK.

51vrz3l4DyLDescription: Amos Cottle was a valuable property—a first-rate novelist who produced four best sellers in four years. He had to be protected. From himself (he was an ex-alcoholic). And from his wife (she was a gold-digging siren and she spelled trouble). His publisher and his agent thought Amos’s problems were solved when they clawed the beautiful Vera out of his hair and shipped her off to Hollywood. But they were wrong. For there came a night when Vera returned. That was the night Amos had to have a drink. It was too bad he never lived to sober up.

My Take: Publisher Tony Kane and his wife, Philippa, throw a last-minute party at their Connecticut home to celebrate the return of Hollywood actress Vera Vane. Vera is the wife of best-selling author Amos Cottle. Guests include Amos literary agent, Gus Vesey and his wife Meg whose income depends heavily on Amos success; Maurice Lepton, a literary critic who praises Amos books; Emmett Avery, a literary critic who despises them; Dr Basil Willing, an author published by Tony Kane, and his wife Gisela; a pair of devoted readers the Puseys, mother and  son; and Vera Vane who, lured by Amos fame, has returned to claim her share of the pie after having her contract with the film studios terminated.

Amos, a former alcoholic, has managed to stay sober in recent years thanks to the efforts of both his agent and his publisher. However, with the return of his wife Vera, whom he had not divorced despite the time they have lived apart, Kane and Vesey foresee that Amos could relapse. Their worst omens are are fulfilled when Amos shows up at the party with clear signs of being drunk. At one point during the party, while the guests play a parlour game known as Two-Third of a Ghost, Amos falls dead. Amos Cottle was poisoned with cyanide. ‘The alcohol he had taken masked the usual symptoms –heavy breathing and spasmodic movements.’

Although the murder took place in Connecticut, most of the people who attended the party live in New York or have their offices there. For this reason, close cooperation between Connecticut Sate Police and New York City Police is needed, and Dr Basil Willing has been asked to act as a kind of liaison officer between the two police forces. The first problem Dr Willing faces is figuring out whom is going to benefit from Amos death since, in most cases, it seems to involve killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. But the investigation becomes much more complicated when it is discovered that Amos Cottle had never existed before becoming a best-selling author. The biography on the back cover of his books had been fabricated. Who was Amos Cottle really?

The book title, as the reader will soon realise, does not only have to do with the parlour game at the Kanes’ party, but it has more than one meaning. The story is based on very suggestive premises, and  Helen McCloy, she herself an author, a mystery book critic and an editor, has a first hand knowledge on the atmosphere in which the action unfolds. All this are reasons enough for the book to turn out being attractive, if on top of that the story is well-written. Consequently, I can forgive some flaws, on which I don’t want to enter into too much detail. I found inconsistent, in my view, that someone like Amos Cottle would have conducted a television programme and I don’t quite understand the reasons to murder him.  A pity, since otherwise it is a superb story.

I wonder if this is not one of the most personal books by Helen McCloy and if she did not used it to give us her own views

“Damn few authors have experienced personally the things they write about. That’s one difference between a pro and an amateur. An amateur can’t write about something that isn’t direct experience. A real writer can write about anything –that’s his job. No one really cares if he’s technically accurate in every petty detail. The only thing that matters is making real to the average reader who doesn’t know any more about technicalities than the average author. Emotions are what concern a fiction writer. No facts, but the way people respond to facts inside themselves. That takes imagination –something a lot more rare than factual knowledge.”

Two-Thirds of a Ghost has been reviewed, among others, at Only Detect, Clothes in Books, ahsweetmysteryblog, and The Grandest Game in the World.

About the Author: Helen Worrell Clarkson McCloy (1904-1994). Born in New York City, Helen McCloy was educated in Brooklyn, at the Quaker Friends’ school, and later studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. From 1927-1932 she worked for Hearst’s Universal News Service after which she freelanced as an art critic and contributor to various publications, including the London Morning Post. Shortly after her return to the US she published her first novel, Dance of Death, in 1938, featuring her popular series detective-psychologist Basil Willing. The novel Through a Glass Darkly, a puzzle in the supernatural tradition of John Dickson Carr, is the eighth in the Basil Willing series and is generally acknowledged to be her masterpiece. In 1946 McCloy married fellow author Davis Dresser, famed for his Mike Shayne novels. Together they founded Halliday & McCloy literary agency as well as the Torquil Publishing Company. The couple had one daughter, Chloe, and their marriage ended in 1961. 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.

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).

St. Swithin Press 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

Two-Thirds of a Ghost, by Helen McCloy

Descripción: Amos Cottle era un objeto de valor muy valioso: un novelista de primer orden que fabricó cuatro éxitos de ventas en cuatro años. Tenía que estar protegido. De sí mismo (era un exalcohólico). Y de su esposa (era una cazafortunas y auguraba problemas). Su editor y su agente pensaron que los problemas de Amos estaban resueltos cuando le quitaron las garras de la hermosa Vera de encima y la enviaron a Hollywood. Pero estaban equivocados. Porque llegó una noche en la que Vera regresó. Esa fue la noche en que Amos tuvo que tomar una copa. Fue una lástima, nunca vivió para volver a estar sobrio.

Mi opinión: El editor Tony Kane y su esposa, Philippa, organizan con poco tiempo de antelación una fiesta en su casa de Connecticut para celebrar el regreso de la actriz de Hollywood Vera Vane. Vera es la mujer del autor de best-sellers Amos Cottle. Los invitados incluyen al agente literario de Amos, Gus Vesey y su mujer Meg, cuyos ingresos dependen en gran medida del éxito de Amos; Maurice Lepton, un crítico literario que elogia los libros de Amos; Emmett Avery, un crítico literario que los desprecia; El Dr. Basil Willing, un autor publicado por Tony Kane, y su mujer Gisela; un par de devotos lectores los Pusey, madre e hijo; y Vera Vane, quien, atraída por la fama de Amos, ha regresado para reclamar su parte del pastel después de que su contrato con los estudios cinematográficos se rescindiera.

Amos, un exalcohólico, ha logrado mantenerse sobrio en los últimos años gracias al esfuerzo tanto de su agente como de su editor. Sin embargo, con el regreso de su esposa Vera, de quien no se había divorciado a pesar del tiempo que han vivido separados, Kane y Vesey prevén que Amos podría recaer. Sus peores presagios se cumplen cuando Amos se presenta en la fiesta con claros signos de estar borracho. En un momento de la fiesta, mientras los invitados estan jugando un juego de salón conocido como Two-Third of a Ghost, Amos cae muerto. Amos Cottle fue envenenado con cianuro. “El alcohol que había tomado enmascara los síntomas habituales: respiración pesada y movimientos espasmódicos”.

Aunque el asesinato tuvo lugar en Connecticut, la mayoría de las personas que asistieron a la fiesta viven en Nueva York o tienen sus oficinas allí. Por esta razón, se necesita una estrecha cooperación entre la Policía Estatal de Connecticut y la Policía de la Ciudad de Nueva York, y se le ha pedido al Dr. Basil Willing que actúe como una especie de oficial de enlace entre las dos fuerzas policiales. El primer problema al que se enfrenta el Dr. Willing es averiguar quién se beneficiará de la muerte de Amos ya que, en la mayoría de los casos, parece implicar matar a la gallina de los huevos de oro. Pero la investigación se complica mucho más cuando se descubre que Amos Cottle nunca había existido antes de convertirse en un autor de best-sellers. La biografía de la contraportada de sus libros había sido inventada. ¿Quién era realmente Amos Cottle?

El título del libro, como pronto se dará cuenta el lector, no solo tiene que ver con el juego de salón en la fiesta de los Kane, sino que tiene más de un significado. La historia se basa en premisas muy sugerentes, y Helen McCloy, ella misma autora, crítica de libros de misterio y editora, conoce de primera mano el ambiente en el que se desarrolla la acción. Todo esto son razones suficientes para que el libro resulte atractivo, si además la historia está bien escrita. En consecuencia, puedo perdonar algunos defectos en los que no quiero entrar en demasiados detalles. En mi opinión, encontré inconsistente que alguien como Amos Cottle hubiera dirigido un programa de televisión y no entiendo muy bien las razones para asesinarlo. Una lástima, ya que por lo demás es una historia soberbia.

Me pregunto si este no es uno de los libros más personales de Helen McCloy y si ella no lo usó para darnos sus propias opiniones.

“Pocos autores experimentan personalmente aquello sobre lo que escriben. Esa es la diferencia entre un profesional y un aficionado. El aficionado no puede escribir sobre algo sobre lo que no haya tenido una experiencia directa. Un verdadero escritor puede escribir sobre cualquier cosa, en eso consiste su trabajo. A nadie le importa si es técnicamente preciso en cada pequeño detalle. Lo único que importa es hacerlo real para el lector medio que no conoce sobre tecnicismos más que el autor medio. Las emociones son lo que interesa a un escritor de ficción. No hechos, sino la forma en que las personas responden a los hechos en su interior. Eso requiere imaginación, algo mucho más raro que el conocimiento real”.

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, no 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 Mr Splitfoot en una lista de los 100 Mejores Libros de Crimen y Misterio.

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 Novelas: 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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