My Book Notes: Who’s Calling?, 1941 (Dr. Basil Willing #5) by Helen McCloy

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Agora Books, 2022. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 3033 KB. Print Length: 235 pages. ASIN: ISBN: 978-1-914904-51-6. First published in the US in 1942 by William Morrow Company.

Wouldn’t you like to know what a poltergeist is?

41fY446gJCLDescription: The engagement of Archie, a young doctor, to night club artiste Frieda sets off a sequence of eerie and seemingly unexplainable events, all starting with a strange, cruel warning on the telephone.
As the supernatural mysteries continue, a shocking murder takes place – and that can’t be explained by a ghost.
Dr Basil Willing steps in to help the four people involved in these hauntings answer the question: Could I have committed a murder without knowing it?

Who’s Calling? is the fifth book in Helen McCloy’s Dr Basil Willing Mystery series.

My Take: The story takes place during a weekend in Willow Spring (Maryland). It all begins when Frieda Frey receives an anonymous phone call from a voice she doesn’t recognise. She can’t even tell whether it is a man’s or a woman’s. Who’s calling, please? She replies impatiently. But the voice says it doesn’t matter who is calling. It just want to warn her. “Don’t go to Willow Spring. You are not wanted there.” “All sorts of unpleasant things happen to people who go where they are not wanted.”

The oddest thing about all this is that Archie Cranford, Frieda’s fiancé,  assures her he hasn’t tell anyone in New York they were going to spend the weekend at Willow Spring. The only ones who know about it are Archie’s mother Eve Cranford (née Lindsay), the Lindsays with whom they will be going to go dancing that night, and Ellis Blount, Mark Lindsay’s niece who lives with them. Archie is absolutely certain his mother has not have said a single word before announcing their forthcoming engagement, and without having meet her before. Mark Lindsay, by the way, is a US Senator. His wife Julia is the perfect wife and she knows it, she even writes his speeches for him. And their niece, Ellis Blount, is an old friend with whom he has spend his childhood.

Willow Spring was too far north to be Southern and too far south to be Norther. There was no railway station and no village – just a post office and a cluster of old homesteads and farms buried in the heart of the woods. Though it was within an hour drive of the national capital…
In the last twenty years some of the homesteads had been purchase by wandering artist, coupon clippers, retired admirals and Assistant Secretaries of State who liked the proximity to Washington. But the community was still dominated by descendants of the earlier landowners – Cranfords, Lindsays, Blounts and Winchesters, interbred almost as intricately as fruit flies in a biological laboratory.

A series of strange events takes place before the dinner that precedes the dance at the Lindsays’ place. The first is a second anonymous phone call to Frieda, urging her to leave Willow Spring immediately. Moreover, it is not an outside call but it came from within the same house. This is followed by the unexpected arrival of cousin Chalkley Winchester, Aunt Mabel’s son. After not hearing from him for a long time, Chalkley has invited himself claiming that he had important business to attend to in Willow Spring. And finally, when the maid goes to turn down the bed for Miss Frey, she finds her room upside down and on the mirror, scrawled in large letters with red lipstick, it can be read: YOU ARE NOT WANTED HERE. The evening ends suddenly when cousin Chalkley is found dead. Shortly before he had felt indisposed and thought it was indigestion but, in reality, he has been murdered, poisoned.

The next morning, Archie drives into Washington with a policeman, bringing Dr Basil Willing with them. Archie, a promising young psychiatry student, had attended some of his lectures in New York last winter and believes this case has a special interest for a psychiatrist. After listening to his story, Dr Willing is inclined to agree with him and is prepared to collaborate.

Helen McCloy is one of my favourite writers and Who’s Calling? has not disappointed me at all. The story is highly entertaining and I  particularly enjoyed McCloy’s political remarks together with the use she makes of the psychological elements. Elements that might seem somehow out-of-date nowadays but I believe they were trendy when the story was originally published. In any case, the characters are well drawn and turn out being interesting. The plot is perfectly crafted, and all its pieces end up fitting well together. At the end, all that has happened makes sense. However, I won’t go as far as to consider this novel among Helen McCloy’s bests, but it is entertaining enough as to recommend it without hesitation. I expect you enjoy it as much as I did.

I have to thank Crime Classics Advance Readers Club for providing a digital copy of this book for review through NetGalley, in exchange of an honest review.

Who’s Calling? has been reviewed, among others, by Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp, Bev Hankins at My Reader’s Block, and Helen at She Read Novels.


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Morrow Mystery (US), 1942)

About the Author: Helen Worrell Clarkson McCloy (1904 – 1994),best known as Helen McCloy, was an American mystery writer whose series character Dr Basil Willing is a detective-psychologist. She also wrote as Helen Clarkson and she exerted a decisive influence on the genre.

McCloy was born in New York City. Her mother was writer Helen Worrell McCloy and father, William McCloy, was the long-time managing editor of the New York Evening Sun. She was educated at Friend’s School, run by Brooklyn’s Quaker community. In 1923 Helen went to France where between 1923-4 she attended the Sorbonne in Paris. From 1927 to 1932 she first got a job as a correspondent for Hearst’s Universal News Service and, later, became an art critic for International Studio and other magazines, as well as a freelance contributor to London’s Morning Post and Parnassus.

In 1932, she returned to the USA spending several years writing magazine articles and short stories. In 1938 she published her first mystery novel, Dance of Death, where she introduced the character of psychiatrist-detective Dr Basil Willing, her most famous character. Dr Basil Willing appeared in 13 of her novels as well as several short stories. The eight instalment in her Basil Willing series, the novel Through a Glass Darkly, a puzzle in the supernatural tradition of John Dickson Carr, is generally regarded as her masterpiece.

In 1946, she married Davis Dressler, author of the Mike Shayne detective novels under the pseudonym Brett Halliday. With Dressler, she founded the Torquil Publishing Company and a literary agency called Halliday and McCloy. The couple had one daughter, Chloe. Their marriage ended in 1961.

McCloy went on in the 1950s and 1960s McCloy to co-author of review column for a Connecticut newspaper. In 1950 she became the first female to serve as president of Mystery Writers of America. Although McCloy was known primarily as a mystery novelist, she published under the pseudonym Helen Clarkson a science fiction story, The Last Day (1959), acknowledged as the first really technically well-informed novel on the subject.

McCloy, a rather prolific, produced twenty-nine novels and a couple of collections of short stories between 1938 and 1980. She 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 1953, she was honoured with an Edgar Award for her critiques and, in 1990, she was named a Grand Master. McCloy helped to found in 1971 a New England chapter of the Mystery Writers of America in Boston. In 1987, critic and mystery writer H. R. F. Keating included her Basil Willing title Mr Splitfoot in a list of the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published. Helen McCloy died in 1994.

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); 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 aka Surprise, Surprise (1965) short stories.

Other Mystery Fiction: Do Not Disturb (1943); Panic (1944); She Walks Alone (1948) aka Wish Your Were Dead; Better Off Dead (1949); He Never Came Back (1954) aka Unfinished Crime; 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 Imposter (1977); 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).

Agora Books 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

Who’s Calling?, de Helen McCloy

¿No le gustaría saber lo que es un poltergeist?

Descripción: El compromiso de Archie, un joven médico, con Frieda, una artista de un club nocturno, desencadena una serie de sucesos misteriosos e inexplicables en apariencia, comenzado con una extraña y cruel advertencia telefónica.
Conforme se suceden los sucesos sobrenaturales, tiene lugar un asesinato impactante, y eso no puede ser explicado por un fantasma.
El Dr. Basil Willing interviene para ayudar a las cuatro personas involucradas en estas apariciones a responder la pregunta: ¿Podría yo haber cometido un asesinato sin saberlo?

Who’s Calling? es el quinto libro de la serie de misterio protagonizada por el Dr. Basil Willing de Helen McCloy.

Mi opinión: La historia se desarrolla durante un fin de semana en Willow Spring (Maryland). Todo comienza cuando Frieda Frey recibe una llamada telefónica anónima de una voz que no reconoce. Ni siquiera puede decir si es de hombre o de mujer. ¿Quién está llamando? Por favor? Ella responde con impaciencia. Pero la voz dice que no importa quién llame. Solo quiere advertirla. “No vayas a Willow Spring. No te quieren allí“. “Todo tipo de cosas desagradables le suceden a la gente que va a donde no la quieren”.

Lo más curioso de todo esto es que Archie Cranford, el prometido de Frieda, le asegura que no le ha dicho a nadie en Nueva York que iban a pasar el fin de semana en Willow Spring. Los únicos que lo saben son la madre de Archie, Eve Cranford (de soltera Lindsay), los Lindsay con quienes irán a bailar esa noche, y Ellis Blount, la sobrina de Mark Lindsay que vive con ellos. Archie está absolutamente seguro de que su madre no ha dicho una sola palabra antes de anunciar su próximo compromiso y sin haberla conocido antes. Mark Lindsay, por cierto, es senador de los Estados Unidos. Su esposa Julia es la esposa perfecta y ella lo sabe, incluso le escribe sus discursos. Y su sobrina, Ellis Blount, es una vieja amiga con la que ha pasado su infancia.

Willow Spring estaba demasiado al norte para ser del sur y demasiado al sur para ser del norte. No tenía estación de tren ni pueblo, solo una oficina de correos y un grupo de antiguas casas y granjas enterradas en el corazón del bosque. Aunque estaba a una hora en coche de la capital de la nación…
En los últimos veinte años, algunas de las haciendas habían sido compradas por artistas errantes, cortadores de cupones, almirantes retirados y subsecretarios de Estado a quienes les gustaba la proximidad a Washington. Pero la comunidad todavía estaba dominada por los descendientes de los terratenientes anteriores: Los Cranford, Lindsay, Blount y Winchester, casados entre si de forma tan estrecha como moscas en un laboratorio biológico.

Una serie de sucesos extraños tienen lugar antes de la cena que precede al baile en casa de los Lindsay. La primera es una segunda llamada telefónica anónima a Frieda, instándola a abandonar Willow Spring de inmediato. Además, no es una llamada exterior sino que procedía de dentro de la misma casa. A esto le sigue la llegada inesperada del primo Chalkley Winchester, el hijo de la tía Mabel. Después de no saber nada de él durante mucho tiempo, Chalkley se autoinvitó alegando que tenía asuntos importantes que atender en Willow Spring. Y finalmente, cuando la criada va a prepararle la cama a la señorita Frey, encuentra su habitación patas arriba y en el espejo, garabateado en letras grandes con lápiz labial rojo, se puede leer: AQUÍ NO TE QUIEREN. La velada termina repentinamente cuando el primo Chalkley es encontrado muerto. Poco antes se había sentido indispuesto y pensó que era una indigestión pero, en realidad, ha sido asesinado, envenenado.

A la mañana siguiente, Archie conduce a Washington con un policía, trayendo consigo al Dr. Basil Willing. Archie, un joven y prometedor estudiante de psiquiatría, había asistido a algunas de sus conferencias en Nueva York el invierno pasado y cree que este caso tiene un interés especial para un psiquiatra. Después de escuchar su historia, el Dr. Willing se inclina a estar de acuerdo con él y se muestra dispuesto a colaborar.

Helen McCloy es una de mis escritoras favoritas y Who’s Calling? no me ha defraudado en absoluto. La historia es muy entretenida y disfruté especialmente los comentarios políticos de McCloy junto con el uso que hace de los elementos psicológicos. Elementos que pueden parecer algo anticuados hoy en día, pero creo que estaban de moda cuando se publicó originalmente la historia. En cualquier caso, los personajes están bien dibujados y resultan interesantes. La trama está perfectamente construida, y todas sus piezas terminan encajando bien. Al final, todo lo que ha pasado tiene sentido. Sin embargo, no iré tan lejos como para considerar esta novela entre las mejores de Helen McCloy, pero es lo suficientemente entretenida como para recomendarla sin dudarlo. Espero que lo disfruten tanto como yo.

Tengo que agradecer a Crime Classics Advance Readers Club por proporcionarme una copia digital de este libro para su reseña a través de NetGalley, a cambio de una opinión sincera.

Acerca del autor: Helen Worrell Clarkson McCloy (1904 – 1994), más conocida como Helen McCloy, fue una escritora de misterio estadounidense cuyo personaje de la serie, el Dr. Basil Willing, es un detective-psicólogo. También escribió como Helen Clarkson y ejerció una influencia decisiva en el género.

McCloy nació en la ciudad de Nueva York. Su madre fue la escritora Helen Worrell McCloy y su padre, William McCloy, fue durante mucho tiempo jefe de redacción del New York Evening Sun. Fue educada en Friend’s School, dirigida por la comunidad cuáquera de Brooklyn. En 1923, Helen se fue a Francia, donde entre 1923 y 1924 asistió a la Sorbona de París. De 1927 a 1932, primero consiguió un trabajo como corresponsal del Universal News Service de Hearst y, más tarde, se convirtió en crítica de arte para International Studio y otras revistas, así como colaboradora independiente de Morning Post y Parnassus de Londres.

En 1932, regresó a los Estados Unidos y pasó varios años escribiendo artículos y relatos para revistas. En 1938 publicó su primera novela de misterio, Dance of Death, donde presentó al personaje del psiquiatra-detective Dr. Basil Willing, su personaje más famoso. El Dr. Basil Willing apareció en 13 de sus novelas. La octava entrega de su serie Basil Willing, la novela Through a Glass Darkly, un enigma en la tradición sobrenatural de John Dickson Carr, generalmente se considera su obra maestra.

En 1946, se casó con Davis Dressler, autor de las novelas policiacas de Mike Shayne bajo el seudónimo de Brett Halliday. Con Dressler, fundó Torquil Publishing Company y una agencia literaria llamada Halliday and McCloy. La pareja tuvo una hija, Chloe. Su matrimonio terminó en 1961.

En las décadas de 1950 y 1960, McCloy fue coautora de una columna de crítica literaria para los periódicos de Connecticut y en 1950 se convirtió en la primera mujer en ocupar el cargo de presidenta de Mystery Writers of America. Aunque McCloy era conocida principalmente como novelista de misterio, publicó bajo el seudónimo de Helen Clarkson una historia de ciencia ficción, The Last Day (1959), reconocida como la primera novela técnicamente bien informada sobre el tema.

McCloy, una escritora bastante prolífica, publicó veintinueve novelas y un par de colecciones de cuentos entre 1938 y 1980. Ganó los premios Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine por los relatos “Through a Glass, Darkly” (reeditado en The Singing Diamonds, 1965). ) y “Chinoiserie” (reeditado en 20 Great Tales of Murder, 1951). En 1953 recibió un premio Edgar por sus reseñas y en 1990 fue nombrada Grand Master. McCloy también ayudó a fundar en 1971 la sección en Nueva Inglaterra de Mystery Writers of America en Boston. En 1987, el crítico y escritor de misterio H. R. F. Keating incluyó su título de Basil Willing Mr Splitfoot en una lista de los 100 mejores libros de misterio y crimen jamás publicados. Helen McCloy murió en 1994.

The Dr. Basil Willing Mysteries: Dance of Death (1938) (UK title: Design for Dying, Spanish title: La fiesta de la muerte); The Man in the Moonlight (1940) (Spanish title: Un hombre bajo la luna); The Deadly Truth (1941) (Spanish title: La cena de las verdades); Cue for Murder (1942); Who’s Calling? (1942); The Goblin Market (1943); The One That Got Away (1945); Through a Glass, Darkly (1950) (Spanish title: Un reflejo velado en el cristal); Alias Basil Willing (1951) (Spanish title: Los pájaros no cantan); The Long Body (1955); Two-Thirds of a Ghost (1956); 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 aka Surprise, Surprise (1965) short stories.

Otras novelas de misterio: Do Not Disturb (1943); Panic (1944); She Walks Alone (1948) aka Wish Your Were Dead (Spanish title: Ella iba sola); Better Off Dead (1949); He Never Came Back (1954) aka Unfinished Crime; 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 Imposter (1977); The Smoking Mirror (1979)

Relatos recomendados: “Chinoiserie” (1935); “Through a Glass, Darkly” (1948) más tarde ampliado a la novela del mismo título de 1950; “The Singing Diamonds” (1949); “Murder Stops the Music” (1957); y “Murphy’s Law” (1979).

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