Friday, 28 December 2012

Forgotten Book - Through a Glass, Darkly

I've mentioned Helen McCloy a number of times in recent months, and I was delighted to read another of her excellent mysteries, Through a Glass, Darkly, now reprinted as an Arcturus Crime Classic, which is my Forgotten Book for today. Again it features her amateur sleuth Basil Willing, a likeable psychologist, whose girlfriend introduces him to a strange puzzle.

Faustina (great name!) Coyle is a young teacher in her first term at an exclusive girls' school, Brereton. As the book opens, the head teacher, Mrs Lightfoot, is giving her the sack - but  not giving her a reason. Something very strange is clearly going on - but what? Faustina briefly contemplates taking legal advice (the employment lawyer in me was naturally enthralled!) but decides against it. Instead, she confides in her friend and colleague Gisela, who in turn consults Basil.

There is a creepy atmosphere about this story which adds to its power. What on earth is going on? Can it be that Faustina really has a mysterious double, and is she - or rather, the double - in some way responsible when another colleague dies? The power of McCloy's stories derives from the fact that not only was she very clever in the way she plotted, she also wrote lucid and compelling prose. Every now and then, she digresses into delivering a chunk of information that may not always help the pace of the scene, but it's usually interesting information. Clearly, she was a highly intelligent person and I imagine her as an interesting woman to talk to.

An intriguing feature of this novel is that it is, in fact, an expanded version of a short story that appeared twelve years before the book's publication in 1950. I read the story a long time ago, but had forgotten the solution. And although there is only a restricted pool of suspects,and you may think that the culprit is over-reliant on chance, McCloy writes so engagingly that reservations are quite easy to put aside. A genuine crime classic..

4 comments:

Richmonde said...

Thanks - I once read one of hers about a ghost writer. Sleuths were two writers? Searching Amazon now.

Clothes In Books said...

I really like Helen McCloy, and this is a very good one - atmospheric and creepy, and I like that the ending isn't quite as neat as it might be....

Martin Edwards said...

Richmonde, I'm guessing that is Two Thirds of a Ghost? I haven't read it, but think it's lurking in my TBR pile. Did you enjoy it?

Martin Edwards said...

Clothes in Books - thanks. She really is a high quality writer. Very entertaining.