Sunday, January 31, 2016

Who's Calling?: Review (Spoilers!)

*Please know that in order to discuss this novel in the way I wish to record it for my own reading journal--which, at its most basic, is the reason I blog--I cannot do so without spoiling a portion of the mystery. I do not provide the solution, but I do discuss an element vital to it. Read at your own risk.*

For this tale was more uncanny than any ghost story, more gruesome than any history of physical horror, and it concerned them all as intimately as their most secret thoughts. It was not just a tale to any of them. It was truth, torn from the living context of their experience. Worst of all, it was unfinished. None of them--not even the man telling  it knew whom the narration concerned most intimately or how it was going to end. (p. 185)

Who's Calling (1942) by Helen McCloy is about a poltergeist. A poltergeist who plays tricks on Archie Cranford's fiancee Frieda Frey. A poltergeist who calls her up and threatens mayhem if she comes to Willow Spring to meet Archie's mother and friends. A poltergeist who knocks on doors and disappears, who wrecks her guest room and writes messages in in lipstick, and who leaves ugly caricatures strewn about. Who's Calling is also about the murder of Archie's foolish, vain cousin Chalkey Winchester. Winchester's only faults seems to be a selfish interest in creature comforts and a tendency to regale all within the sound of his voice with stories of his complicated health. His lust for rich, decadent foods prove his undoing when he can't resist chocolate liqueurs laced with strychnine.

Dr. Basil Willing, McCloy's psychologist-sleuth, is convinced that the incidents are all connected and it is suggested that the culprit may be hidden in the most secure place possible--as a second personality within the psyche of one of the main characters. Is it possible to play tricks, travel, and even commit murder without knowing it? In Who's Calling? each person not only looks at those around them with suspicion....they also wind up suspecting themselves.

I find Dr. Willing's hypothesis and final solution very interesting. I am reminded of the film Sybil--which we had to watch in psychology class in high school--and the multiple personality disorder which Flora Rheta Schreiber attributed to her patient. That case has since become controversial with various sources claiming that Schreiber and her patient fabricated most of the experiences. But in those formative years of psychology the reports of secondary or multiple personalities were given credence and it is interesting to see McCloy use the idea in her murder mystery. The final twist she gives to the solution brings in further elements of psychology--but I won't given an ultimate spoiler and ruin the ending.

I enjoyed both the psychological elements as well as the political commentary. One of the primary characters is Mark Lindsay, a senator who will soon be up for re-election. Lindsay is weary of the political scene--at least as he is forced to play it. And he gives us a nice peek at the way the politics of the day work (not so different from now):

I have opinions on all questions of policy, foreign and domestic. That's the one thing a politician mustn't have--political opinions or principles. He can have prejudices--indeed he must  have prejudices and share all the popular political superstitions of the moment as ardently as he can. But he must not have principles. He must never let the  people suspect that they cannot eat their cake and have it. (p. 132)

Lindsay would much prefer to give up the political arena. But his wife, who is the real power behind the senate seat, isn't having any. 

The mystery itself was entertaining and kept me thinking the entire time. McCloy provides interesting characters and Dr. Willing is always welcome as an investigator. ★★★★

For more about Who's Calling? please visit Curtis at The Passing Tramp.

Fulfills the "Telephone" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt as well as "Poison" as the murder method in the Mystery Reporter Challenge.

All Challenges Fulfilled:  100 Plus Challenge, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Mad Reviewer, Mount TBR Challenge, My Kind of Mystery, Mystery Reporter, Outdo Yourself, Triple Dog Dare, Vintage Mystery Challenge, Women Challenge, Cloak & Dagger,

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I skimmed past the beginning after read the spoiler alert. I'm glad I did, since it was a great read for you. A fast paced whodunit is always what I look for and you said it hit that mark. I think it's one I'd like to read.