The Deadly Truth (Dr. Basil Willing #3) by Helen McCloy

‘A butterfly in a beehive could not have looked more out of place than Claudia Bethune in the vestibule of the Southerland Foundation.’

Biochemist Roger Slater is working in his laboratory at the Southerland Foundation when Claudia Bethune drops in for a visit. She seems interested in his work:

‘Is this that truth serum you said something about last spring?’

He describes the properties of the drug: a ‘truth serum’ based on scopolamine. Shortly after she leaves, he realises that one of the tubes containing the drug is missing. He sets off in pursuit: Claudia Bethune has a reputation for playing practical jokes on her guests, and this drug has dangerous properties.

Dr Basil Willing has rented a cottage on the Bethune’s Long Island estate. He is hoping to have a vacation and has been refusing Claudia Bethune’s invitations to dinner. Wise man. Yes, Claudia Bethune has arranged a dinner party. Roger arrives in time to join the guests, but not before Claudia Bethune mixes a special cocktail.

Later, Dr Willing thinks he can see flames through the window of the Bethune house. He investigates. There is no fire, but slumped at her own dinner table, is Claudia Bethune. She has been strangled with her own emerald necklace.

Who strangled Claudia, and why? Given that she has been awful to every guest at the party, there is no shortage of suspects. Dr Willing substitutes investigation (with the full support of the local authorities) for his vacation.

This is the second Dr Willing mystery I have read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It took me a while to work out who strangled Claudia and then, of course, it seemed obvious. Ms McCloy introduces several interesting ideas into this novel: fact supports fiction and flawed humans provide any number of possibilities. Dr Willing is both observant and persistent, and I am looking forward to reading the other novels in this series. This novel was first published in 1941 and is being re-published by Agora Books.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Agora Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith