Wish You Were Dead (1958) by Helen McCloy

Not a planned read, but one I am very glad I did, nevertheless. This title might not be so familiar to McCloy fans, but it was the one given to the abridged version of She Walks Alone (1948), which appeared in Bestseller’s Mystery Magazine November 1958. Remarkably despite being a shorter version, the plot hangs together very well, and still makes for a very engaging and clever read.

McCloy’s story starts with a letter to the Commissioner of Police in Puerta Vieja, Santa Teresa; a letter to be read in the event of someone’s violent death – the letter writer not being identified in the document. This letter details a series of events which take place over 24 hours or so, within which the letter writer is involved. Namely they receive a package in Quisqueya, from an old, but badly injured friend, a package to be delivered to another in Washington. Since the writer is going there via the S S Santa Cristina, they agree to take it along, but not before they have an odd experience with a gardener, who their friend states never worked for them. Yet there are bigger surprises in store for the writer when they get on board, in particular they realise that the package does not contain blueprints, as they were told, but $100,000. But what to do? Is it safe to leave in their cabin? Or should they trust the purser? Though, what if the purser decides to steal the money? Ultimately the letter writer hides the money someplace, that place unmentioned as their letter is cut off mid-sentence. We then discover how the police receive this letter, in connection with a death aboard ship, yet rather than this simplifying matters, issues of identity and intent are further complicated. Added into the mix is a herpetologist who decides to bring not only a vampire bat aboard ship, but also a bushmaster snake named Medusa. He is confident the snake is securely kept in its box, yet we all know what’s going to happen…

I dare not give you any more of the plot, as this 102-page story is jam packed with action, crime and puzzling circumstances to unravel. It is best you know you no more…

Overall Thoughts

I’m not the biggest fan of abridgements and often bemoan the rushed endings, which come out of nowhere. So I was especially impressed with how much complexity McCloy’s shortened tale retains. Manuscripts in mystery novels are nothing new by this point, but it is a trope McCloy uses it to good effect and like Agatha Christie, utilises it to put key points in plain sight, which of course the reader misses. The readers’ first impressions are formed from this text, yet McCloy has enough guile to encourage us to mistrust the narrative, confident we won’t know what to trust and what to disbelieve. We might readjust some of our erroneous assumptions but probably not enough of them to uncover the identity of the culprit. The way the identity of the letter writer is withheld until the police arrive also adds to the mystery and suspense of the story. The story starts out quite thriller-like, but soon develops into something more puzzling, as McCloy successfully muddied the waters, leaving the reader unsure who they can assume is innocent and who isn’t involved in some way in the crime going aboard the ship. This is definitely a case of trying to identify the right tree in a wood.

There’s plenty of drama as well, with many a dramatic incident occurring at night and with Medusa in tow. HIBK elements do make their appearance but they only add to plot, rather than derail it. The final solution is satisfying, having been effectively camouflaged up until the end, with many a well launched red herring to steer the reader in the wrong direction. Although the backstory and potential motives for the suspects are truncated, they are present enough to make sense and contribute to the final outcome, without the reader scratching his or her head in befuddlement.

So this is definitely a story I would recommend. It is easy to access the abridged version online, but I figure that going for the full story will be more rewarding. In fact it would be great to hear from anyone who has read the full version and see what extras it might bring to the reading experience.

Rating: 4.25/5

 

7 comments

      • Yes, I found it quite good. My only complaint is that it could have been reduced by 25%.
        However, reducing from 250 pages (full version) to 102 pages (abridged Version) is very drastic and may have weakened its quality.

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      • Though McCloy might well’ve done the abridgment herself. Or Robert P. Mills might’ve, as the editor behind the official editor: Joseph Ferman was the publisher and credited editor of BESTSELLER MYSTERY, the last of the CF magazines Ferman would publish after selling EQMM to B. G. Davis, who had quit Ziff-Davis to found Davis Publications and founded it on large part on EQMM.

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