HELEN REILLY – The Day She Died. Random House, hardcover, 1962. Hardcover reprint: Detective Book Club, hardcover, 3-in-1 volume, January 1963. Paperback reprints: Ace #G-536, no date [circa 1965]; Macfadden, 1970.


   Checking Hubin to make sure my facts are straight, Helen Reilly’s primary series character, Inspector McKee, spent most of his career solving murders in New York City, his home base of operations, but over the years, he found himself tackling cases that took him up in Connecticut almost as often. Either way, but not always, he seems to have been pretty much a New York and New England sort of guy.

   With, as I say, a few exceptions. The Day She Died, which turned out to be Reilly’s last book and McKee’s last recorded adventure, is one of them, since he just happens to be in New Mexico when the killings take place – two of them, in fact – and “adventure” is exactly the word for it, and I’ll get back to that in a paragraph or so. (One other exception, before going any further, is Follow Me, which came two books before this one, took place in New Mexico as well.)

   McKee’s first recorded adventure was The Diamond Feather, which was appeared in 1930, which means that he had 33 years on the job, working on a grand total of 31 cases. Helen Reilly’s career was just as long, but it includes several mystery novels in which the inspector did not appear. You can read more about her and her books here in a long essay about her by Mike Grost on the primary M*F website. (Follow the link.)


   Enough of these preliminaries, though, and on to the review. Fans of the Golden Age of Detection will have a lot to like with this one, since the grand bulk of it follows one of the most well known (if not most commonly occurring) settings in vintage mysteries of the 1930s, that of murder in an isolated house in the middle of a storm, with no way in and no way out.

   You do have to have a well-engrained “sense of wonder,” though, since New Mexico is a long way from New York City, only to have McKee end up totally by chance in the very same home of a woman recently deceased but unknown to him until mentioned to him before he left on another matter altogether. Nor is he the only victim of the storm to find refuge there, all of whom have secrets and many of whom seem to have known each other from before.

   There is a lot of atmosphere in this novel, in other words, most of it dark and gloomy (and the water rising), with everyone’s eyes cast warily at everyone else. There is no contact with the outside world, so McKee is accepted by everyone as the person in charge. There is much detective work to do, what with one man seriously (and eventually fatally) wounded and another body found later in the stable. Not to mention the face in the window and other signs that someone else may be trapped on the small island the house sits on in the middle of the flood.


   The detective work, to get back to the primary thrust of the tale, is of necessity of the most primitive, basic kind: asking questions, checking everyone’s whereabouts at crucial points in time, and even more questions. Not everyone is involved with the murders, but everyone has secrets, and McKee cannot rely on any of the answers his receives in turn being true, not even the one supplied by the watch that was stopped at the moment of the fatal blow.

   Once contact is made with the outside world, the solving of the case proceeds at a much faster pace – which I found somewhat of a disappointment, and if truth be told, there was no “somewhat” about it.

   There are some really nifty twists in the plot that come at the end, but they came too fast, as far as I was concerned, with the police work occurring mostly offstage, sad to say. I found the slower pace of the first three-quarters of the book much more to my liking than I did the final few chapters, in which everyone, having made their way to the big city of Albuquerque, is now safe and sound, or nearly so.