A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Robert E. Briney

HELEN McCLOY – The Singing Diamonds and Other Stories. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1965. No paperback edition.

   Helen McCloy wrote relatively few mystery short stories, and only four of the eight stories in this collection fall into the mystery category. All of them, however, are superior examples of the form. They all appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and each of them was a prizewinner in the magazine’s annual contests.

   The book opens with what is probably the author’s most famous short work, “Chinoiserie,” written in Paris in 1935 but not published until 1946. It makes use of the author’s art background in a tale of obsession and revenge set in nineteenth-century Peking.

   The title story, “The Singing Diamonds,” features Basil Willing. The “diamonds” of the title are a species of flying saucer: “nine flat, elongated squares, like the pips on a nine of diamonds, flying in V-formation at 1,500 miles per hour,” seen by a navy pilot and by six other eyewitnesses scattered around the country and overseas.

   Shortly after the sighting, the witnesses, one by one, die in unexplained ways. One of the survivors comes to Basil Willing for help. Are the deaths just an amazing coincidence, or are they murder? And how could such murders have been carried out? Willing’s acute mind is equal to the task of ferreting out the truth. The story may be too fantastic for some tastes, but it is an astonishing tour de force of mystery and detection.

   Another Basil Willing story, “Through a Glass, Darkly,” was expanded to a full-length novel under the same title. The remaining mystery, “The Other Side of the Curtain,” is a gem of psychological suspense: A young wife, troubled by a threatening dream, visits a psychiatrist for help, but finds herself sinking deeper and deeper into the nightmare….

   It is difficult to believe that the other four stories in the book were written by the same author. “Number Ten Q Street,” “Silence Burning,” “Surprise, Surprise!” and “Windless” are science fiction of a ponderous and heavily didactic variety, minor exercises at best. But the four mystery stories make the volume worth tracking down.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.