Saturday, September 20, 2014

An Inconvenient Truth

Harry Vaughan just got a sad piece of news – his uncle has died. But then he finds out that his uncle has left him a massive inheritance! Excitedly, he runs outside… and from there, his memory becomes fuzzy. He doesn’t really remember anything that happened. He was discovered about twenty minutes later by students en route to class. He must have slipped on the icy pavement and knocked himself very solidly on the head. Nobody saw the accident, though…

It all makes sense, of course. That’s why he has that gap in his memory. But something makes Harry very uneasy. Only time will be able to tell whether he’ll ever be able to remember what happened. But in the meantime, he decides to resign from his job and to go back to his roots in Clearwater, a quiet little village just outside of Washington. But no sooner does he arrive, strange things begin to happen. There’s a prowler on the loose, terrorizing the village, and someone seems very displeased that Harry has come back to town…

Helen McCloy’s The Slayer and the Slain is the book I’m reviewing today, and it’s a pleasure to be able to talk about McCloy again on my blog. She’s one of my absolute favourites, coming up with inventive plots, interesting characters, and very suspenseful situations. The Slayer and the Slain combines all of her writing strengths, and the result is a genuinely unnerving tale with a deeply disturbing ending.

That being said, I was able to foretell the solution to this mystery a bit before it was revealed. I don’t quite know what it was that gave it away – I suspected the truth early on, was misled into thinking it was impossible for a very long time, and with about 30 pages to go before the truth was revealed, I suddenly reconsidered this position. It’s an ending that has been copied a myriad of times since the book’s initial publication in 1957, but this did not affect my enjoyment of the book one iota. Though it is a central part of the book, the truth of the mystery is not the real shocker – what is truly shocking are the implications of the truth, and the final lines of the book form one of the most haunting conclusions I’ve ever read.

This is only possible because of Helen McCloy’s high skill in writing. She constructs marvellous characters whom you get to know pretty well, and with whom you sympathize. You want to see the mystery resolved, you want the source of evil exorcised from the quiet village of Clearwater. And as the horrid events pile up one after the other, it only makes the proceedings that much more urgent. Things are made even more uncertain by the fact that there is no series sleuth in this book – this does not feature Dr. Basil Willing or any other character from McCloy’s books to serve as a beacon pointing the way towards the truth. Something is rotten in the state of Clearwater, and it’s unnerving to think you might get to the end of the book without finding out who is behind all these nightmarish events.

The Slayer and the Slain is currently available for the Kindle at a very reasonable price of $3.67 (at least the way I see it on from Canada). It is available from “The Murder Room”, an imprint of Orion Books, and as usual, the e-book is of high quality. This is a very good story of suspense, and showcases the talents of Helen McCloy at her finest. I can unequivocally recommend this to anyone who wants to give McCloy a shot, but doesn’t know where to start.


  1. Hope I can find it on paper too - sounds great - thanks Patrick (and good to have you reviewing again).

  2. I'm another McCloy fan. I don't know this particular book, but you've made me want to read it.