"You may hear Pan with impunity. But to look upon Pan face to face is death..."
In ancient mythology, the Greek God Pan was, among other things, the god of woodlands and nature, a kind of goat-man, playing the pipes. But it is worth noting that he was also the god of fear. His name, Pan, comes down to us today in the form of a word we use to describe irrational, nightmarish terror - the word "panic." And Panic is the name of the 1944 mystery by Helen McCloy which is the subject of the audio review on today's Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
For Alison Tracey, the nightmare begins with the sudden death of her uncle, Felix Mulholland, a scholar whose hobby was cryptography, the art and science of creating complex systems of secret writing called ciphers. Alison will learn that her Uncle Felix was working on a cipher which, he insisted, would be unbreakable. With the country in the midst of World War II, that could be a very valuable secret indeed to an army at war and to its enemies. Alison, who was her uncle's secretary, finds that he apparently has left her a clue to that secret written in that mysterious cipher - a clue she certainly cannot read.
Seeking isolation to work on the problem, she goes off to a house in one of those remote cottages so dear to the hearts of mystery authors and their readers. And sure enough, there are very strange and frightening things going on in and about that house – footsteps heard outside the lonely cottage at night, for example, and the form of a man, unidentified, seen briefly in the woods nearby, and the apparent footprints of a goat. And, eventually, there will be murder. For Alison, as she struggles to unlock the key to that cipher, and as she confronts the growing terrors of that rural cottage and begins to uncover some of the secrets of her neighbors, the sense of sheer, unreasoning panic will grow. McCloy is a powerful writer, who conveys that terror to her readers.
I really don’t want to say more about the plot – except to warn the reader not to take anything for granted. You will learn a great deal about the finer points of creating and decoding ciphers – probably more than you really want to know. But you will also enjoy fine writing about memorable characters, along with the well-disguised clues you need to solve the mystery you’ll find waiting for you in Panic. The Murder Room has reissued the book in various e-book formats.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, Panic is my entry for the square (third row, fifth column) calling for one book published during my birth year. Yeah, I'm that old.