Skip to Content
ublogo print

University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection


cover image By: McCloy, Helen (female)
Publisher: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. (369)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 326: PS3525 .A1587 P36 1944
Contributor: K. Quinlivan


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Helen McCloy Geographic Locale: New York City and the Adirondack mountains Date of Publication: 1944  |  Original Date: 1944 Setting: rural; a lonely summer cottage on a mountainside with several forays to other local cottages and residences; the opening chapters are set in an upscale New York City townhouse Motives: money, greed, thwarted ambition

Plot Summary

Alison Tracey is distraught over the death of her beloved Uncle Felix which has left her homeless and without a job. She is mystified by the strange message he has left behind, written in a seemingly unbreakable secret code for which no one has the key. Determined to regain her physical and emotional well-being, Alison accepts her cousin Ronnie's offer to stay in his summer cottage located in the Adirondacks, and she looks forward to the quiet solitude of the remote mountain area. Accompanied only by her uncle's blind old dog, Argos, Alison's stay at the cottage proves to be anything but peaceful. Shortly after her arrival, she hears strange noises in the surrounding woods, and is terrorized by thoughts that someone is stalking her in the hope of obtaining Uncle Felix's enciphered message. When one of the local residents meets with foul play in the woods, Alison comes under suspicion, and must work quickly to decipher the code and reveal the murderer's identity before she, too, meets an untimely death.

Major Characters

Felix Mulholland adult male, elderly, white hair, retired professor of Greek literature and skilled amateur cryptographer

Alison Tracey adult female, 23 years old, blonde hair, secretary to her uncle, Felix Mulholland

Ronnie Mulholland adult male, 28 years old, handsome, brilliant, troubled by a club foot, works in the Office of Strategic Economy

Matt Griggs adult male, taciturn, grave face, beak nose, drives a grocery delivery truck in the remote mountain area

Colonel Armstrong adult male, middle-aged, 45 years old, lean hard face, Army intelligence officer anxious to decipher Felix Mulholland's secret coded message

Geoffrey Parrish adult male, large build, blonde hair, Army officer on leave

Yolanda Parrish adult female, 30s, slender, mouse-colored hair, Geoffrey's domineering sister, her fragile appearance belies her cruel nature

Mrs. Phillimore adult male, middle-aged, tall, masculine features, dresses as a woman, political crackpot

Mr. Raines adult male, middle-aged, stocky build, serious demeanor, hardworking, farmer

Mrs. Raines adult female, middle-aged, stout, practical, farmer's wife

Kurt Anders adult male, plump, bald, psychologist who works in the psychological warfare devision

Captain Rendell adult male, earnest, intelligent, local police chief


poison (digitalis)

Level of Violence

minimal; the murders are described briefly and after-the-fact.


practically non-existent, with the exception of one or two brief kisses shared by Alison and Geoffrey who rekindle an old flame.

Gender Roles

traditional; the two major female characters are wealthy enough to afford servants and they lead fairly luxurious lifestyles despite the rationing imposed by the war effort. Alison's life has been privileged and sheltered, but her determination, independent nature and intelligence enable her to solve the mysterious code and outwit the murderer. The men are frequently condescending toward and critical of Alison, viewing her as incapable of making decisions and unable to think for herself.


most characters are presumably European-Americans. There are a few passing references to "ruthless Germans" in keeping with the wartime atmosphere.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

brief social drinking in one scene, but alcohol does not feature prominently.

Law Enforcement

the local police captain makes a brief appearance; he appears calm and methodical in his approach, but is not really involved in solving the mystery.

Added Features

cryptography plays an important role in the plot, and detailed explanations of various coding methods are described. Sample encryption charts are included. World War II permeates the atmosphere of the novel, and most of the characters have some connection to the war effort. Rationing is in effect, most young men have been called up by the Army, and there are numerous war-related references throughout the novel. Classical allusions also abound, and at times seem downright didactic, with background information provided on Greek deities, especially Pan and his connections with the ancient fear of the woods (and the connection with the novel's title: Panic). A subversive group, referred to as the League of Super-Americans, is described as an underground political organization with plans to exploit the economic aftermath of the war.

Subject Headings

Adirondack mountains (N.Y.)/ Murder/ Cryptography/ World War, 1939-1945

Psychological Elements

one female character is actually a man in disguise, and the narrator views this as a mild form of perversion. There are several attempts to depict Alison as psychotic because she claims to have heard noises coming from the woods.