The Barclay Place (1975) by Rae Foley

The Barclay Place by Rae Foley

6 stars (6/10 stars)

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? At least when you can forget what happened here.”

After three years in Europe, Maggie Barclay is coming home. She has decided that it’s time to face reality. To do that, she must return to the family home in Barclaysville where her parents died, one of two identical houses deep in the snowy woods. Maggie has always believed her parents’ deaths were a tragic accident. Now she’s not so sure—the closer she gets to Barclaysville, the more “accidents” she herself experiences. They say you can’t go home again, and someone seems determined that Maggie never will.

The Barclay Place is a solid, workmanlike thriller featuring a surprisingly assertive heroine. Maggie sails along, certain she can handle anything life throws at her, and it throws plenty. There’s nothing especially innovative here, but the twin houses provide a suitably creepy setting, with plenty of wintry atmosphere.

Maggie is summoned home by her cousin Hazel, who is “always deep in some new cult. At one time she studied palmistry, then crystal gazing, then the occult, and finally astrology. She did not discard one for the rest; they seemed to coalesce in her mind without causing her any confusion.” Hazel’s latest spiritual fad has convinced her that Maggie needs to deal with the unfinished business of her parents’ deaths. After some reflection, Maggie realizes that Hazel is right (even if she also suspects that the unemployed, middle-aged Hazel is eager to attach herself to a wealthy younger relative). Maggie’s return to the United States brings her some unpleasant surprises, however, beginning with an offer of marriage from her trustee, Gerald Stephens, who is old enough to be her father. His proposal begins unpromisingly: “I think I’ve been in love with you ever since you were thirteen, a gawky little girl with braces on your teeth.”

No sooner does she extricate herself from this situation than other, even stranger, obstacles arise. Maggie is attacked, someone siphons gas out of her car, even her brake lines are cut. With a blizzard raging, she and Hazel are forced to continue on foot, uncertain of what they will find if they succeed in reaching the Barclay house. Hazel is convinced Gerald is embezzling Maggie’s trust fund. Maggie thinks Hazel is trying to scare her into returning to New York with Hazel as a permanent companion. Both ladies are charmed by Donald Gregory, the invalid who is renting the other twin house, but distrustful of his manservant Philippe. Maggie is especially drawn to Dale Curtis, the Harvard-educated garage mechanic they hire to protect them. Dale claims to be on Maggie’s side.

My dear, you are as sane as any person I’ve ever encountered. Touchy, hard to handle, not broke to the saddle—yet. But sane. Trust me, that’s true. Remember this: there is always an explanation for the magician’s tricks, like sawing the lady in half. That’s being done right before your eyes and we are going to find out why—and who.

Yet she can’t help noticing that he is always suspiciously close by when trouble breaks out. “I like him,” Maggie realizes about Dale, “but I don’t trust him.”

Through it all, Maggie plows forward with the fabulous confidence of a rich girl who’s never been told no. Upon first arriving in Barclaysville, Maggie loads up the car Gerald gave her with provisions that she has no idea how to cook, secure in the knowledge that someone will cook them for her. And indeed someone does, just as someone fixes the furnace, hangs the drapes, and deals with the state police once the bodies start turning up. In fact, the people who do things for Maggie are the very people whose motives she is most leery of: Hazel, Dale, Gerald’s chauffeur Sam and his secretary Terry. At one point, Terry takes Maggie to task for her entitlement: “I don’t suppose I’ve ever liked you any more than you like me. I’ve watched Mr. Stephens lavish care and devotion on you and you’ve never made the slightest return.”

The Barclay Place by Rae Foley

What’s interesting, however, is that aside from this single moment, the book makes no effort to humble Maggie. It likes her just as she is: heedless and sometimes ungrateful, but also smart, strong-willed, and brave. These qualities are certainly in short supply for many heroines of woman-in-peril thrillers. And Maggie is not going to allow herself to be a sitting duck. Whatever is going on at the Barclay house, she is determined to get to the bottom of it…at least, for most of the novel’s length. The biggest mystery of the book is why Maggie suddenly loses her nerve right at the end, when it counts the most.

One reason Maggie’s wealth is so heavily emphasized is that The Barclay Place takes place during a “depression.” Many characters refer to it this way, and there are repeated mentions of widespread unemployment and economic instability. In fact, more than one person suspects Gerald of embezzlement or worse because it seems suspicious that his business is prospering at such a time. If Maggie didn’t drive a Gremlin and debate “women’s lib,” I would have assumed this was a period piece set during the 1930s, but it turns out there actually was a recession in the mid-1970s, one that was obviously very much on Rae Foley’s mind.

The Barclay Place has modest aims and fulfills them ably. It provides a brisk, efficient (if implausible) romantic suspense plot without histrionics, as straightforward as Maggie herself. In fact, Maggie is so fearless that it almost becomes a drawback. She simply cannot imagine that anything could happen to her, Maggie Barclay of Barclay House, so neither can the reader. There is never any sense of danger. Perhaps that is why her character becomes so uncharacteristically passive during the book’s climax: having always been the heroine of her own life, she is content to sit back and wait for the happy ending.


The Barclay Place is out of print with a few used copies available. It was also published in a Detective Book Club 3-in-1 volume with Death Sentence by Brian Garfield and Mortal Stakes by Robert B. Parker.


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