L’affaire du Collier: Moray Dalton

This week, Dean Street Press reprinted five novels by half-Canadian writer Moray Dalton: One By One They Disappeared (1929); The Body in the Road (1930); The Night of Fear (1931); Death in the Cup (1932); and The Strange Case of Harriet Hall (1936), with introductions by crime historian Curtis Evans.

Evans considers Dalton “one of the period’s major British crime writers, literate and compulsively readable”, their “strong characterizations, evocative settings, and fleet narratives” placing her in the company, if not higher, of Anthony Gilbert and E.C.R. Lorac.

Barzun and Taylor (“a conscientious workman, with a flair for the unusual, and capable of clever touches”) shared Evans’ enthusiasm for Dalton, as did contemporary newspaper critics.

“The author writes in an excellent, clear, vivid style,” the TLS reviewer (28 September 1933) said of The Belfry Murder (1933). “His descriptions are economical and effective; his dialogue is natural and stamps his characters. His persons, men and women, are touched in convincingly with an eye for essentials, and they are consistent and credible, in spite of their singular deeds and adventures…” The Edge of Doom (1934) was praised for its vivid character drawing, excellent dialogue, and charming descriptions of life in France and Sussex.

extast860890_9ed0b428046d40aa79ba0b43415ec0c88e7e874fOne By One They Disappeared introduces her police detective Inspector Collier. It’s the old tontine story: an American businessman distributes his fortune between his fellow shipwreck survivors, giving the greedy and unscrupulous motive to off each other before he dies.

It moves quickly, with plenty of thrillerish action.  Nefarious Italian counts and drug-addicted artists plot murder in Venetian palazzi; the heroine is kidnapped; and the bodies pile up.

As a whodunit, though, it’s weak. The murderer is obvious from the beginning; as a rule of thumb, suspect the outsider, who has no motive, and no real place in the story. He also has the help of four accomplices.

The book seems to have fooled readers of the time; Will Cuppy called the book “baffling”; the NY Times thought the mystery well sustained; and the TLS said “Mr. Dalton keeps his principal villain well concealed and springs his identity upon the reader, who may be excused for not having spotted him before.”

I still prefer Steeman’s Six hommes morts.

Evans recommends three of the other five books.

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