The Night of Fear (Dalton)

  • By Moray Dalton
  • First published: UK: Sampson Low, 1931; US: Harper, 1931

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Edgar Stallard, who combined writing about true crime with blackmailing practitioners, is stabbed during a Yuletide  game of hide-and-seek in the dark.  Suspicion falls on Hugh Darrow, a blind war veteran.

Both Curtis Evans, in his introduction for the Dean Street Press reprint, and Barzun & Taylor call The Night of Fear a classic example of the English country house Christmas mystery.

At first glance, it seems more generic than classic.  The first few chapters are Marshy inquisitions of a large, rather bland cast.  The plot soon thickens: the local policeman is gassed, then poisoned, and the private investigator Hermann Glide finds a link to two bygone criminal cases (the secret in the past Christie so often used).

The villain is rather easy to spot; Dalton doesn’t distribute enough suspicion among the suspects.  (Some good character-drawing in Ch. XV focused my attention.)  A clever additional twist at the end took me by surprise; it’s effective but not, I think, sufficiently clued.

Blurb (US)

A Christmas gathering of young and old in a great country house in England – a masquerade – and the lights are turned off for a game of hide and seek. Silence – then a man’s cry for “Lights”! The lights come on, revealing Hugh Darrow, blind since the War, standing in the main hall, fresh blood dripping from his hands and covering his white Pierrot costume. He tells the story of having discovered a dead man, stabbed through the heart, lying in a curtained window embrasure near to the one in which he was hiding. The murdered man proves to be Stallard, one of the visitors, and a writer of mystery tales. Follows a thrilling trial for the life of an innocent man. the tale gathers force, the excitement is tense. There is a great love story here; and the startling revelation of ancient scandals. A grand and baffling tale for the mystery lover.

Contemporary reviews

Books (Will Cuppy, 12th April 1931, 180w): Opening snappily in medias res, this one maintains a pretty pace and winds up with a highly exciting burst of secrets, scandals and more bloodshed.  Grade A. sleuthing by Inspector Collier, of the C.I.D., and Hermann Glide, master mind.

Boston Transcript (9th May 1931, 200w): The story takes place in a real atmosphere of fear and sinister menaces, and it quite commands the absorbed attention of the reader.  The plot itself, however, in its essential features, is not strikingly original, but the complications and the atmosphere help to give it additional appeal.

Wis Lib Bul (June 1931)

Springfield Republican (21st June 1931, 180w)

Western Morning News (P.H., 13 July 1931): The Night of Fear is a better mystery story than its rather old-fashioned title might indicate. Mr. Moray Dalton, the author, has not gone off the beaten track in staging his murder—or rather murders, for there are two—but has laid his false trails with skill, and has not neglected to provide the reader with sufficient clues to solve the mystery. Moreover— always a satisfactory point in a detective story—he has, in his last chapter, given a fresh twist to an apparently completed plot, and sprung a new surprise on the reader.

Daily News (Charles Williams, 15 July 1931): ATTRACTIVE BLACKMAIL

The Night of Fear has invented an almost attractive form of blackmail, which depends on reading up the details of old criminal trials. The blackmailer is stabbed while the house party are playing hide and seek; and Mr. Dalton is one of those delightful writers who go on introducing fresh thrills throughout. At the trial the detective behaves so suspiciously that I began to have serious doubts even of him; and then, on the last page but one, there was a new twist. The actual solution comes rather camel-like, but I have swallowed so many gnats that it gave me no undue strain to gulp it.

Belfast News-Letter (M. O’M., 16 July 1931): Those who like a neatly-constructed, plausibly possible, detective yarn, will welcome Mr. Moray Dalton’s Night of Fear. There is just the right touch of mystery about it to make speculation on the personality of the murderer a plausible mental exercise. We are spared all “sleuthing” by super human detectives. A quaint gnome of a man, Herman Glide, does the trailing, and manages to keep us in state of doubt about his ability to “hand up the goods” in time to prevent the accused ex-officer being hanged. He saves the hero just as the judge was about to pass sentence—and incidentally adds a happy sequel to the love interest which is delicately sustained throughout the story.

Evening Standard (Stephen Potter, 16 July 1931): The same [conscientious writing] cannot be said of The Night of Fear, by Moray Dalton. The book opens with the finding by a fellow-guest of the murdered body of a member of a fashionable house party. Suspicion at first falls on the wrong man.

Dundee Courier (22 July 1931): The Night of Fear, by Moray Dalton,is a thriller that has plot, action, and character in their right proportions.

A murder takes place while the guests at a house party are playing hide-and-seek. The lights are switched off to aid realism, and the body of a murdered man is discovered by a blind man, who is known to hate him. To implicate him even further in the crime the blind man discovers his sight. The policeman who is investigating the case dies in a highly mysterious manner, and a vital piece of evidence is torn from his note-book.

The Night of Fear really lives up to its name. It is a thrilling entertainment, and is well worth reading, if only for the sake of meeting an exceedingly original detective.

Northern Whig (1 August 1931): The Night of Fear, by Moray Dalton is a detective story by the author who won his spurs with The Body In the Rand [sic]. The eccentric private detective whom Mr. Dalton has invented makes another appearance in the new story, and is again successful in “spotting” a murderer, and if his methods are somewhat heterodox, readers are not likely to share the objections to them felt by the “regular” police.

Times Literary Supplement (10th September 1931): Mr. Dalton’s latest detective story is his best, and the discerning reader will appreciate the choice of situation which allows him full scope to exercise his own skill at detection.  For this purpose a house-party is admirably suited; it is both plausible and convenient.  In the present instance the house is snow-bound so that it is possible to dismiss the contingencies that arise from outside interference and concentrate exclusively on the demeanour and whereabouts of the guests at the moment of the crime.  The murder of an unpopular writer—a last-minute guest—occurs and is discovered during a harmless game of hide-and-seek in the dark; he is found stabbed to death in a dark corner of the darkened mansion by one of the “hiders”, a man who had lost his sight in the War.  It seems incredible that this man should have been able to commit such a swift and accomplished crime, but the alibis of his fellow-guests make it as difficult to believe that one of them had a better chance.  It is for the reader to decide whether these alibis are impeachable, for Mr. Dalton does all he can to help him.  It is his duty to decide how much significance should be attached to the death of the local constable, and to a thrilling elopement that ended by a Rolls-Royce plunging into the lake during a fog.

News Chronicle: Mr. Dalton is one of those delightful writers who go on introducing fresh thrills throughout.

Evening News: An unusually interesting and skilfully worked-out mystery.

Dundee Courier: It is a thriller that has plot, action, and character in their right proportions … it is a thrilling entertainment … well worth reading.

Bookm (December 1931, 100w)

A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): This, which appears to be the author’s third tale, is a classic example of the English house-party murder, but it has unusual feature: the star detective, Collier, plays a minor and unaccustomed part, and there is a good twist at the end, after the well-handled trial.  On the evidence at hand, Moray Dalton deserves thorough looking up.

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