By Moray Dalton
First published: UK, 1931; US: Harper, 1931
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.