How do young lovers snatch time together in the 1930s?

They play hide and seek, of course. But as a Christmas gathering in a great country house reaches its peak, one such game will result in murder, the unravelling of long hidden secrets and, potentially, a grave miscarriage of justice.

What’s it about?

When the lights are turned off at Laverne Peveril, most of the players anticipate a delightful few minutes fumbling in the dark, but when a player shouts for “Lights!” a murder is revealed. Covered in the dead man’s blood, ex-soldier Hugh Darrow seems the most likely culprit, despite having been blind since the war.

A local policeman investigates, but is soon hospitalised, close to death. What, exactly, did he uncover at Laverne Peveril? His friend, Scotland Yard inspector Hugh Collier, briefly takes over the investigation but is soon deposed by a fellow Yard man who is determined to make the simplest explanation the correct one – but is it?

What’s it like?

Initially awkward, quickly intriguing and ultimately compelling, ‘The Night of Fear’ has a superb ending involving a murder trial, some serious secrets and a final, perfectly logical re-evaluation of events.

The opening lines seemed unpromising – there’s a startlingly swift leap from the scene of the crime to the home of an unimaginative local plod entertaining his much smarter friend, but after the initial awkwardness, Dalton’s story quickly racks up the queries we need answered. Why does Ruth lose faith in Darrow? Did the chauffeur really stay in his room all night? And what had DS Lane discovered that meant he had to be silenced?

Characterisation is a strength of Dalton’s and though there are numerous characters involved in the narrative, they all have distinctive voices. I loved the blustering blindness of Sir Eustace (“A most unpleasant affair. I hope for everybody’s sake that it can be hushed up. I suppose there’s no doubt the wretched man committed suicide?”), the horrible bluntness of Mrs Storey (“You’re a fool, my dear, but lots of men prefer that.”) and the resolute application of PI Hermann Glide (“This is a rescue party. There’ll be plenty of time to talk later.”)

Final thoughts

Moray Dalton’s ‘The Night of Fear’ is another Dean Street Press resurrection from the golden age of crime fiction – and it’s another worthy addition to any mystery lover’s shelves. Expect to uncover multiple secrets, feel intrigued by Stallard’s hidden knowledge and be completely beguiled by the court case which hangs upon as yet undiscovered witnesses…

Unusually for detective fiction, Dalton splits her investigation between the hapless DS Lane, thoughtful Inspector Collier, brusque Inspector Purley and, finally, the indefatigable Hermann Glide. While there is a rationale behind this, initially I felt as unsettled as the suspects themselves, one of whom complains that, “I can’t understand all this chopping and changing.” Ultimately, it works, though it does lend a slightly disjointed air to the first part of the story.

‘The Night of Fear’ is a classic murder mystery which deserves to be better known. I look forward to reading the other Moray Dalton titles republished recently: ‘One by One They Disappeared’, ‘The Body in the Road’, ‘Death in the Cup’ and ‘The Strange Case of Harriet Hall’.

‘The Night of Fear’,
Moray Dalton,
2019, Dean Street Press, paperback
Many thanks to the publishers for providing me with a copy of this book for my enjoyment.