The Strange Case of Harriet Hall by Moray Dalton

Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long

More and more unknown or unfamiliar writers of the Golden Age of detective fiction are being unearthed and reprinted and this pleases me mightily.  Having read and re-read all of Agatha Christie, D L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh to mention just a few, finding new authors coming to light is like uncovering buried treasure.

The British Library Classic Crime series has led the way and there has been a proliferation of similar reprints. Dean Street Press have now discovered and republished Moray Dalton. This is the pen name of Katherine Dalton Renoir who published 29 crime novels between 1924 and 1951, the majority of which feature Inspector Hugh Collier from Scotland Yard and a private inquiry agent Hermann Glide who is not averse to pushing the legal boundaries a tad.

The story begins when we meet Amy Steer who is on her uppers and desperate to find work. Her landlady wants her gone and her funds are practically exhausted. While looking at the Situations Vacant column she spots a personal ad asking that any relative of the late Horace Steer should make contact and may hear something to their advantage.  Amy realises this is her father so named and writes a letter to the box number.

She receives a letter from her aunt Harriet Hall and arranges to meet her in London.

Mrs Hall wore large drop earrings that swung backwards and forwards as she moved. Two females in the corner eyed her disapprovingly. Amy was trying not to think that her aunt seemed a rather vulgar person.

Her aunt invites her to come and live with her and gives her a large sum of money to buy clothes and tells her.

“I want you to give a good impression……..there is a train that arrives at a little before 3pm. You will be met.”

A day or so later Amy is on her way to West Sussex. On the way she meets and chats to a young man who seems friendly and attracted to her until she tells him that she is going to meet her aunt Harriet Hall. He then veers away and when they reach their destination rushes off without speaking. Nobody comes to meet Amy and she is forced to walk to the Lodge. This does not bode well. There is nobody there. She finds a room prepared for her but there is no sign of her aunt

The silence of the place was unnerving. She was beginning to feel rather frightened. It was a dear little house but there was something about it that made her hesitate and brace herself before opening a door.

In the end she takes herself off to bed wondering where her aunt could possibly have gone.

It will come as no surprise to the discerning crime reader when Harriet Hall is discovered having been hit on the head and dumped down a well in the back garden.

And here I stop and say no more except there is a rather surprising detail that comes to light when the police start to investigate just who Harriet Hall is and why she is so disliked by the family of her old friend over whom she appears to have a mysterious hold.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The style is, naturally, of its time but I found it readable and not dated. I rather took to Inspector Collier and was pleased to find that Dean Street Press have also published other titles by Moray Dalton.

  • One by One they disappeared
  • The Night of Fear
  • The Body in the Road
  • Death in the Cup

They are available in paperback or as ebooks and as soon as I finished Harriet Hall I bought the lot and downloaded them. Read them over a weekend and then decided to hunt out more by this author. I have managed to purchase three so far but they are very hard to track down and are rather expensive so I am sincerely hoping that Dean Street Press publish some more.

If you are a Golden Age detection fan then please do not miss these.

Elaine blogs at Random Jottings.

Moray Dalton, The Strange Case of Harriet Hall (Dean Street Press, 2019). 978-1912574957, 222pp., paperback.

BUY at Blackwell’s (affiliate link).

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