The Night of Fear

The Night of FearThe Night of Fear
by Moray Dalton
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781912574896
Publication Date: March 1, 2019
Pages: 195
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Dean Street Press

Together they looked down at the inert sprawling figure of a man fantastically dressed in red-and-white-striped pyjama trousers, with a red sash belt and a white silk shirt open at the neck.

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 next 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. There follows a thrilling tale in which the life of an innocent man hangs in the balance. A grand and baffling tale for the mystery lover.


 

After a rocky start, with a choppy narrative that was very difficult to fall into, the book evened out about 1/3 of the way in and once PI Glide showed up, I found it very difficult to put the book down until I’d finished it.  I can’t say it’s because I liked Glide – I really didn’t care for him one way or the other, but the I got caught up in the events and the fast pace, of the story, and I warmed to Mrs. Clare.  I generally don’t like courtroom dramas, but this one kept a nice edge of tension going; even though I felt confident about the murderer, I had no idea how Glide was going to pull off the proof of it.

I got 2 out of 3 of the murders correct, but I totally missed the Diane prediction I made  – or more accurately, I was right, but with entirely  the wrong person.  I’m laughing to myself because that critical scene towards the end over tea – I knew how that was going to turn out because I’d seen the same thing done way back in the 80’s on, of all things, the soap opera General Hospital.  But the scene at the zoo?  I didn’t see that coming, and it was a delightful little twist to the story.  My biggest complaint about the story is the fate of Sergeant Lane – I dislike being made to like someone only to have them ripped away.

I won’t say no to more Dalton, but I’m not sure I’d make a concentrated effort to get me hands on more of them.

The Red Lamp

The Red LampThe Red Lamp
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: June 18, 2019
Pages: 289
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penzler Publishing

William Porter has just inherited Twin Hollows, an isolated lakeside estate shrouded in mystery and doom. But William and his wife aren't easily swayed by ghost stories and whispered rumors. Until a shadowy apparition beckons to them from the undying glow of a red lamp. Is a stranger with a deadly purpose trying to frighten them away? Or are they being haunted by a chilling warning from the grave?


I knew this was a ghost story, of sorts, so I started it bright and early yesterday morning, and became so engrossed in the story that I almost, almost, finished it last night. leaving nothing but 3 of the last 4 conclusion chapters for me to read today.

Mary Roberts Rinehart was an excellent writer; that her genius has been so far forgotten today is a tragedy.  The Red Lamp was originally written in 1925, and putting aside the lack of technology and the beautifully elegant writing that today might be considered a tad verbose, the story holds up perfectly; it would take very little to make this story ‘modern’.

The Red Lamp is complex to the point of labyrinthine though.  Like the main character, I stumbled through the story in ignorance.  Some of this was by design, as the mc is meant to be a spectator not an active participant in solving the crimes, but some of it was because there was just so much going on and that beautifully elegant writing of Rinehart’s made for easy camouflage of any clues.

The book is, with the exception of the introductory and final 4 chapters, purely epistemological, with no chapters, just journal entries.  This style doesn’t always lend itself to a submersive experience for the reader, but these journal entries are detailed enough that it makes almost no difference from a first person narrative.

The ghostly part of the story, in spite of the enormous potential for scarring the spit out of me, were subdued enough that they never raised so much as a hair.  This was a wee bit disappointing, I admit, but it didn’t adversely affect the story; they were never the point of the book, it was always about the mysterious killings and there was never doubt that those killings were done by a very corporeal being.

All in all, this was an excellent mystery.  I’d recommend this to anyone curious about Golden Age Mysteries who might be hesitant fearing dry or dated story-telling.  While not perfect, The Red Lamp is most assuredly neither dry nor dated.

I read this for the Gothic square on my Halloween Bingo 2020 card.

The Thirteen Problems

The Thirteen ProblemsThe Thirteen Problems
by Agatha Christie
Rating: ★★★★½
Series: The Agatha Christie Collection #
Publication Date: September 2, 2002
Pages: 201
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Agatha Christie Ltd/Planet Three Publishing

Thirteen short stories of unsolved crimes, solved by Miss Marple.


 

I (re)read this book for two reasons:  I belong to a group reading Agatha Christie’s oeuvre in order of publication, and it fit a Halloween Bingo prompt – 13.  Either one of those reasons would have been a good enough excuse to read this charming little collection of Miss Marple showing everyone up.

13 short stories: the first 6 of which share a common tie of being stories told at the Tuesday Night Club, an impromptu gathering where each person tells the tale of a mystery that went unsolved at the time.  The next 6 stories are tied together in a similar way, as stories all told around the dining table one evening.  The last story is a ‘stand-alone’ although it relies on the friendship established in the previous stories between Miss Marple and Sir Henry Clithering.

Without exception, each story is excellent.  Some are more excellent than others; in my opinion, The Blue Geranium is the absolute stand-out, though Motive vs Opportunity comes close.  The weakest was probably the last, for me, Death by Drowning.  It’s solid, but in comparison, duller than the previous 12 stories.

I have a confession to make about Agatha Christie’s books:  I dislike both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.  I find that in the longer books Miss Marple tends to natter on a bit too much and plays the “old spinster” and “aww shucks” hands a little too strongly.  Hercule Poirot is just … an amalgamation of the worst traits of Holmes and Dupin is as close I can come to a description.  I don’t find him as comical as most.

However, these short stories offer the perfect dose of Miss Marple: for almost all the stories, her participation is relegated to the end, so the simpering is contained.  I also really tried, while reading these, to re-imagine Miss Marple in my mind by remembering the subjectivity of the descriptor ‘old’ and the stereotype of ‘spinster’.  Yes, Miss Marple has white hair and knits, but I know many a 50-60 year old that has white hair and knits.  I don’t recall her age ever being mentioned in the books I’ve read so far, so perhaps I dislike Miss Marple because of popular portrayals, combined with current attitudes about the adjectives that Christie used 100 years ago, when they covered broader spectrums.

I was partially successful; it was a struggle.  Ingrained conceptions die hard.  Fortunately I have a lot of books ahead of me to use for mental re-programming.  Now if only I could figure out a way to like Poirot…

As I mentioned, I read this for Halloween Bingo 2020 to fit the 13 square.