Moray Dalton is the pen name of a renowned English author of the mid-20th century named Katherine Mary Deville Dalton Renoir. She was particularly famous for writing detective fiction, crime thriller, and mystery novels. The highlight of her writing career was the creation of the chief protagonist Inspector Hugh Collier. Author Dalton was born on May 06, 1881 in London and died on February 22, 1963, in Worthing, Sussex. Dalton had written more than 20 adventure thriller novels and was quite popular for her work. However, she is now included among the forgotten mystery writers, which is a sad reality. The last crime novel of Dalton’s career was published at the age of 70 in 1951. After that, she was promptly forgotten in spite of being a top-quality writer. When she was at the peak of her career, Dalton was included in the list of major English crime writers of her time. Her fans used to finish reading her novels in just 2 nights.
The first crime fiction book published by Dalton is the 1924 novel called The Kingsclere Mystery. She was 42 years old at that time. Before this, Dalton had released a contemporary novel in 1909 as well as a romantic novel in 1920. Both these books were well-received, but the genre of romance didn’t interest her much. She liked mystery stories that combined evocative settings, fleet narratives, and strong characterizations. It was unfortunate on the part of Dalton that she wrote crime novels of high literary quality, well before authors like Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, Anthony Gilbert, Ngaio March, ECR Lorac, etc., but did not receive the fanfare that these authors got. Author Dalton took a major step forward in her literary career with her 1929 and 1930 novels, One by One They Disappeared and The Body on the Road. These novels were the respective debuts of Dalton’s two main protagonists, Hugh Collier and Hermann Glide. She described Collier as an intelligent, young, and woman-shy inspector of the Scotland Yard and Hermann Glide as a percipient and persistent private detective and minor sleuth. These two characters featured in the same fictional world created by Dalton and appeared together in her 1931 mystery novel called The Night of Fear.
During the 1930s, Dalton and other prominent female authors were published by Sampson Low. But, the other authors moved on to join Collins Crime Club and achieved greater fame, while Dalton stayed back with Sampson Low, which is believed to have hampered Dalton’s career. Considering the decades-long absence of Dalton from the world of crime fiction, it is believed that she had sufficient means to live an independent life and maintain her comfort. She was considered a privileged English woman, whose writings were to please herself to a great extent, and that is why she never tried to push her career, unlike other popular female authors such as Gilbert and Lorac. Author Dalton was born to a Canadian father named Joseph Dixon Dalton and an English mother named Laura Black Dalton, and was their only child. During the 1890s, lived with her parents in Southampton’s Lottery Hall. In 1911, her parents relocated to Somerset’s Perth Villa. Later, the family resided in Littlehampton at the time of the Great War. As the family had to live in a small-spaced house, it indicated that the gold reserves of the family had greatly diminished.
In 1919, Dalton’s father died due to a flu pandemic, leaving a great impact on her. In order to kill her time, Dalton started writing memorial poems. During the 1910s, she wrote and published a few of her memorial and martial poems. Author Dalton was believed to have a great passion for Italy and its citizens. This can be understood from the fact that they feature prominently in her crime stories. Though most of Dalton’s stories take place in England, certain sequences are also set in Italy. During the first 4 decades, Dalton lived a rather isolated life. She stayed with her parents and was privately educated. It was only after her father’s death and the end of the war that Dalton started opening up. In 1921, she married Louis Jean Renoir, with whom she had a son. Shortly after, Louis left Dalton. After that, she stayed with her mother in Worthing until her mother passed away in 1945. Dalton left behind an estate worth one million US dollars, after her death in 1963.
The Hugh Collier series written by author Moray Dalton is comprised of a total of 14 books released between 1929 and 1951. The debut book of this series is entitled One By One They Disappeared. It features the primary characters in the form of Elbert Pakenham, Jehosaphat, Corinna Lacy, Gilbert Freyne, Hugh Collier, Edgar Mallory, Count Olivieri, Superintendent Trask, etc. The book opens by showing that Elbert Pakenham is a resident of New York City. He is among the 9 people who survived the Coptic’s sinking. Pakenham’s black cat named Jehosaphat is also among the survivors. After Pakenham’s nephew dies, he prepares his will and names all the survivors as joint beneficiaries. When the beneficiaries start dying one after the other under mysterious circumstances, a lot of eyebrows are raised. When Pakenham himself vanishes, Hugh Collier suspects foul play. He lays a trap to catch the culprit, which results in seriously wounding his best friend. When Collier is unable to narrow down the main culprit from among the list of major suspects, he decides to take the help of Pakenham’s cat Jehosaphat.
Another exciting instalment of this series is known as The Night of Fear. It was originally released in 1931 and was re-released recently in March 2019. The central characters of this novel include Hugh Darrow, Stallard, Hugh Collier, and others. Dalton has set the plot in England at the time of the Christmas holidays. Initially, it is mentioned that a Christmas gathering is organized in a country house on the eve of Christmas. Old and young join the gathering to enjoy the festival. The attendees decide to play hide & seek and turn off the lights. Suddenly, a cry for help is heard and when the lights come on, Hugh Darrow is found standing at the centre of the hall with blood on his hands. Hugh, who is blind, informs everyone that he stumbled upon a dead body at the place where he went to hide. It turns out that the victim is Stallard, a writer by profession. Once again, Hugh Collier is asked to investigate the murder mystery and find the culprit. He begins the investigation by adding everyone present at the gathering in the suspects’ list. (Source: Book Series In Order)
You can read more about Moray Dalton at The Passing Tramp Reissued: The Mysteries of Moray Dalton (Katherine Mary Deville Dalton Renoir, 1881-1963)
What this amounts to is that I’m looking forward to reading, before the year ends, One by One they Disappeared (1929) and The Body in the Road (1930), which were, respectively, the debut mysteries of her major sleuth, Hugh Collier, and her minor sleuth, Hermann Gilde. Stay tuned.
Hugh Collier Series:
One By One They Disappeared (1929)
The Night of Fear (1931)
The Belfry Murder (1933)
The Harvest of Tares (1933)
The Belgrave Manor Crime (1935)
The Mystery of the Kneeling Woman (1936)
The Strange Case of Harriet Hall (1936)
Death in the Dark (1938)
Death in the Forest (1939)
The Longbridge Murders (1945)
The Condamine Case (1947)
The Case Of The Dark Stranger (1948)
Inquest On Miriam (1949)
Death of a Spinster (1951)
The Kingsclere Mystery (1924)
The Shadow On the Wall (1926)
The Black Wings (1927)
The Stretton Darknesse Mystery (1927)
The Body in the Road (1930)
Death in the Cup (1932)
The Wife of Baal (1932)
The Black Death (1934)
The Edge of Doom (1934)
The Case of Alan Copeland (1937)
The Price Of Silence (1939)
The Art School Murders (1943)
The Murder of Eve (1945)
Death At the Villa (1946)
The House of Fear (1951)
(Courtesy of Fantastic Fiction)
As far as I know there’s another book not listed above, Olive in Italy by Public Domain Books (first published 1909) available at Project Gutenberg.
Facsimile Dust Jacket, Harper & Brothers (USA) (1929) first printing
Facsimile Dust Jacket, Harper & Brothers (USA) (1930) first printing