Title: The Strange Case of Harriet Hall
Author: Moray Dalton
First published in 1936; reprint by Dean Street Press on 4th March 2019
Genre: Classic Crime and Mystery, Golden Age Mystery
Amy Steer is currently unemployed. Her reserve money is depleting and she will be on the streets if she doesn’t find a job soon enough. She sees an advertisement in the newspaper – it states if there is any relative of Julius Horace, they must contact the given address immediately. Julius Horace is Amy’s late father and Amy sees this as a chance to be with a relative, maybe even have a roof over the head.
Amy meets the advertiser, a Mrs Harriet Hall, who claims to be the sister of Amy’s dad. Mrs Hall asks Amy to come over and stay with her. She also promises to pick Amy up from the train station.
Amy meets a young man in her carriage and they both gel well quickly. Then when she says she’s Mrs Hall’s niece, the young man walks away without giving her a reason. Amy gets down at her station only to find herself all alone. She decides to walk to her aunt’s house, instead of waiting at the station for, god knows how long.
Amy reaches the house but her aunt is nowhere to be found. A day later, the young man she met in her carriage, Anthony Dene, walks by and they have tea together. His dog, Binkie, runs to the backyard and starts to bark. Tony goes to bring the dog back and discovers an old well. As the dog refuses to leave the rotten wooden planks that cover the well, Tony gets curious and peeks inside the well and finds a body.
“These amateur crimes are the devil. Now with that burglary at Hampstead last month we know Pannikin Joe was in it because he’d finished a pot of raspberry jam in the larder. Funny how that blighter can’t leave raspberry jam alone. They’ve all got their own methods, and their little ways that help us. With a case like this you’ve got to learn the alphabet before you can read. “
This is the first Moray Dalton book that I read. I must say that Dalton’s writing and storytelling are captivating. I was so hooked on to the book and I couldn’t put it down until the end.
Each of the characters in the story is portrayed really well. From the start, the reader is given an idea about the characters true nature. Consider Tony, for example, he runs away when he hears that Amy is Mrs Hall’s niece. That was totally uncalled for! He then tells his sister, Mollie, that he repents for having acted so strange.
Lavvy, Tony’s sister, is a self-proclaimed Princess of sorts. She’s pretty, men go gaga over her and she’s also her mother’s favourite child. Mrs Dene is no better either. From having a favourite child – first, Lavvy, second, Tony, to being an over-controlling parent, she paints quite a picture. Even the servants of the house are weird. If the cook can read coffee cups, the maid has some sort of unexplained hostility towards the Denes.
When Sergeant Lindo is termed incapable of solving the murder, a man from the Scotland Yard is brought in – Inspector Hugh Collier. I must say the story takes an unexpected turn from the time the Scotland Yard man makes an appearance.
There’s a twist halfway through the story and I actually had to read the sentence twice to make sure I read what I really did! Shocking! Although, once the secret is revealed, some explanations at the beginning of the story makes a tad sense.
Overall, the story was quite different from the Golden Age Mysteries that I have read so far. The mystery behind the murder though interesting, seemed a tad cliched. The same goes out to the identity of the killer. I must say that not all would like this kind of ending – with so much suspense and tension built up throughout the story, the ending might seem a bit bland and hurried-up like. If you choose to overlook this fact or, give it a second thought, you will see that the ending was quite different from the usual mysteries written at this time (the 1930’s).
Do I recommend this book? Yes, I do. The unexpected/cliched ending did not spoil the book for me. In fact, I am looking forward to reading more of Dalton’s works. If you are looking for a Golden Age Mystery with a unique and suspenseful plot, then you must check out The Strange Case of Harriet Hall by Moray Dalton.
I received this book from Dean Street Press in exchange for an honest review. Thanks much, DSP!