Saturday, March 2, 2024

One by One They Disappeared

 One by One They Disappeared (1929) by Moray Dalton (Katherine Dalton Renoir)

Inspector Collier goes to a hotel for dinner with friends a few days before taking off on a holiday to Rapallo in Italy. By chance, he strikes up a conversation with Elbert J. Pakenham, a New York millionaire who is also waiting for dinner companions. Pakenham is one of nine survivors of the Coptic, a vessel sunk during the first World War. Each year he hosts a dinner for his fellow survivors and gives them a small gift--a token of his appreciation for their taking such good care of an old man while they waited rescue. Last year, he made an even bigger gesture--telling them all that since his nephew died he has made them joint beneficiaries of his will. The inspector happens to see the first of the men to arrive, a blind man named Raymond and a Mr. Freyne.

The morning Collier is preparing to leave for Italy, he reads a story in the newspaper with the headline "FATAL ACCIDENT TO BLIND PIANO TUNER." that makes him change his plans. He recognizes the name of the blind man as that of the man on his way to the anniversary dinner with Pakenham. All of his alarm bells are going off and he decides to take a busman's holiday rather than a trip to Italy (though Italy will play its part in the drama to come). His unofficial investigation reveals that several of the Coptic's survivors have met with fatal "accidents" in the past year and he begins to suspect that someone wants to make sure that the lion's share of Pakenham's estate will come to them. And when his bet friend, Inspector Trask, who has been assisting him with his investigation is nearly killed by an accident clearly intended for Collier, he's sure he's right.

Then Mr. Pakenham goes missing--on a trip of his own to Italy where he just might meet with one of those fatal accidents...will the wily old American and the British inspector be able to beat a clever killer at his own game?

******Warning--a bit of a spoiler ahead. Read at your own risk.******

This is the first of Dalton's Inspector Collier mysteries and as a first in series, it's pretty good. Collier is not your super detective. He makes lots of mistakes along the way and, honestly, Pakenham seems a bit quicker on the uptake in a few of the situations. But Collier is a likeable detective and one hopes that he will get better at the detecting game as the series goes along. The plot is (now) a well-worn one--a tontine-style will where the portions get bigger as the number of potential heirs decreases. But Dalton does well with it and creates some memorable moments along the way. The two things which would have made this better: a stronger detective and a less obvious suspect. The only thing I couldn't quite figure out was how the motive worked for the culprit. The connection isn't nearly as obvious and I don't see how the reader could have figured it out before being told at the end. All that said--an entertaining beginning in a book that was a quick read. I plan to read more by Dalton.

Curtis Evans provides a great introduction to this reprint edition which contains much background information on Dalton. He says: "Only now coming back into print, Moray Dalton (really Katherine Mary Dalton Renoir) resembles the Crime Queens in many ways, having a decided knack for narrative and characterization. Yet for me she is a bit less “posh” (there’s that word again) of a writer than Sayers, Allingham and Marsh and explores sexual and class dynamics in Thirties and Forties Britain in more original ways.  See, for example, Death in the Cup and The Strange Case of Harriet Hall, which have some truly striking and refreshing situations. I think that Dalton, who seems to have lived life as something of a privileged outsider, may have been more of a forerunner of the modern crime novel than these other, more famous women, estimable as they are.  Her primary sleuth, Hugh Collier, is an appealing young police detective." 

 ★★ and 1/2.

First line: As Inspector Collier entered the hotel lounge he glanced in a mildly inquiring manner at the three men who were sitting together at one of the little tables on his left.

Men expected one to take their advice without question, and they did not like one to be nervous and full of fancies. (p. 17)

Last line: And then, hurriedly, as if ashamed of his lapse, God bless her!
Deaths =  9 (three natural; one enemy action; one fell from height; one hit by car; one blood poisoning; one suffocated; one stabbed)

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