Friday, January 20, 2012

Eilis Dillon's Death in the Quadrangle and Rue Morgue Press

This is another of those times when I thank whatever gods there may be for Tom and Enid Shantz and Rue Morgue Press.  The world is a better place, particularly for lovers of mystery fiction, because of them, and a lesser place now with Enid no longer with us.

In the large batch of books I recently got from Rue Morgue were all three mystery novels by Eilis Dillon, an Irish author and academic, who, among her 50+ books wrote three mysteries,, in chronological order, Death at Crane's Court, Sent to His Account, and Death in the Quadrangle.  The recurring characters are Professor John Daly, retired from King's University, Dublin, and Mike Kenny, Inspector in the Guardia.  The first is set in a retirement home in Galway, the second in County Wicklow, and the third at King's University; it is one of the finest academic mysteries I have ever read.

Academic mysteries can be a problem.  Too often, the authors don't seem to know quite enough about how universities work to make the settings believable.  When they do work [as in Carolyn Heilbrun/Amanda Cross's work, or as in Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night (also here)], however, they can be (especially for those of us who are academics) especially fulfilling.  Death in the Quadrangle begins with Prof. Daly being asked back to King's to deliver a series of scholarly lectures; in reality, however, the University's President, Professor Bradley [whose first name, oddly enough, we never learn...but, for that matter, Daly's first name comes up almost in passing, and the first names of the other male faculty are also lacking (we do learn Professor O'Leary's first name--Mary)...they are referred to solely by their last names] wishes Daly to look into threatening letters he has received.  And without involving the police.  Of course, the first thing Daly does is to bring Inspector Kenny in (incognito).

While Dublin itself is just a place, and not even particularly convincingly evoked--much as Oxford and Cambridge, both large manufacturing towns, often seem to be quaint villages--, the University is alive (although you really don't get much sense of the size of the place; only 7 of the faculty get mentioned, and the students are just props).  The relationships among the faculty do not seem contrived, either.  And if the conclusion is somewhat forced, and perhaps somewhat too easily foreseen, the narrative swept me along.  I think that Dillon kept the length about right--about 160 pages.  Had it been longer, the additional length would have been padding.

If you can't tell, despite some reservations I have voiced here, I found Death in the Quadrangle absorbing.  I wish she had found to desire to write more mysteries.  But the three we have are worth our time and attention.

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