Eilís Dillon: The Detective Stories

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Early in her writing career, Eilís Dillon wrote three detective stories, published by Faber & Faber in London, and later in America. Two of these Irish mystery novels were translated into other languages; all were well received by the critics. They are of historic interest, being among the earlier novels of their kind to be set in Ireland, and still make highly enjoyable reading as vintage crime fiction. Reissued in America by Walker and Perennial, they came back again when specialist crime publisher Rue Morgue Press reissued them in trade paperback editions in 2009. More recently, they appeared in Kindle editions, and are now contracted to be published as audiobooks. Good crime, it appears, never dies.

Death at Crane's Court
London, Faber, 1953;
New York, Walker, 1963

"Cosy, chatty, Irish whodunnit staged in a hotel-sanatorium near Galway. A new proprietor, a particularly revolting spivvish sadist, is stabbed soon after interfering with old ladies' liberties." (Maurice Richardson, The Observer).

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Sent to his Account
London, Faber, 1954;
New York, Walker, 1969

"Poisoning of coarse and beastly entrepreneur from Dublin who is trying to debauch quiet Wicklow village. Seen through the eyes of nice little rat-poor middle-aged person who suddenly inherits a baronetcy. Most snug: well and intelligently written with copiously detailed background unmarred by any stage Irishry. Good surprise finish." (Maurice Richardson, The Observer)

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Death in the Quadrangle
London, Faber, 1956;
New York, Walker, 1968
Professor Daly is flattered to be asked to give a series of lectures at his old university, King's College Dublin. Upon arrival, however, he realises that he has been brought back primarily because of his talents as an amateur detective. His eccentric colleagues are united only in one thing: a virulent hatred of their President. And it is not long before murder strikes.

"Her picture of academic life is the best we have read since Dorothy Sayers gave us 'Gaudy Night'." (Social and Personal)

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Writers who produce excellent work within a defined genre often receive encouraging - or patronising - attention from reviewers who feel that the genre is not real literature. In the case of Eilís Dillon, some critics of her detective stories, while praising her achievements, began to suggest that more could be attempted:

"I cannot help feeling of that, if Miss Dillon is so good a writer, perhaps she should be encouraged to launch into the wider seas of the real novelist." (J.W., Irish Times, 26 June 1954)

The Irish novelist Brinsley McNamara, speaking on Irish radio in September 1954, commented on Sent to His Account: "it is to be hoped that she will not forget to remember that as a new Irish writer of exceptional promise the Irish novel in the larger sense may be waiting for a fresh lease of life from her capable hands."

The author's engagement with the "straight novel" is illustrated elsewhere on this site. If you exit to the "Eilís Dillon Irish Writing Pages" you will find a link to "The Novels".

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