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by Eilis Dillon
Rue Morgue Press, August 2009
160 pages
ISBN: 160187040X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When George Arrow learns he must take life extremely easy due to a heart condition, he moves into highly recommended Crane's Court, once a beautiful manor house just outside Galway and now a quiet upscale residential hotel on the edges of that beautiful Irish city. Though it caters to his every whim, it is mainly filled with cranky elderly long-time patrons, and he feels too young and too healthy to really belong there, but slowly acclimates. He soon comes to realize how entertaining the soap-opera qualities of the different classes and cliques of guests can be, and once he meets the late owner's lovely niece the die is cast. Unfortunately there's a snake in this Eden, her cousin - the vituperative nephew who inherited the hotel. He's got plans, as do several other people, and some of them are quite deadly.

Despite the melodramatic elements listed above, this is first and foremost a classic puzzle mystery, with a complex plot that is wrapped in beautiful language and with bright bits of sly wit scattered about. There are dead bodies, Our Hero appears to have Done It For Love, but several others might have dunnit for money, comforts, or simple madness, and the first (or maybe second...) victim was hated by many. The detective seems quite slow on the uptake and far, far too accommodating to George's interest in the case, giving him (and us) a great deal of privileged information, but it's all quite plausible by the standards of the day. All the characterizations skirt the edge of caricature, but ultimately become near-real, endearing people. The leading lady is beautiful and sweet, there's a sultry siren in the wings, it's set in a classic manor house with a closed circle of guests, and a villain you simply love to hate who quite gets his comeuppance - what's not to love?

Well, all right, There was something that annoyed me. The murderer and the motives are well-explained and shown to us at the end, but there wasn't enough information given to us previously for us to truly suspect that person, who seemed to me to fly just under the radar. It's quite possible, however, that I simply missed the pertinent bits, as Ms Dillon is very generous with red herrings and very scrupulous about plot detail, and did seem to ‛play fair' otherwise. She may have been too subtle for me, which happens only occasionally, so be warned. You'll need to pay very close attention! And while I was abashed at having missed the killer, I admire her skill in doing so - it was beautifully done.

Although initially published in 1953, this is clearly based upon, or is stylistic homage to, the Big House puzzlers of the 1920s and 1930s, with all the expected bits in play. However, it's all slanted just a touch, a bit wryly off-kilter, and is very funny at times about that sort of formula, while never sliding into slapstick. The balance is precarious, but Ms. Dillon manages beautifully, although the pacing is rather slow by current standards, likely to bore many modern readers at first. Don't give up on this lovely confection, should you be lucky enough to have a copy. It's quality work from an author who wrote fifty books, all sorts, but only three of them mysteries. Rue Morgue Press plans on reprinting all three, bless them!

If you enjoy murder in a manor with mixed bag of suspects, minus the overly aristocratic touches but with a considerable amount of academic license - (in the many senses of that word), all the properly mysterious bits well-mixed and enjoyably slanted, flavored with wit and wits, I can certainly recommend this to your attention.

Reviewed by Abbey Hamilton, October 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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