Friday’s Forgotten Book: Death in the Quadrangle by Eilis Dillon

Eilis Dillon (1920-1994) was a productive Irish author whose primary target audience was the young adult reader. She wrote 38 YA books as well as two plays, an autobiographical history, eight novels, and three mysteries, two featuring retired Professor Daly, formerly of King’s University in Dublin and now of Galway, and Inspector Mike Kenny of the Civic Guards. A prize in her name is given annually as part of the Children’s Books Ireland (CBI) Book of the Year Awards.

Death in the Quadrangle (Faber, 1956) is the second collaboration between Professor Daly and Inspector Kenny. Professor Daly has been invited back to King’s University, where he taught for 30 years, to deliver a series of lectures. He arrives to find the academic and support staff in a permanent furor over the behavior of the college president. During his first meeting with President Bradley, Daly learns that Bradley has been receiving threatening letters and wants Daly to use his established contacts within the college to learn who is sending them. He declines, however, to let Daly see them or to call in the police. He is most anxious that nothing interfere with the very large donation that an Irish-American industrialist plans to give to the university, so negative publicity is verboten and inviting a police investigation is out of the question.

The morning after a miserable dinner party during which most of the senior academics displayed their enmity toward Bradley and paraded their own personal peculiarities, Bradley is found dead in his bed. There is no way the death can be considered natural or accidental, and Inspector Kenny is neck-deep in a murder investigation with any number of potential suspects.

It is really too bad that Ms. Dillon decided to focus her literary talents elsewhere, as her plotting is classic Golden Age in style. Her take-down of academic politics and the eccentricities of individual professors is delivered in savagely witty terms. An entertaining read for lovers of academic mysteries and Golden Age detective stories.

Cover photo is from the Kindle edition.

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