Death at Crane’s Court by Eilís Dillon (1953)

George Arrow is living the perfect bachelor life when, out of the blue he learns he that he has a life-threatening heart condition. In order to avoid any strain in his life he moves to Crane’s Court, a residential hotel on the Bay of Galway. En route to his new home, Arrow chances to meet the hotel’s new owner, John Burden, who has just inherited the property following the death of his uncle. Burden has plans to make some significant changes at the hotel. His changes don’t include catering to the many elderly long-time residents, who soon have all sorts of plots to bring him down. Is it any wonder when someone stabs him through the heart, or that the Garda are having a hard time finding anyone who didn’t want him dead? 

I had a hard time regarding this one. Initially I enjoyed all of the idiosyncratic characters with and the sardonic wit. Who doesn’t get a kick out of a murder over soggy sprouts, or dotty old women whose gardening secret is cat fertilizer—and I’m not talking about the pooh. But sometimes, characters can only take you so far, especially as, over time, there was less to laugh at, and more to pity. Characters such as Mrs. Robinson, labeled “Queen-bee”, whose life of being the real ruler of the Court comes to an end when Burden takes over. Then there is her retinue of harpies, and the men they haven’t yet eaten, who have lives that revolve following Mrs. Robinson’s lead to overthrow the new management. But, as I read further I found myself straining not to find them, well pitiable, in their attempts to hold onto their small pleasures—and territory.

All may have been well if Dillon had played nicely with her mystery. Just about anyone could be the murderer, and I mean anyone. The problem is that the information needed to sort out who might, from who did, is sorely lacking. That’s not to say that Dillon isn’t very generous with red herrings. In addition to Robinson and Co., there is a ghost, a cat lover who flits everywhere, an excitable chef with sharp knives, a receptionist who makes a habit of being on the brink of engagement with hotel owners who then end up dead, a pretty widow who should have inherited, and even our protagonist George. At issue here is the fact that she pretty much omitted all of the clues. We see very little investigation. Professor Daly, who is purported to be the amateur sleuth here, speculates quite a bit. The interviews done by Inspector Kenny reveal that everyone met with the suspect just prior to his murder, which gives him a timeline. That’s about it—unless I missed something? Yet I still picked out the culprit, who because they were the most innocuous inhabitant, stuck out like a sore thumb.

There’s the shell of a great puzzle here, but it falls flat as the author becomes too involved with showcasing the sad foibles of her quirky characters.

Prior Judgments – Brad @ ahsweetmysteryblog, Kate @ Cross Examining Crime, JJ @ The Invisible Event

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo—Read one book with an animal in the title

7 thoughts on “Death at Crane’s Court by Eilís Dillon (1953)

  1. Despite being a not very well known author she has caused quite a stir on the blogs and is somewhat divisive as you will have noted. I think I am somewhat out on a limb by myself in rather enjoying this one and the others by her. Despite it being one I reviewed on my blog I feel like it will need another re-read at some point, as my memory is somewhat empty on this and the others for that matter.

    1. I didn’t realize just how divisive this was until I came across Brad’s post! I assume after all this time JJ and you are no longer at daggers drawn?

      I started out enjoying the book, and I think if Dillon had kept with the theme of crotchety seniors plotting murder it probably would have played better with me.

  2. Anonymous

    I’ve been reading the work of “mystery” writers for about forty years now. A while ago I came to the conclusion that the “whodunnit:” part is not always so important to me. The characters, the setting and the authors descriptive powers usually draw me in to the kind of book I like. The intrigue of criminal behaviour certainly spices up the story, but as seen in Simenon, Tey, Sayer, and of course Gladys Mitchell, the credibility of the tale and the ability to engage the reader with a human sense of listening to the tale is far more important. Yes, I read some “literary” novels too. However these works are easily separable from mystery works by the presence of someone whose ox has been gored or been gored themselves. I stump for the story over the puzzle.

  3. The notion of “a cat lover who flits everywhere” has me picturing a sort of Don Juan-esque figure with whiskers and pointy ears.gliding through the shadows from bedroom to bedroom. It is…surprisingly disturbing.

    And, yes, the treatment of the characters and mystery alike left me rather cold on this one, too. I was never inspired to try her other one, but I’m at least pleased I had the chance to read this and know it wasn’t for me.

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