Sleeper - Lillian O'Donnell

Tuesday Mar 20 2012
by Whodunit

Continuing with our series of neglected authors who have gone out of fashion, we offer Lillian O’Donnell, who was the author of a police procedural series, featuring female detective Norah Mulcahaney which ran to seventeen books between 1972 and 1998. It was one of the first cop series with a female detective, and certainly one of the longest running. O’Donnell was born in Trieste, according to the web in 1926. But she was on Broadway in Pal Joey and stage managed in 1943, so she must have been born considerably earlier. In any event, O’Donnell had a considerable career on stage and in television before turning to writing in 1963. As well as the Mulcahaney series, O’Donnell wrote several shorter series featuring female detectives Mici Anhalt, (3 books 1977-80) and Gwenn Ramadge (4 books, 1990-97). She also published a number of one-offs early in her career, between 1963 and 1973. O’Donnell’s Mulcahaney series is most distinguished for being pioneering and so early to star a female cop, although she plotted well and – as might be expected of somebody with a theatrical background – wrote good dialogue. On the other hand, there was nothing outstandingly quirky about Detective Mulcahaney or her place of operations, which was New York City. O’Donnell appears to have dropped out of favour chiefly because she is no longer writing and because her chief character ceased to be unusual or distinctive. She apparently understood this point, but was unable to find a better and more successful character.

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