The Spoilt Kill – Mary Kelly
I had not read any Mary Kelly before, but as The Spoilt Kill, originally published in 1961, came with the imprimatur of the excellent British Library Classic Crimes series, I decided to take the plunge. This book won Kelly the Crime Writers’ Association Critics Award for that yea but, sadly, she has fallen into obscurity, partly because her output was sparse, and she gave up writing fiction in her forties.
The story is set in the Potteries, indeed in a pottery factory, Shentalls, a family firm akin to a Wedgewood or a Spode. There is trouble at t’kiln as someone is stealing the patterns of new designs and selling them on to counterfeiters who are then able to steal a march on the old firm. A private investigator, Henderson, is employed to track down the culprit and he latches on to the designer, Corinna Wakefield, as primary suspect. While he is trailing her around, he is present when she opens a hatch and discovers the body of one of her colleagues in a shaft, reeking of alcohol. We have two mysteries for the price of one, perhaps interlinked, perhaps not, and Henderson, as he is on the scene and knows the characters of the firm reasonably well, assists in cracking the murder.
The story is written in the first person and we see the action through the eyes of the narrator, Henderson. This enables the reader to understand his thought process, suspicions, and methodology. Equally, though, when Henderson is blindsided or takes a turning down a blind alley, so does the reader. The plot is very carefully and cleverly constructed, with little in the way of the usual astonishing coincidences that bedevil many a crime novel.
What is soon apparent is that the employees at Shentalls’ that we meet all have backstories and are generally leading miserable or unfulfilled lives. This, of course, goes with the territory, providing each of them with motives of sorts to want to earn some extra cash, if not to do with the bumptious, interfering finance director. Henderson eventually pieces everything together and while the solution may not come as a shock to the attentive reader, the story is well-paced, and the tension maintained.
Indeed, Kelly is excellent in creating the atmosphere of a dowdy Midland’s town in the late 1950s and her characters are believable. There is enough, but not too much, pottery jargon to give some verisimilitude to the scene of the crimes and the title of the book is a delicious pottery-style pun. I enjoyed the book and would heartily recommend it to anyone keen to explore the more outré byways of the world of crime fiction.