Crime Fiction Alphabet: K is for Kelly

The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly looked very promising. A Virago Modern Classic (#449) and a CWA Gold Dagger winner (from 1961). I have a feeling that’s a unique combination.

The narrator is Nicholson, a private detective, and he is investigating the theft of designs, almost certainly by an employee from a long-established, family-owned pottery. Shentall’s of Stoke.

The investigation is covert, with the fiction being that Nicholson has been hired to write a history of the pottery.

One employee draws particular attention. Corinna Wakefield: the only employee not born and bred in Stoke. She is a handsome middle-aged woman, seemingly in the world. She is independent and a little aloof, but she is always professional, and very, very good at her job.

Corinna is a compelling character, by far the strongest of a very well drawn ensemble. Not always sympathetic, but it is clear that her life has not been easy nor is her situation, as an outsider and a woman in a man’s world. She has had to be tough and independent to cope. A leading lady to admire maybe, certainly a leading lady to make you think.

And Corinna is on the spot when a dead body is discovered in a vat of molten clay. Murder!

Nicholson doubts Corinna’s innocence, but he is drawn to her …

The mystery, and the investigation of two crimes that may or may not be linked, is very well handled.

And everything is underpinned by utterly believable human relationships and some clear psychological insight. Things that make for the best mysteries, I think.

The story unfolds in three acts:

  • What Happened
  • What Happened Before
  • What Happened After

It’s interesting, and just a slightly more structured approach to the way many works of crime fiction have been written. The opening was certainly attention-grabbing but, for me, the history of what happened before the murder was a little slow and the events after a little rushed.

But that’s a minor quibble, and there was much here to enjoy

The sense of place was wonderful. The pottery lived and breathed, and I had no doubt that Mary Kelly had done her research, and that she had used it well.

The sense of period was perfect too. I would have known that the book was set in the early sixties without reading the date and without any specific references to dates or events in the text. And the author marshalls her characters well to make some subtle but telling points about the their lives and choices.

Nicholson’s character was my only other quibble. I found him to be a little inconsistent, but I’m prepared to write that off to the conflict between his personal and professional instincts as pretty much everything else was very well done.

The world that Mary Kelly created, the characters she created, and the story that she told were fascinating.

And I have to say the The Spoilt Kill is more than worthy of its Golden Dagger and a fine addition to Virago’s list.


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

So next week, L is for … ?

9 responses

  1. Jane – Thanks for a terrific review! This is a novel I hadn’t heard of before, and that’s one thing I like the best about this meme – one learns about all sorts of new authors. Thanks!

  2. Ooh, yes, I agree, it was nice to have something a bit different on the VMC list. I thought this had great pace and enjoyed it immensely even though I don’t usually seek out crime fiction.

    • There was much more going on than the crime, which did keep things interesting. So now I’ve worked a VMC and a Persephone into a crime fiction meme, and there may well be a Greyladies title to come.

    • This one is out of print I’m afraid, but this reissue wasn’t tooo long ago so there should be used copies out there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: