The Spoilt Kill – A Staffordshire Mystery by Mary Kelly. A 1961 novel republished in the British Library Crime Classics series

The Spoilt Kill (Hedley Nicholson #1) by Mary Kelly

The Spoilt Kill – A Staffordshire Mystery by Mary Kelly

Just to prove that not all murder mysteries need to take place in a country house, or the excitement of London, this novel from 1961 is set in a pottery in Staffordshire. It is very educational in terms of the process of creating tableware from design to final sale, and the details are carefully woven into a clever plot of murder and industrial espionage. This novel has been reprinted in the highly successful British Library Crime Classics series. As Martin Edwards points out in his informative Introduction, it marked a high point for writer Mary Kelly with its blend of a realistic workplace setting with almost lyrical descriptions of the surrounding area. It is also excellent on characters – Corinna as the designer with a mysterious past, Gillian being a demanding wife, the ambitious Dudley, attractive Freddy and the responsible Luke. Others jostle for attention as they work in Shentall’s Pottery or are linked to it, and they are all considered by the thoughtful Hedley Nicholson, private investigator who narrates in a calm, sometimes resigned way. The unusual structure of this book means that a body is discovered “What happened” with its identity concealed from the reader, then a section which explained the build up to the find “What happened before”, and then a section of “What happened after” which explains the events which followed. I particularly enjoyed this section, as sometimes the crime is solved and all the characters instantly disappear from view, which can be frustrating if I have developed an interest in them. This is a well written and satisfying addition to the series, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this intelligent and sensitively narrated novel.

The novel begins with Nicholson observing the subdued Corinna guiding a party around the pottery, gloomily aware of her sadness. The tourists ask questions, allowing her to expand on the description of the site. In a quiet way she explains how the kilns are no longer coal heated but gas fired, cleaner and less effort. In time she will show Nicholson the area which has been transformed by this change of fuel; this is a carefully researched book in which the setting is enhanced by the dialogue, as well as being deeply rooted in character. Nicholson is attracted by Corinna, but her reticence is deep rooted and he is confused by her sudden bursts of revelation. Can he trust her, or indeed any of the other characters he has been brought in to investigate, as potentially lucrative designs have been appearing elsewhere on inferior products. The system of design and production has some gaps which would allow the designs to be misappropriated, but there seems no easy way to discover who is responsible. The appearance of a body in a shocking way elevates the investigation to a new level, but is Nicholson ready to discover the truth?

This is a novel which is outstanding for its sense of place and setting, as well as its resigned narration by Nicholson. It is never easy to review a mystery novel without giving too much away, but it is easy to point out how genuinely well written this novel is, revealing so much about the fictional characters Kelly has created through as seen through Nicholson’s eyes. I recommend it as a very readable book which reveals much about its time and setting.


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