Saturday, August 31, 2019

58. The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly

I managed to finish this just under the wire to include it in my August count.  I picked it up at a very well-curated used bookstore on Shelter Island, Black Cat Books, which had a rich selection of first edition mystery hardbacks, though mainly secondary authors.  I didn't have time to really investigate so just grabbed this one, a Geoffrey Household and John D. MacDonald's first novel in paperback.

Having finished it, my primary appreciation of this book is its physical beauty.  The paper is thick, textured, reminds me of good oatmeal.  There even was a page with a wrinkle from the printing process where you can see that this was manufactured in some imperfect process in the past.  The entire book and all its materials seem to have been entirely manufactured in England, as evinced by this text on one of the inside pages:

Very appropriate too, as the mystery itself takes place in the town of Stoke-On-Trent, in a region of England where pottery is the dominant industry.  I was quite optimistic going in as this appeared to be what I have termed an industrial murder mystery, one that takes place in some job situation in which the author uses a lot of the pages to really describe how these places worked.  I have read ones about the shoe industry and another about processed food sales. I was pretty excited to learn about mid-century industrial pottery.  I was not disappointed.  There is some pretty neat history and regional culture in The Spoilt Kill (for instance, kill is the local pronunciation of kiln, which makes for a good play on words as the body is found inside a kiln).

Unfortunately, the story itself was not so pleasing.  It is very well-written and the descriptions of the locations and characters are also excellent.  The premise is great as well.  Somebody from the inside is selling their designs to competitors and the protagonist is hired to investigate, posing as a writer contracted to update the firm's brochures and history.  It is just so weighted down with British class anxiety and personal recriminations of the period.  People in post-war Britain were really, really down on themselves and super stressed about which class they were in and single and past tragedies.  I get it. They were recovering from a war and had gone from empire to second-world country in a few decades.  The Spoilt Kill just piles it on so thick that it becomes kind of exhausting after a while.  Worse, though, the mystery isn't all that compelling or interesting.  Instead of it being a complex puzzle involved with industrial espionage, it is all about whether or not the love interest is guilty so we can have endless hand-wringing and stunted, tense conversations.

One interesting thing was that right at the beginning, I misread the first sentence and for about 50 pages thought the protagonist was a woman.  I was finding it incredibly refreshing how she was being treated and thought the early connection with the love interest was a subtle lesbian sub-text. Once I realized my mistake, it made me see that the style here was quite different than I would have expected.  I hate to say it, but it was more feminine, with its self-conscious and anxious detective.  I continued to pretend in my mind that he was a woman and it made the book a thousand times more interesting.

Now my dillema is whether or not too keep it!

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