Posts Tagged ‘Mary Kelly’

With thanks to the British Library for the advance copy.

So, here I am on a Sunday afternoon writing my Monday morning blog post – a week since I even tried to write anything for the blog. I haven’t been well at all – I won’t bore you with the details, but I think I am on the mend, though not as well as I would like to be yet. I may even need to go back to the doctor again. So, last week I was really bad at getting through all the blogs I usually read – please bear with me – I am trying to catch up. I also need to catch up with my own reviewing – though there isn’t as much as there might be, as I have been reading very slowly during May so will have read fewer by the end of the month than usual. Ok, so on with the book.

Due To A Death is a book I read at the end of April – and it suddenly seems such a long time since I read it. A novel which again proves that the variety of mysteries put out by The British Library is actually quite wide – not all country house murders by a long shot. Mary Kelly, the author of Due To A Death, won the Gold Dagger award for her previous novel The Spoilt Kill also published by the British Library. Later she was nominated again for this one, a novel quite unlike many vintage mysteries reissued in the last few years. There is a lot more depth to this one, the mystery is really only a small part of the whole, the psychology of the characters, the daily tensions, secrets and the raw beauty of the landscape combine to raise this just a little bit above the ordinary mystery novel.

“Quarter past five. Thirty minutes since I’d run away. Fifteen miles of twisting lanes, five of Roman road. A last mile of eighty-five with the police closing up behind, impatient, menacing.”

The novel opens ambiguously, and immediately the reader is captivated. A young woman sits in the passenger seat of a car speeding along a road between the marshes. The young woman is Agnes, she has just made some kind of horrifying discovery – though we don’t know what. She is covered in cuts her stockings are ruined. She is being driven by an unnamed man who until recently was a stranger – we later discover he is Hedley Nicholson, the hero of that well received earlier novel. There are sounds of police car sirens close by, yet it isn’t Agnes and her companion who are being chased. They arrive in Gunfleet – the tiny village on the estuary where Agnes lives with her husband Tom, and where Nicholson has been staying for several weeks. Mary Kelly’s descriptions of Gunfleet, the estuary and the surrounding marshes are just perfect, it is a place swamped in claustrophobia, where everyone knows everyone else it has an air of early 1960s, post war decrepitude – and it certainly isn’t cosy at all. The moment they arrive back they find out that the body of a young girl has been found in the marsh – and panic is already starting to set in. Overwhelmed by all that has happened, and what she has arrived home to, Agnes takes herself off quietly to the church to contemplate all that has happened during the summer weeks that have brought her to this moment. The rest of the novel therefore is told in flashback, building up to where we started.

“I had to think, examine the summer, sift the past for fragments of memory, sharp, coloured, dimensional, like cubes of mosaic, which separately seemed insignificant; put together they took on meaning, formed a picture itself demanding to be explained, like a dream; or rather a nightmare so dreadful I couldn’t bear to explain it. That was weakness, evasion; it had to be faced.

They could be tied together after all, my own troubles and the girl on the marsh, one horror, worse than anything I’d ever known, the worse that could be. It was possible; I had to think whether it were true.

I had to go back to the beginning; though there is never a beginning, only a point when you wake up.”

The inhabitants of Gunfleet seem rather dysfunctional, Agnes’s husband Tom works for the university – his friends Tubby and Ian (who is in fact Tom’s step-brother) have some connection with the marsh and the work carried out in the area. Tubby is married to Carole they have a bunch of lively children and Ian, married to Helen has one son. Helen appears to have a particular dislike for Agnes – and is forever watching her with apparent disapproval. The three families are frequently together – evenings in the pub, picnics with the children – and yet Agnes is quite definitely the outsider – she carries her isolation into the midst of this group. Another outsider, Hedley Nicholson has his own reasons for coming to Gunfleet. He has latched himself onto this group, becoming already an almost accepted figure in the tiny community. He started to give Agnes driving lessons, as she bought a car that she cannot yet drive.

It seems Mary Kelly was pushing the boundaries of the mystery genre with this novel – and for me it is very successful. It is a very intelligent novel with rather a lot going on. The portrayal of a community is superbly done, a strong sense of place is always a big hit with me, but we have more than just a strong sense of place here – the sense of a community, flattened and forgotten and a million miles away from all that was happening in the British cities of the 1960s. That, and some astute character studies make this a novel that is much more than a mystery, in fact some crime fans might find this one a bit too light on the mystery side of things. For me though Due to A Death gave me lots of what I love, social history, a great sense of place, good characterisation, lots of secrets and plenty of suspense. I clearly need to read more by Mary Kelly.

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