Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Killing of Katie Steelstock: Review

The Killing of Katie Steelstock (1980) is a fine police procedural by Michael Gilbert set in a small town in England. Katie Steelstock is the local girl who made good by becoming a TV sensation. But she still lives mostly at home in West Hannington and comes back to attend the local Tennis & Boat Club dance. Her regular "chauffeur" Tony Windle is unable to provide the expected ride when a prankster puts his car (and a few others) out of commission, so Katie has to provide her own transportation. She makes a good showing at the dance, but leaves earlier than her friends and neighbors expect and they all figure she's gone off to meet a boy.

It looks like her romance went sour when the man who serves as caretaker for the club finds her body near the boathouse--a popular spot for those wanting a bit of privacy. The obvious suspect is her on-again, off-again boyfriend Jonathan Limery. Jonathan isn't terribly popular with the local police as it is--he's a hotheaded journalist who likes to incite unrest among the younger set and has no good words for law enforcement. With Katie's ties to influential people in London, Chief Superintendent Knott from Scotland Yard's Murder Squad is on the spot sooner than might be normal in such an investigation. He and his crew find a note that points to Jonathan and when the journalist produces a poor alibi and tops things off with resisting arrest (stabbing a copper in the process), it looks like Knott has found his man in record time.

But even as Knott is preparing his evidence for Jonathan's trial, young Sergeant McCourt of the local force continues looking for ties to a completely different suspect. He's quite sure that a local bigwig, Mr. George Mariner, has more to answer for than Jonathan ever could. Two coppers with single-minded efforts. Knott has his eye on a promotion--a promotion that will be his for the taking if he can swiftly and cleanly wrap up this high-profile case. And McCourt has an axe to grind with his favorite suspect--is he deliberately misreading evidence to hang an innocent man?

Also up for consideration are a few promising clues from Katie's London life and the appearance of a mystery man in West Hannington on the very night of the murder. Then another body is found...this time floating in the river and the police surgeon notes that the wound is similar to that on Katie's head. The fact that it's a man connected with a sleazy photographer from London with connections to Katie doesn't faze Knott or McCourt a bit. The defending counsel has a few surprises up her sleeve as well and it isn't until they all meet in court that the truth will finally come out. Who really killed Katie Steelstock? Was it Jonathan? Was it McCourt's favorite George Mariner? Was it someone who followed Katie down from London? Or was it someone else?

This small-town police procedural does an excellent job weaving tensions among the characters--tensions between the suspects, tensions between the local coppers and the Scotland Yard men, and tensions between the suspects and the police. Gilbert uses dialogue and setting to fully flesh out a cast of very believable villagers, internal police rivalries, and the rivalry between Knott and the defending counsel (a lady who would like nothing better than to watch Knott fall flat on his face in court). He manages to pull off quite a few surprises, though I must say I found myself with the right suspect before he produced the grand finale at court. The pacing is excellent and the story merges modern (for 1980) police practices with the classic mystery form. ★★★★

For a more indepth look at Gilbert's novel, please visit John's review from November 2014 over at Pretty Sinister Books.

[finished on 6/30/17]
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This fulfills the "Hat" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

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