Friday, 10 June 2022

Forgotten Book - Death of a Stray Cat

Considering that her first novel won an Edgar and that she had a productive career yielding fourteen novels (plus a number of very good short stories) over a period of twenty-one years, it seems odd that Jean Potts disappeared from the radar of crime fans until quite recently. Stark House Press have done a good job in republishing several of her novels, and I have a number of her books in green Penguin editions which once belonged to Bob Barnard. I think she is a first-rate crime writer.

Death of a Stray Cat, published near the start of her career in 1955, is a good example of her work, if more akin to a conventional whodunit than other titles. Potts' sharp characterisation and way with words are great strengths, and the plot is pretty good too. Marcella Ewing is murdered in the first chapter and it soon becomes clear that she was a born victim. Her character flaws are presented unsentimentally, yet with an underlying compassion.

Marcella was a reasonably attractive young woman but her lovers tended to tire of her. It seems likely that one of them was responsible for her death. Might it have been Alex, married to Gen? Or her ex-husband, Jimmy? Or Walt? Or Brad? Or Dwight? Or...well, you get the idea. Motives and suspects abound. A likeable cop called Ed investigates, while Gen - shocked by the discovery of Alex's brief affair with Marcella - does some sleuthing of her own.

Potts shifts viewpoints rapidly in this novel and this helps her to maintain the momentum of the story, although it does mean that readers may be unsure where their sympathies lie. Francis Iles felt this book was better than her Edgar winner, Go, Lovely Rose, which he regarded as over-rated, but thought that there were some improbabilities in the plot. Maybe so, but because Potts cares about her characters, I found that I did, too. A really good book by a writer who deserves to be better-known.  


Kate said...

This is one of hers that I have yet to read, so glad to hear it is a good one. My favourites to date are The Evil Wish and The Little Lie.

Alan Barker said...

By a complete coincidence, I read this novel only last week myself, having picked it up at a second-hand bookshop while on holiday in Derbyshire. It was the first Jean Potts’ story I’ve read and it certainly won’t be the last. I was impressed by the writing style and characterisation, and the storyline kept me interested throughout. Thanks, Martin, for recommending this author previously.

Martin Edwards said...

Kate, Alan, thanks for these comments. Kate, I think I agree with your choice of favourites. Two especially good books.