I was kindly offered the chance by Pen and Sword Books Ltd to review a newly published book concerning a subject that has long held my interest, a series of crimes in London by an Irish born down and out, Kieran Patrick Kelly. For those unfamiliar with the case, Kelly was a homeless alcoholic who was convicted in the mid-1980’s of two brutal murders – one committed whilst he was in custody even – but is suspected of several more, including being acquitted of two, and numbers as high as 31 total murders that he may or may not have been responsible for have been bandied around. Kelly is known most familiarly as “The London Underground” killer, due to the crimes he was acquitted for involving people being pushed under trains on the London Underground. However, an exact number of crimes cannot be ascertained – as often there is little more than a claim by Kelly himself to go on.
It is an unfamiliar case this one – unless you have a full-on library and produce a true crime podcast, that is – but it is an interesting case I came across many years ago, and indeed, read a separate book about a couple of years ago. However, I was left very much less than impressed with that particular book – so I looked forward to reading another, hoping for a better account of what I consider an interesting case, and was only too eager to get a copy of “The Secret Serial Killer: The True Story Of Kieran Kelly”, written by award-winning journalist Robert Mulhern, when I learned it was due for publication.
Now, I believe that any review should be completely honest, and by this, I mean the positives and negatives of any book are looked at and told to the reader – which of course, are my own opinions. It’s what I have done with every book I have reviewed, and shall continue to do so going forward. As it’s a vague, unfamiliar and almost undocumented case, it was always going to be a challenge to write about the crimes of Kieran Kelly, and author Robert Mulhern has clearly spent considerable time, expense and effort doing so – and has done it well. A disclaimer at the open of the book states that its aim is to present the truest version of events concerning the case as it can, and what there is within the book is very well researched and documented. It’s told from the point of view of the author and his researching of the book in a chronological order, and contains transcripts of his interviews with various ex police officers and legal counsel involved with the case, plus people who knew and remember Kelly, that comes across as a conversational narrative. There is a good, well written and presented account of the crimes that Kelly was sentenced to life imprisonment for, and the trial concerning this – there are even photographs contained within of official documents such as death certificates, location photographs and prison correspondence within that show the depth of research that Mr Mulhern has undertaken – I always commend details and real finds like this, and it always helps make a memorable book for me.
However, although each chapter is short – often just a page or two in length, so is easy to read, there is a lot of repetition within the book. This is unavoidable really, and this is no slight on the author here, because as I have said it is a difficult case to have researched due to the lack of concrete evidence or identifiable victims available – so quite often it may jump from alleged case to confirmed one and back several times over in just a short number of pages. Whilst the chronological narrative of the author helps here, it may leave the casual reader scratching their head somewhat to keep up. Sometimes as well, and again, this is a personal note, there were elements where it seemed almost like a fictional story really – for example, there is use of onomatopoeia to describe the sounds of cars driving past, or e-cigarettes being inhaled that I thought was pointless to include.
It is an interesting book overall I thought, with a level of impressive research that makes it THE definitive study of a case that is destined to forever remain one that tantalises and intrigues the student of true crime.
“The Secret Serial Killer: The True Story Of Kieran Kelly” is available now from Pen and Sword Books.
The True Crime Enthusiast