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by Jim Kelly
Michael Joseph, June 2005
336 pages
ISBN: 0718147529

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jim Kelly's series featuring journalist Philip Dryden is a quirky, leftfield creation set amidst the UK's brooding Fenland.

In the previous two books the weather has played a key part in the action. This time around Ely is buried under a choking smog, thanks to a smouldering rubbish dump owned by the scary Ma Trunch.

And, as with the two previous books, THE MOON TUNNEL features past history -- this time in the shape of an Italian and German prisoner of war camp from World War II. But why the heck is a body found seemingly trying to break into the camp? And an archaeological dig at the same site is proving a rather risky place to be.

Dryden is a national paper journalist now working on a local rag. His wife Laura is still in hospital with Locked-In Syndrome, dating back to when they were both involved in a car crash, but has periods of lucidity when she can communicate with him electronically.

And there's the very wonderful Humph, the taciturn taxi driver with a passion for learning languages, who chauffeurs Dryden around the county in an ancient and rusting Ford Capri, equipped with miniature bottles of booze in the glovebox to keep their strength up. This time he's learning Polish, but isn't so keen to take his doctor's advice and do something as drastic as getting out of the car for some exercise.

Humph and Dryden aren't what you'd call demonstrative in each other's company, and I loved their exchange about a mountaineering supply shop opening in the flattest area of the UK. Humph grunts that it might take off. "Dryden considered his friend. Humph might be at conversational level in eight obscure European languages but his conversational English was as underdeveloped as the East Anglian Mountain Rescue Service."

Kelly creates a fantastically vivid atmosphere, tinged with menace, and the most superior world-building you'd hope to find. The local paper office is so accurate -- I'm convinced it's based on the first place I worked! I hooted loudly at the line about Dryden's "weekly calls to places which just might give him a story in a town where a car backfiring can warrant a radio interview with the driver."

Some of the characters veer slightly too close to parody (the Scottish photographer with a natty line in Tam O'Shanters and gormless reporter Gary with the day-glo spots), but Kelly gets away with it, mainly due to the quality of the throwaway lines and the tightness of the writing.

The book's a bit slow in places -- the leaden flashbacks don't help -- and unencumbered by much in the way of a sub-plot. But Kelly is a hugely talented writer, well into his stride with an unusual, understated and clever series.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, July 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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