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by Jim Kelly
Michael Joseph, July 2006
352 pages
ISBN: 0718147537

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If you want to sample British weather at its finest, you might want to tune into Jim Kelly's superlative series featuring journalist Philip Dryden. The fourth, THE COLDEST BLOOD, takes place in the depths of winter and even features an ice storm. At times it felt like a Steve Hamilton book, rather than one set in rural England.

Kelly's books have becomes must-reads for me. The setting and the faintly quirky characters barge to the front for attention . . . and the plotting ain't half bad either!

If you haven't come across the books before, all you need to know is that the hero is a former Fleet Street journalist, now working on a local rag. His demotion, if you want to call it that, isn't down to booze or thumping an editor. Instead, it allows him to be near his wife Laura, who has Locked In Syndrome following a car accident six years previously when she spent three hours trapped underwater.

The books are set in England's bleak Fens, with much of the action centring on the city of Ely, with its river, dominating cathedral and surrounding flatlands. In THE COLDEST BLOOD it's the end of December, and Dryden is covering a story about deaths during the cold snap.

Once he starts digging around, he discovers that the deaths of two men -- one found dead in his flat in Ely, and the other on the doorstep of his Fenland farmhouse -- might not have been accidental. And then he finds a link between the two friends and his own childhood . . .

Kelly's understated writing style is a gift. And I love the scenes between Dryden and his taxi driver friend Humph, where quite often only a handful of phrases are exchanged. Please humour me, and let me quote one of my favourites:

"How cold is it?" said Dryden.

"Search me," said Humph, enjoying the dog's careering run along the floodbank.

Dryden considered his friend's planetary girth. "We don't have the manpower," he said.

And there are plenty more where those came from (I liked the lightly soused news editor as well!) But the thought of Dryden being ferried around in a Ford Capri (only cool if you are a fan of 1970s UK cop shows!) and having Humph's latest obscure European language tapes inflicted on him (Estonian this time), add to the charm of this series.

Don't go thinking, incidentally, that Kelly does quirky and nothing else. On the contrary, the books have a brooding melancholy hanging over them. And when it comes to atmosphere, he can't be bettered by any writer around. Most memorable in THE COLDEST BLOOD are the skating scenes on the frozen Fens, and the scary ice storm (I read the book in the middle of a heatwave and had to keep checking outside, just in case!)

Great book. Great writer. And Kelly well deserves his recent Dagger in the Library award.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, June 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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