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Death's Door by Jim Kelly

Death's Door

by Jim Kelly

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Another excellent DI Peter Shaw story, this time most of the action centred in and around Wells-Next-The-Sea and Creake in North Norfolk. Shaw is leading a cold case review of an old murder near Wells when some unexplained, suspicious deaths in Creake appear linked in some way. What seemed a straightforward case review using new DNA analysis suddenly appears to be leading to dead ends. Lots of plot twists leave the reader guessing until the end. Particularly enjoyable for me as many of the locations were authentic, apart from the murder spot, and familiar from my childhood. ( )
  edwardsgt | Sep 1, 2013 |
Sun! Sand! Suspicious suicides! Detective Inspector Shaw and Detective (resenting the rank) Valentine return for their fourth outing in the most accomplished novel yet in the Shaw and Valentine series from East Anglian crime writer Jim Kelly. An unsolved and apparently impossible murder in an interesting location is the starting point for a story that weaves in modern detection techniques such as DNA mass screening and goes on to explore topical issues such as shrinking police budgets and senior police officers that are careerists rather than coppers.

One mystery not solved in the book is why Penguin did not publish ‘Death’s Door’. Kelly is hitting his stride here, the plots are tight, the twists are unexpected and the characters are growing and developing in a way that will please anyone who has read the previous three books yet makes for a strong stand-alone story.

This is possibly a result of Kelly his raising his game as a result of the publishing move, and he was good to begin with.

A mass DNA screening to solve a cold case that started on a hot day leads to a trail of death and misery as families and suspects both close ranks and unravel as the past and its secrets impact on the present and its innocents.

In terms of setting, this book is something of a high wire act, with the story located along the North Norfolk coast, principally in and around the seaside town of Wells-next-the-Sea. As you would expect from a crime story, it’s rich in detail and if Kelly had got his approach wrong, then the descriptions of location may well have read like the duller sort of tourist information brochure, except with added corpses.

But he doesn’t get it wrong. He describes the pubs and shops and even the car parks of the town in a way that lends just the right degree of authenticity, indicating that the author has spent time in Wells with a notebook (and, one suspects, a pint and some chips) but he also gets under the skin of the seaside town, describing exactly the atmosphere of a place that earns its living from tourists.

Kelly even finds time to comment on the growth in gastro-pubs along the coast, meaning that locals can make a living supplying them with seafood, and leading one visitor to the area to wonder aloud, in response to the prices, ‘Christ, how much does it cost to catch a scallop?’.

Tourism is important. The crime that kick starts the events in the book takes place on a sunny beach in summer. Soon there’s blood in the water and a lot of holidays are being ruined. Murder under the summer sun in broad daylight with a body but no killer caught is the perfect place to start a mystery and to disquiet the reader who thinks that the worst thing that can happen at the seaside is sunburn and a gull pinching your chips.

The unsolved murder in question is a cold case being reheated and revisited because of advances in forensic science. But the move comes at a cost and puts in play a chain of events that has the corpses piling up and Shaw and Valentine working to find answers that a test tube and a crime lab cannot, in an investigation where decisions are made with one eye on the budget, lending even more authenticity than the writer knowing where the car park is in Wells.

Valentine is a fictional copper of the old school; a loner with no family. He’s so old fashioned he even smokes. Here, Kelly allows George Valentine time for the possibility of a personal life and even some happiness and confronts Shaw, the high-flying copper, with an even higher-flying, faster-tracked chief constable with one eye on the budget and the other on his career.

Death’s door is a delight. It’s strongly plotted, authentic and the quirks and idiosyncrasies that pepper the pages don’t feel forced. Credibility is never stretched.

I’m sure that on balance, the Norfolk tourist board won’t mind Kelly setting this mystery there, after all, he does a great job of describing the amenities as well as the murders. ( )
  macnabbs | Feb 18, 2013 |
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"One hot August day in 1994, 75 holidaymakers are ferried to an uninhabited island off the North Norfolk coast. Only 74 return alive. A young man has been stabbed and left to bleed to death in the island's surf. The case is never solved. Twenty years later, the new chief constable decides the murder is ripe for a re-evaluation using state-of-the-art forensics. DI Peter Shaw is in charge of the case and summons all 75 original suspects to a mass DNA screening. But one of them is unable to attend. Beautiful Marianne Osbourne is found dead in her bed, a wartime cyanide pill lodged in her throat. Is there a link to the 1994 murder?"--Jacket.… (more)

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