Sunday, June 16, 2013

K is for Jim Kelly

I am featuring the author Jim Kelly for the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme this week. Kelly is the author of two mystery series. One is set in the Cambridgeshire Fens and features a journalist, Philip Dryden. The second series is a police procedural series. In both series, the landscape and its effect on people is very evident. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter K.

The book I am featuring is Death Wore White. This is a police procedural set on the north Norfolk coast. Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and Detective Sergeant George Valentine are investigators for the West Norfolk Constabulary.

George Valentine formerly was a DI who was booted down a grade for mishandling a case. The partners resent and distrust each other, not an original storyline. This time, the reason for the strain in their relationship is that Valentine was Shaw's father's partner, and they were working on a case that went wrong when Shaw's father was forced to retire and Valentine was demoted and sent out to postings in undesirable areas.
Some joker in admin, thought Shaw, some old lag who knew the past and didn’t care about the future. They needed a new partner for Shaw, who at thirty‐three years of age was the force’s youngest DI, the whiz‐kid with the fancy degree and a father once tipped to be the next chief constable. And they’d come up with George Valentine – a living relic of a different world, where cynical coppers waged a losing war against low life on the street. A man who’d been the best detective of his generation until one mistake had put him on a blacklist from which he was struggling to escape. A man whose career trajectory looked like a brick falling to earth.

It was their first week as partners; already – for both of them – it seemed like a lifetime.
There are three murders that take place in a small area. The detectives make an assumption that the cases are related. As they discover relationships between persons involved in each crime, the more they feel that they are following the right track. One of the murders takes place on coastal road, in a car, trapped by a fallen tree, with a line of cars behind it. This could be described as an "impossible crime", with a body surrounded by snow, and the only set of footprints accounted for. There was a witness who saw a person walk up to the car and leave when the victim was still alive.

This story includes all the typical elements in a true modern police procedural. The detectives make good and frequent use of forensics, and they follow up leads and interview many suspects. The younger detective has education but less experience, and is more interested in forensics. The veteran detective is more of a maverick, more willing to bend the rules.

In the background are the questions surrounding the last case that Valentine worked on with Shaw's father. Peter Shaw's boss is very sensitive at any mention of the case because he feels like it reflected on the whole department and left them with a bad reputation.

I enjoyed reading this novel, although I enjoyed the last half more than the first half. I guess it is better to end well, than to start with a bang and then fizzle. I have seen that happen in many novels.

At 390 pages, I think the novel could have been shorter. The first half sets up the crimes and gives us all the witnesses, bystanders (so to speak), interested parties. With a crime scene that involves a line of vehicles isolated on a rarely used road, we have a relatively large set of people involved, and theoretically any could have committed the crime. And then there are the two other crimes, one at a nearby beach. This first half is somewhat dry and I did not get involved much with any of the characters.

At the midpoint of the book, we start getting some information from the point of view of the various persons who have been touched by these events, and at that point I began to get more invested in the outcome. The resolution was complex and satisfying.

Jim Kelly won the CWA Dagger in the Library 2006, awarded by the Crime Writers’ Association in the UK. It "is awarded to 'the author of crime fiction whose work is currently giving the greatest enjoyment to readers'; authors are nominated by UK libraries and Readers' Groups and judged by a panel of librarians." Other authors who have gotten this award are: Robert Barnard, Stephen Booth, Colin Cotterill, Ariana Franklin, and Mo Hayder. At the time of winning this award, Kelly had only published three books in the Philip Dryden series and the fourth was coming out soon.

Kelly now has written seven novels in the Philip Dryden series and four in the Shaw / Valentine series. Kelly is a journalist and his father was a police detective, so his main characters feel very authentic in their jobs. I have read the first book in the Philip Dryden series, a few years ago. I will read more books in both series when I have the chance.

24 comments:

  1. I read the first Dryden book a few years ago, which was ok, from memory. This sounds interesting but 390 pages.....hmm, a bit off-putting that!

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    1. Col, I think this series appeals to me more just because it is a police procedural, but I wish the tendency was not toward longer books.

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  2. I've read all of Jim Kelly's books so far, and I think I do like the Philip Dryden ones more. I haven't bought the latest one yet, but I'm pleased that it features PD again. And Laura, now she's restored to him.
    As for length, books have become so long now that I have even seen the old standard 189 page book, as all of Christie's are, referred to as a novella. I look twice at anything over 400 pages, and life is too short at my age to read any more of Elizabeth George's monsters.

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    1. Anne, I have The Fire Baby so hope to get to it before the end of the year. I still haven't given up on Elizabeth George but I may do so if she doesn't improve. I think 200-250 pages for a book is ideal.

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  3. Tracy - Thanks for featuring Kelly's work. As I read your post, I was thinking about some of the plot points that work well in crime fiction even if they aren't exactly innovative (e.g. police partners who dislike each other). A talented writer can still make that work (although I agree that maybe it doesn't take 390 pages to do so...).

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    1. Margot, these two characters are basically good guys with their own biases and baggage, so the development of their relationship is interesting if slow.

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  4. Hey Tracy, I actually have this one + several of his other titles. Glad to hear it's good. Appreciate the review. I agree. I'd rather have a book finish great than start great and fizzle out later.

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    1. Keishon, I am glad I got reacquainted with this author. I will be interested to see how you like the books when you get to them.

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  5. I have read another of this series before, but not this one. I enjoyed it sure enough but it isn't really a book where the characters have stayed with me, and I can't remember too much about it. I seem to be in the minority so far among the commenters in thinking nothing of a 390-page crime novel! Anything 300-400 pages feels about right to me!

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    1. Marie, long books did not use to be a problem for me ... so don't know exactly what the change is (except age of course). I read several 200 page books at the end of 2012 and loved that length.

      But really, it depends on the book and the writing. If the book pulls me in and keeps me interested throughout, any length is OK. Except the 1000 page books like the ones by Follett and Neal Stephenson, which I really want to try but am just intimidated by the size.

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  6. Anything over 300 pages is too long for me to try to remember all the pertinent facts of the case.

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    1. Scott, I am going to read an early Ed McBain 87th Precinct book very soon and it is only around 150 pages. So looking forward to that. I think his later books got longer.

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  7. TracyK: Thanks for an interesting post. I have not read Kelly. While he sounds interesting I think I will not add him to Mount TBR.

    Generally I am happiest about 300 pages. I try not to be dogmatic. I was so involved in the Stieg Larsson trilogy I barely noticed the length.

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    1. Bill, that is interesting about Larsson. I was bothered by the length of the books in the trilogy and thought that they would have been much better with some cuts. But I did read all of the books and I had to know what happened to Lisbeth, so I guess that speaks to good storytelling.

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  8. Tracy, I have not read Jim Kelly either. I am, however, keen on reading more novels about police procedurals, since getting interested in it through Ed McBain's crime fiction. I am okay with the length of a book though not so much with sub-plots within the main plot. Too many characters also put me off.

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    1. Prashant, Jim Kelly's books about Shaw and Valentine are good examples of police procedurals -- at least this one is. There are a lot of characters and I have some problems keeping them straight.

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  9. A relationship that is hostile and that is soured by the past is often hard to portray but it sounds like Kelly has done a good job of it. I'll have to keep my eye out for a Shaw/Valentine novel.

    And after reading Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings which has 1280 pages, I'm unfazed at the thought of 390. :)

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    1. Peter, you are right, he does do a good job of it, without portraying either one of them negatively.

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    2. I had forgotten about Jim Kelly's series. I read Death Wore White, the only one in this series, and I thought it quite good.

      But with my huge TBR list and piles of books all over the place, with constant good recommendations, some series and authors just get lost. Some time I'll read more of his books.

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    3. Kathy, I know exactly what you mean about series and authors getting lost in the TBR piles and lists of suggestions. I am glad I had this book on my shelves and read it for this meme, to remind me of this author.

      And I am just glad there are so many good series out there to read now.

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  10. I agree with your review, Tracy. Kelly adopts a slow reveal in his books which, perhaps, could be shorter but are nevertheless enjoyable.

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    1. Sarah, I think I prefer this series over the Philip Dryden series. But the only other one I have by Kelly is the 2nd in the Dryden series, so that will be my next read by him.

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  11. I read this a while back and remember thinking it was good, I liked that weird concept of the snowbound cars, that was a real old-fashioned mystery! I agree with you about length - so many books are too long these days, for no reason. As I'm reading - even a book I'm enjoying - I'm often mentally cutting it. It's not that hard to do!

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    1. Moira, I did like the snowbound cars idea was interesting. I thought it would last longer, but it was still a very interesting premise. Right now I am reading the 2nd Ed McBain book about the 87th Precinct, and it is around 150 pages. A great length. And the next one is about the same, so I can read both in the amount of time it takes to read one of my other books.

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