Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Jim Kelly: The Fire Baby

Jim Kelly’s first book, The Water Clock, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association John Creasey Award (for a first crime novel), which is a mark of some distinction. And his second book, The Fire Baby, is also a distinguished piece of work.

The setting is the Fen country in the east of England, and it helps, I suppose, if the reader is familiar with that territory, as I am. It’s a flat, gloomy, deserted sort of area, with an inbred population, and Kelly captures its flavour rather well: it can be somewhat gloomy and depressing.

The protagonist of the book is Philip Dryden, a journalist who works for a local paper and also freelances for the nationals. This gives him plenty of opportunity to poke his nose into odd places and investigate mysteries.

As for the story – well the story involves the past history of a family. It reminds me a little of the Lew Archer stories of some thirty years ago: books which seem to have largely dropped out of sight, though they are in print.

The Fire Baby is warmly recommended to those who enjoy English crime fiction. But one word of warning: not only the setting but also the story are a bit on the dark side. Jim Kelly is not a Colin Watson; there ain’t no smiles here.

And another warning. If you aren’t prepared for it, the very last sentence of this book might hit you hard and even make you blub. It nearly did me, for a start. I don’t know what’s happening to me in my old age; I must be getting soft.

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