Death Watch (A Detective Shaw Mystery)
by Jim Kelly
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312644901
Date: 25 May 2010 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Once again, Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and Detective Sergeant George Valentine must set aside their differences to investigate a bizarre murder in King's Lynn, a city on the Norfolk Coast of England. Bryan Judd, who works in the labyrinthine maze beneath the Queen Victoria Hospital, is responsible for the emulation of medical waste. On September 5, 2010, someone stabs Bryan, lays his body upon a conveyor belt and sends him into the incinerator's fiery hell. This occurs on the eighteenth anniversary of his twin sister Norma Jean's disappearance. Bryan, who shared a psychic link with her, always insisted someone drowned her.
A power outage sends nearby Erebus Street (named after the entrance to Hades in Greek mythology) into chaos. Buildings are vandalized and set ablaze, including a hostel for homeless men. The homeless all fear the mysterious Organ Grinder who kidnaps them at night. During their investigation, Shaw and Valentine discover mutilated corpses of homeless men in the sewer and on a sandbar. What is the link between Bryan Judd's death and the disappearing homeless men? Also, who could have murdered the pregnant Norma Jean eighteen years ago? There are three suspects: her father Andy, a Polish immigrant neighbor, Jan Orzsak, and her career-criminal boyfriend, Ben Ruddle.
Jim Kelly's Death Watch is a superb sequel to his best-selling Death Wore White . Death Watch is just as complex and bizarre a mystery as the series' debut. Every suspect is guilty of something criminal and Shaw and Valentine must spend many sleepless nights struggling to discover everyone's secrets. This novel contains numerous crime scene investigations that are state of the art. The stern, always professional pathologist, Dr. Justina Kazimierz, returns to perform more grisly autopsies and discover more unusual clues.
The one-eyed Peter Shaw is the novel's main character. George Valentine, friends and partner of Peter Shaw's late father, Jack Shaw, begrudgingly assists the younger man. They are still the odd couple of police officers. Besides their vast difference in age, they have other dissimilarities: Shaw is a lean athlete who enjoys swimming in the ocean and Valentine is an overweight couch potato who is a chain smoker and borderline alcoholic; Shaw is very healthy and Valentine speaks with a raspy voice, coughs tremendously and has difficulty controlling his bladder; Shaw is a family man and Valentine is a widower living a solitary existence.
However, a thirteen-year-old unsolved case still links Shaw and Valentine and makes their association more tolerable. Robert James Mosse remains a free man after he and his gang of hoodlums strangled nine-year old Jonathan Tessier. The investigation (first introduced in Death Wore White) was botched, resulting in the early retirement of Jack Shaw and the demotion of George Valentine. It is an investigation that may remain unresolved for several more novels in the series. This is fine with me because I look forward to reading more mysteries involving Shaw and Valentine.
King's Lynn is the perfect locale for Jim Kelly's mysteries of the macabre. A port city, it has the beaches, the fog and the coldness that warns of approaching winter. It is early September and the tourist season is coming to an end, but Shaw's wife Lena is still getting some business at her beachfront store. However, spooky, creepy Erebus Street is where most of the novel's action occurs. The street consists primarily of small cottages, a tavern, a launderette, a church, a slaughterhouse and a quayside. The stone church with is arches, religious murals and cold gravestones is very Gothic. When the electrical sub-station is vandalized, the entire neighborhood is plunged into a virtual hell.
Death Watch abounds with evil characters who are too difficult to name without giving away the plot. It seems that institutions once considered safe, such as the hospital and the church, have become breeding grounds of corruption. The homeless have become extremely vulnerable. They, along with others who are deemed weak or inferior, are preyed upon and exploited by the greedy. The family unit also comes under great scrutiny. The Judds of Erebus Street are a very perverse, amoral family. Its members are all guilty of having broken the laws of men and God. Alcoholism, vandalism, murder, and adultery run rampant. Bryan Judd shared a psychic link with his twin sister, Norma Jean. I wish this interesting concept could've been explored in greater detail.
Fans of the CSI television series, English noir, and Jim Kelly will greatly enjoy Death Watch. (Because of the continuing case of Jonathan Tessier's murder, I recommend reading Death Wore White first.) I had my doubts as to whether Death Watch would be as enjoyable as Death Wore White. However, after reading about poor Bryan Judd being thrown into the fiery incinerator, my doubts quickly vanished. As I read the proceeding chapters, the plot became even more mysterious, gripping and intriguing. I couldn't stop reading. Soon I was reading seventy-five to one-hundred pages each day. Now I'm on a watch for the next Inspector Shaw mystery from Jim Kelly.