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Death's Door by Jim Kelly
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Creme de la Crime Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781780295244
Date: 01 February 2013 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

East Hills is a tiny, secluded island off the coast of Britain's West Norfolk. On August 26, 1994, the Arandora Star ferried seventy-five people across treacherous water to the island, leaving them for the day. Shane White, a handsome, young lifeguard, was stabbed to death. His killer was never apprehended. Seventeen years later, a bloody towel has been found. The survivors of the seventy-four suspects must submit to DNA testing. White's killer is afraid the tests will reveal his/her identity. Soon DI Peter Shaw and his partner DS George Valentine are investigating a string of gruesome deaths that are linked to the lifeguard's murder.

Jim Kelly's Death's Door is the most bizarre, most mysterious of his four Death novels featuring West Norfolk's investigative team of Shaw and Valentine. (I've read them all, beginning with Death Wore White and continuing with Death Watch and Death Toll.) Once again, we have an unsolved murder that has become a cold case. Advances in forensic science allow it to be reopened. There are numerous suspects in White's murder, including members of a highly dysfunctional family. However, the number of suspects begins to dwindle as they are murdered. In this novel, state-of-the-art medical and police procedures are discussed. Historical elements of World War II also play a significant role in the plot.

Most importantly, the reader has an opportunity to visit West Norfolk during the tourist season when the weather is sunny and warm. Previous novels were set during cold, bleak winter months. Shaw's wife Lena owns and operates The Surf!--a shop/cafe at their home on the coast. Readers glimpse the good and bad aspects of operating one's own business. Shaw's investigation coupled with Lena's business is putting a strain on their marriage. However, the biggest strain is coming from Shaw's damaged eye, which is beginning to affect his healthy one. Despite his ophthalmologist's advice, Shaw refuses to have his ruined eye removed and an artificial one inserted. Shaw lives in fear that his healthy eye will deteriorate and he will eventually become blind. He must constantly prove to his superiors that he is fit to continue working. If he doesn't find Shane White's killer, he may be forced to retire on disability.

One relationship that has improved during the series' course is that of Shaw and Valentine. They are an odd couple. Shaw is young, married, and health conscious; Valentine is old enough to be Shaw's father, widowed, and frequently smokes and drinks. In fact, Valentine was Shaw's father's best friend. When Shaw looks at his partner, he is constantly reminded of his dead father, Jack Shaw. Together, Shaw and Valentine attempt to solve one of the most puzzling cases of their careers. If White's killer wasn't among the ferry's passengers, then how did he/she arrive on and depart from the small island without being seen? Reminding me of Hercule Poirot in an Agatha Christie novel, Shaw and Valentine must wade through many lies in order to reach the highly elusive truth.

In the village of Creake, a group of environmentalists are protesting the future construction of a large number of wind turbines needed for generating electricity. Nearby is a neighborhood known as The Circle, where several deaths linked to the murdered lifeguard have occurred. At the Circle, there is also an ancient, crumbling ruin, known as Warrener's Lodge, where rabbits were once bred and slaughtered. The CID has established a temporary base of operations inside the ruin. Ancient past and high tech future are colliding with the present, greatly influencing its people in a horrible fashion and proving once again that our sins never remain buried. The guilty are eventually punished.

Jim Kelly reminds me very much of best-selling international author Peter James who wrote Dead Man's Grip and Not Dead Yet. It is obvious that both men conducted extensive research before writing their novels, which read like nonfiction. The fast-paced Death's Door, with its intriguing mystery and high body count, will certainly please fans of Jim Kelly and British noir. I pray readers have not seen the last of DI Peter Shaw and DS George Valentine. Since the publication of Death's Door, Jim Kelly has written Nightrise, another entry in the Philip Dryden mystery series. It is an outstanding novel involving the black market business of selling the stolen identities of dead people. However, as much as I enjoyed Nightrise, I can only hope Jim Kelly will one day continue writing my beloved Shaw and Valentine series. If not, I fear I might find myself stricken with grief and lying at death's door.

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