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The Funeral Owl (A Philip Dryden Mystery) by Jim Kelly
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Severn House Kindle Edition  ISBN/ITEM#: B00FZMSID4
Date: 01 December 2013

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Philip Dryden is the newly appointed editor of Ely's newspaper, The Crow. He works chiefly from his satellite office in Brimstone Hill, where Satan was supposedly banished. Now Satan seems to have returned in the form of a serious crime wave. Two tramps, drunk on illegal moonshine, are found in a flooded culvert. Precious metals are being stolen from graves, church roofs, wind turbines, railroad tracks, etc., sometimes resulting in catastrophes. Dryden makes a gruesome discovery outside Christ Church: a Chinese immigrant, Sima Shuba, has been shot dead and nailed to a cross. Connected to these crimes is a cold case involving the murder of Ronald Calder whose hands were nailed to his kitchen table while his artwork was being stolen.

The action and suspense never wavers in Jim Kelly's exciting thriller, The Funeral Owl. Indeed, the Funeral Owl is a harbinger of death and this novel has a high body count that will satisfy the most ardent action fan. As with Kelly's previous works, The Funeral Owl is a complex novel with numerous interconnected subplots. Every suspect appears guilty of criminal activity; no one escapes unscathed. If Agatha Christie were alive today, her mysteries would be like those of Jim Kelly; he belongs to a small, elite group of British authors, such as Barry Maitland (The Raven's Eye) and Peter James (Dead Man's Time), whose novels read as though they are nonfiction. The Funeral Owl has definitely established Kelly as a topnotch writer of British noir.

Nature plays a significant role in The Funeral Owl. Will Brinks photographs birds; his family has a show pertaining to raptors, birds of prey. The novel's main locale, the West Fens, is swampland that was drained by the building of dams; it is often plagued with dust storms and heavy rains that damage crops. The treatment of the elderly, especially those that suffer from disabilities such as blindness and shell shock, also plays a significant role.

Bitterness and hatred from past crimes spur several characters to become vigilantes. Artwork, in the form of graveyard statuary, body tattoos, and oil paintings, also plays a vital role. Most importantly, much of the violence centers on gang warfare. Ely has an influx of immigrants, both legal and illegal, from China and Poland. Expect a lot of gang violence with explosive, fiery consequences.

I learned much about Dryden's past, especially his fears of driving and swimming. Now I understand the purpose of his strange, but faithful, cabbie, Humph, whose real name is Philip Humphries. The reader will learn more about Humph's family. His distraught, fifteen-year-old daughter, Grace, has run away from home. Humph is forced to come out of his protective shell and interact with his family. Dryden, meanwhile, is having his own family problems. His one-year-old son, Eden, doesn't seem to want to learn to walk.

Nevertheless, Dryden's willingness to risk his life to save others makes him a hero figure that is worthy to lead a best-selling mystery series that the Philip Dryden novels have become. Fans of British noir will definitely want to add The Funeral Owl to their collections.

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