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The Water Clock (Philip Dryden) by Jim Kelly
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312321437
Date: 01 December 2007 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Philip Dryden, itinerant reporter for Ely's The Crow, learns that a Nissan Spectre has been found submerged beneath the frozen waters of River Lark. Inside the car's trunk lies the corpse of a man who has been shot and his head nearly severed from his body. Soon afterwards, a restoration crew at Ely Cathedral discovers a corpse lying astride a gargoyle in one of the roof's gutters; it has been there for decades. The two murders are linked to a 1966 robbery at Crossways Garage during which Amy Ward's face was nearly blown away by a shotgun. While Dryden searches for the killer, someone begins menacing the life of his wife, Laura, who lies in a coma at the Tower because of a hit-and-run car accident.

Having read Jim Kelly's last two novels in the outstanding Philip Dryden mystery series (The Funeral Owl and Nightrise), I had to read the debut novel, The Water Clock. An extremely enjoyable novel, it firmly sets the stage for a highly acclaimed series. It also answered many of the questions I had concerning the origin of Laura's coma and the relationship between Dryden and his cabbie, Humph. In the debut, readers learn who is responsible for running Dryden's car off the road and dumping him at the hospital while not realizing that Laura remained in the back seat.

The Water Clock, much like Kelly's other novels, is intricately plotted with numerous characters and subplots. The core mystery itself is superb. I didn't have a clue to the killer's identity until nearly the end of the novel. In fact, I had to ask myself, "Who is this person?"

The novel's setting is the marshlands known as the Fens, which is the breadbasket of England. Many years ago, drainage revealed rich, fertile fields suitable for growing crops and raising livestock. Flooding, however, is a hazard. The novel culminates during a vicious storm that threatens to flood millions of acres and damage topsoil. It is during this storm that Dryden discovers the killer's identity. The Fens must be the primary setting throughout the Philip Dryden novels. Nature, in all its beautiful and frightening visages, is a major player. Dryden appears to be very comfortable with nature. Despite having nearly drowned during an ice skating accident when he was ten, he lives on a houseboat, which was once a superannuated 1930s naval inshore patrol boat, PK 122, on the River Great Ouse.

Dryden reveals to readers the everyday, hectic life of a roving reporter who is always on the search for a hot story. Sometimes, in his zeal, he crosses the fine line between reporter and detective. We are introduced to his office and the quirky, imperfect employees who work there. Indeed, all the characters in this novel appear realistic because of their flaws, both physical and emotional. The villain is truly evil and our hero, Dryden, is a ruggedly handsome man who is full of life and energy despite the rheumatism is his knees and the haunting disappearance of his father during a storm. He faithfully visits his wife, Laura, an Italian beauty and a soap opera star; she lies in a coma, trapped in what is referred to as locked-in syndrome (LIS). His hope for her recovery is slowly waning.

Reading Jim Kelly's fast-paced, intriguing mystery, The Water Clock, was a genuine treat and I look forward to reading more novels in the Philip Dryden series. In fact, I suspect that my girlfriend, Tammy, is buying me the next one, The Fire Baby, for Valentine's Day because I told her I wanted to read it. Knowing that I am an avid fan of Jim Kelly's mysteries, Tammy is the one who bought me The Water Clock. Mystery fans who crave realistic, gritty, complex British noir should read Jim Kelly's novels. As I stated earlier, I've read his last two Philip Dryden novels and all the ones in his Detective Inspector Peter Shaw series (a.k.a. the Death series): Death Wore White, Death Watch, Death Toll and Death's Door. All were excellent!

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