Death on Demand

Death On DemandWritten by Jim Kelly — Norfolk coppers Peter Shaw and George Valentine return for their latest outing and their beat includes the rough and ready port of King’s Lynn, as well as the gentrified coast further north. Care homes here are as common as candyfloss is in the nearby seaside town of Hunstanton.

It is to one such care home that Shaw and Valentine are summoned to investigate the murder, hours short of her 100th birthday, of Ruby Bright. The old lady has been found in her wheelchair, at the foot of the garden, with a plastic bag knotted around her head. As brutal as this murder is, the Assistant Chief Constable is much more concerned about trouble brewing in a most unlikely spot – the pilgrimage village of Walsingham. Every year, thousands make the pilgrimage to the sacred statue of Our Lady in its 1930s Byzantine shrine, but this year an alternative group threatens a counter-march in support of abortion on demand, gay rights, and other issues calculated to be totally inimical to the mainstream visitors.

As Shaw links the murder of Ruby Bright to other recent deaths of elderly folk in King’s Lynn, Valentine receives some unwelcome news. The pair are even more baffled when what appears to be a replay of the notorious Harold Shipman murders seems linked with an outbreak of the strange urban practice of teenagers hanging pairs of training shoes from telephone lines. When a boy is found stabbed to death in a skip, there are fears that he died in a turf war between rival gangs.

Valentine’s nocturnal ramblings around a near derelict housing estate with links to the King’s Lynn of his childhood give him pause for thought, both professionally and personally. Meanwhile, the ACC reluctantly allows Shaw to devote more resources to the murders, but his concern over the Walsingham affair is justified when the two rival groups clash. Order is restored at the shrine, but not before Shaw has discovered a link – improbable but inescapable – which binds all the cases together.

There are many contemporary British crime writers who use the literary trope of past misdeeds resonating down the years and thus troubling the present. None, in my opinion, do it as well as Jim Kelly. In both his Peter Shaw and Philip Dryden books there are many examples of direct emotional – and sensory – links with the past. Where Kelly triumphs is that the past he paints is never that far away. It might be a faded portrait of King George VI left on the wall of an abandoned house, or perhaps a disused Victorian chapel, still redolent of damp hymn books and the smell of extinguished candles.

Kelly’s King’s Lynn is a delightful mix of the familiar (to one who knows the town well) and the imagined. His lyrical descriptions of the ever changing skies and tidal patterns of the North Norfolk coast have a dual effect. They remind us that this is a fine writer at work, but they also provide Peter Shaw with a breathing space, oxygen when he is close to suffocation by the career coppers and the box-tickers who rule his professional life.

Kelly is on top form here, and the plot has as many twists as a stick of liquorice from an old fashioned sweet shop. The final reveal is certainly a surprise but, just for a change, one that may well bring a smile to your face.

You can read our appreciation of Jim Kelly’s writing here, and also reviews of earlier novels The Funeral Owl, and At Death’s Window.Death on Demand goes on sale 1 November.

Severn House
Print/Kindle
£19.23

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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