The Coldest Blood

The Coldest Blood

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by Jim Kelly

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A man lies hidden in an abandoned boat. Stifling his own screams, he draws a knife across his arm, letting the blood flow free. Soon he'll be dead – and life can begin again.

Three decades later, small-town newspaper reporter Philip Dryden is experiencing a cold, bitter Christmas on the Fens. Dryden's wife, Laura, is emerging from years in a coma,

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A man lies hidden in an abandoned boat. Stifling his own screams, he draws a knife across his arm, letting the blood flow free. Soon he'll be dead – and life can begin again.

Three decades later, small-town newspaper reporter Philip Dryden is experiencing a cold, bitter Christmas on the Fens. Dryden's wife, Laura, is emerging from years in a coma, unsure if she wants to go on living. Meanwhile, people are freezing to death, among them Declan McIlroy, a 39 year old loner found dead in his flat with the windows thrown open. The police rule the death a suicide, but Dryden has his doubts – especially when he finds the body of Declan's best friend Joe frozen within a shell of ice on the doorstep of his secluded farmhouse.

At the same time, Dryden is investigating allegations of abuse laid against a Catholic orphanage – a touchy subject, due to his own Catholic upbringing. The incidents seem unrelated until Dryden discovers that Declan was one of the victims. Could his death have been part of a cover-up?

Soon, Dryden is picking his way along a disturbing trail of cruelty and betrayal to a brilliantly executed crime, and to a chilling, half-remembered mystery from his own childhood.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Kelly's well-written if convoluted fourth outing for Cambridgeshire journalist Philip Dryden (after 2005's The Moon Tunnel) opens with a gruesome scene at the Dolphin Holiday Camp in August 1974, then shifts to a record-breaking cold snap 31 years later and a terminally ill man's murder. Dryden gets embroiled in the mystery by reporting on another death, that of landscape painter Declan McIlroy, ostensibly due to the cold. But the two corpses share a common past, and the search for the truth puts Dryden on the trail of a bizarre murder case dating back to that summer in 1974. Kelly's prose is insightful, but the complexities of his story can be confusing. Dryden's backstory-his invalid wife, Laura, is recovering from a coma; refusing to drive himself, he relies on the delightfully quirky cabbie Humph-may be challenging for newcomers to decipher. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Elderly people are dying in one of Cambridgeshire's bitterest winters in memory, and newspaper reporter Philip Dryden (The Fire Baby) suspects that something is amiss. As he peels away the outer trappings of their lives, he finds that the victims may be connected to an ongoing criminal investigation of an orphanage. At the same time, he tends to his wife, who is slowly recovering from a coma. Kelly combines dense prose with a complex plot of seemingly unrelated, unconnected events, and readers must pay close attention to the conversations and innuendos to grasp fully what is happening. For larger collections where the series is popular. Kelly lives in Cambridgeshire, England.

—Jo Ann Vicarel
Kirkus Reviews
Reporter Philip Dryden (The Moon Tunnel, 2005, etc.) learns firsthand how remorselessly a children's game can invoke the law of unintended consequences. Four youngsters are playing hide-and-seek in the Cambridgeshire Fens one day in 1974. Philip Dryden, age ten, is so deftly concealed that he manages not to see what his playmates see, a happenstance that saves his life. Years later, Dryden is a features-writer for a local weekly who observes an unusual number of fellow citizens dying, unusual even for the sub-zero temperatures. Two of the victims, it turns out, were players in that long-ago game. A coincidence, say the Cambridgeshire cops when Dryden brings his tale to them. Not so, insists Dryden, convinced that murder's been done in order to cover up a dire secret. Not only is he constitutionally unable to back off, he's in desperate need of an emotional furlough from the vigil he keeps over his beloved Laura, comatose for four years in the aftermath of a tragic auto accident. First-rate prose and an appealing hero who rises irresistibly above a full range of candidly confessed flaws and phobias: "Dogs," it is noted, "were just one of the things he was afraid of. But they were one of the things he was afraid of most."

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St. Martin's Press
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Philip Dryden Series , #4
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The Dolphin Holiday Camp, Sea’s EndThursday, 29 August 1974The dagger lay on his naked thigh, its blade as cold as a rock-pool pebble. Lying back in his bunk, he raised the weapon with one hand and splayed the fingers of the other across the muscle of his upper arm, stretching the suntanned skin taut as a drum. Outside, the water of the saltmarsh slapped against the Curlew’s hull, rocking him on the incoming tide.He tasted salt on his lips as he bit down on the leather belt in his mouth and pressed the dagger’s V-shaped point into the biceps, wincing at the gritty sound of the metal penetrating the flesh. He knew he mustn’t scream, but his stomach rolled at the thought of what must come next.The holiday camp was a mile away but he’d seen kids wandering at dusk in the marsh, four of them, torches dancing amongst the reeds. No one must hear. No one must know.He held his breath and bit down again on the strap, drawing the blade through the skin, revealing a hint of the meat of the inner arm, a single artery exposed, then severed. Blood flowed like poster paint, dripping from his elbow, as the pain – sudden and electric now – jolted his nervous system and made him drop the dagger and cry out, despite himself.He gagged on the strap, wanting to weep, and spat it out. ‘Two more,’ he said. A jagged S, like a lightning bolt. Three cuts. But he knew he couldn’t see it through, not then, so he lay flat, matching his breathing to the slow cadence of the sea beyond the dunes, and for comfort placed a hand on the cold metal of the box at his side, a finger outlining the double locks.If he could just do this, he told himself, it would be perfect. Not for the first time in the twenty-three years of his life he felt God-like, weak with control Nothing could stop him if he had the courage to finish it; so he felt for the blade again.But the touch of the metal brought him to the edge of unconsciousness. He reached out for the warm wooden ribs of the old boat: it had been his home for thirteen days now: but he would be rid of it soon enough.The sounds of the coming night began. The distant jukebox at the camp drifting on the wind, and the tinny loop of metallic tunes from the funfair.In his mind he danced with her then, beneath the dubious glamour of the glitterball, his thigh gently kissing her crotch with the beat, her lips braiding his hair.He smiled, for he’d be dead soon, and they’d be together.1Letter M Farm, near Ely
Tuesday, 27 December, Thirty-one years later
The hoar frost hung in the curved canopy of the magnolia tree, a construction of ice as perfect as coral. The weight of it made the trunk creak in the still, Arctic air. Below it the dewpond was frozen, steaming slightly in the winter sun, a single carp below the powdered surface dying for air.Joe stood, admiring its gasping beauty, each of his own breaths a plume which drifted briefly, catching the rays of the sunset. Lighting the cigarette he had made indoors, he drew the marijuana deep into his shattered throat. He sat on his bench with a rowan at his back, heavy with blood-red berries.‘Christmas,’ he said to no one, surveying the circular horizon of the Fen.He expelled the smoke, and replaced it with a surge of supercooled air, willing it to purge him of the cancer that was destroying him.The house was fifty yards to the north and the only visible building: Letter M Farm was – he had long admitted – as good a place to die as any.Inside the foursquare Georgian building the lights he’d left on shone into the winter afternoon, and through its double-glazed windows he could see the twin reflections of the open fire within.He stood, turning to go back, swinging his sticks round to keep him steady. A wave of nausea made him stop, closing his eyes and wishing again he wasn’t alone. With eyes closed he drew deeply on the dope, letting the sweet relief flow like a current through his veins.When he opened his eyes his wish had come true.A man was at the house, coming out of the front door, putting something in his pocket. In his free hand he held a black bag, like a doctor’s, and Joe wondered if he’d come from the unit. He tried to shout but his throat failed him. Then he saw that the man’s head was obscured by a hood.The man walked back towards the road where a small white van Joe hadn’t noticed before was parked amongst the uncut Leylandii. Joe hadn’t heard the vehicle approach and a thought insinuated itself: had it been there all day, waiting?His eyes swam with the strain of focus. When they’d cleared the man was walking back towards him, a spade in one hand, a bucket in the other, the bag gone. From the way the man swung the pail as he strode over the frozen field Joe knew it was empty.He shivered, aware that something had been planned, planned without him. He lifted a hand to take the cigarette from his lips knowing that even now, when he knew that death was coming anyway, fear could be a pungent emotion. Feebly he took another step forward, straightening his back and raising his arm in greeting when the man was almost upon him.But there was no response from the face hidden within the shadowed hood. Joe scanned the fields, but the landscape was empty, a lifeless network of ditches, drains and reeds smoking with the mist of nightfall.The man’s measured stride did not diminish. The pace of advance was relentless and suddenly Joe saw his eyes: a smoky grey-blue, the whites clear despite the shadow of the hood, the line of the mouth uncertain, a tongue-tip showing.Joe took a step back but the man had timed his attack precisely. The spade swung out in a practised arc and crashed, the face turned flat, against his knee, which buckled and splintered beneath the wasted skin. He fell, the pain in his leg oddly distant. His cheek lay on the frozen peat, tiny perfect orbs of ice rolling away from the impact of his body. A hand gripped him by the collar and jerked his head round so that a small gold crucifix on a chain spilled out from around his neck and lay on the peat.‘Who’s this?’ said the voice, younger than he’d expected, and perfectly modulated, stress-free. Its casual authority told him what he’d begun to suspect: that he might be granted his greatest wish, to die before his illness killed him.Into his face was thrust a photograph, in a wooden frame, taken from the drawing-room mantelpiece. Four children pictured in the sun, a rolling beach, reeds, and a distant floating buoy in the middle of a channel cut through the sands.‘This one,’ said the voice again, a gloved finger stabbing the figure of the child on the left. The boy with black hair and the immobile face.‘We never knew,’ said Joe, desperate to understand. ‘We called him Philip – just Philip.’Savagely the man let his victim’s head drop to the frozen earth and placed two fingers on his jugular, feeling the strength of his pulse. His assailant stood, surveying the horizon, silently listening.‘You’re dying,’ he said finally. ‘I can’t wait.’He took the spade and freed the fish from its icy prison in the pond, filled the bucket with glacial water and poured it carefully over Joe’s body, starting at the waist and working up to the chest and head.The shock made Joe’s limbs jerk wildly. The second bucket stilled them.THE COLDEST BLOOD. Copyright © 2007 by Jim Kelly. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Meet the Author

Jim Kelly, whose father was a detective for Scotland Yard, previously worked as a journalist and education correspondent for the Financial Times. He lives in Ely with the biographer Midge Gillies and their young daughter. His debut, The Water Clock, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association John Creasey Memorial Dagger for the best first crime novel of 2002, and in 2004 he was very highly commended for the CWA Dagger in the Library, which is awarded to "the author of crime fiction whose work is giving the greatest enjoyment to readers."

Jim Kelly, the son of a Scotland yard detective and winner of the Crime Writers of America Dagger in the Library award, lives in England. His books include Death Wore White and The Skeleton Man.

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The Coldest Blood 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Over thirty-one years ago back in 1974 children on summer vacation were at the Dolphin Holiday Camp in Sea¿s End, England when they saw the horror that continued to haunt them until now. In the present near Ely on the Letter M Farm, a man shows Joe, one of those witnesses, a picture of the boy who suffered from the horror from back then this stranger kills Joe by dousing him with icy water leading to hypothermia. --- Crow reporter Philip Dryden investigates the deep freeze deaths that are sweeping the Ely area especially a long time resident like Joe allegedly falling asleep drunk with his windows wide open and a sheet of ice covering his corpse. The police insist it is a tragic accident due to personal negligence but when the dead drunk¿s long time best friend since they were children at an orphanage also perishes with a sheet of ice on him in front of his door, Dryden suspects foul play not foul weather. He also knows first hand the link that connects the two dead men to him when the three were children. --- Aptly titled, wear gloves, a scarf, and a woolen hat because readers will freeze as they feel the temperatures that serve as the backdrop and icy water that is the murder weapon of choice as Jim Kelly is very descriptive with deep freeze that engulfs England. Philip¿s investigation into the frozen deaths is cleverly tied to his personal life, which is in an uproar as his comatose wife Laura begins to regain consciousness for the first time in years. Fans will enjoy Dryden¿s latest caper as he moves between the past and the present while trying to avoid becoming the latest cold stiff. --- Harriet Klausner