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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.
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
The Coldest Blood
By Jim Kelly
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Jim Kelly
All rights reserved.
Letter 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.CHAPTER 2
Thursday, 29 December
Dryden had been unable to sleep, his propane gas heater failing to stop the frost penetrating the steel hull of his floating home – PK 129. Long before dawn he had turned his head and watched as his breath melted the frost on the porthole. He'd gone up on deck in the moonlight and stood, crushed under the weight of stars, looking along the pale sinuous ribbon of the frozen river towards the distant cathedral two miles to the north.
After making a cup of coffee, he wrapped himself in his winter trench coat and sat in the open wheelhouse. The river was white, the swans dark by comparison, lined up exactly in mid-channel to survive the night-time visit of the fox. Across the silent landscape the only sound was the creak of ice, compressing the hull of the moored boat. In the distant miniature city of Ely nothing stirred except for the trundling amber light of a gritter, glimpsed intermittently on the edge of town. A single house, still decked in Christmas lights, blinked back.
For the thousandth time since he'd bought his floating home he ran a gloved hand over the brass plaque above the wheel.
It was a romantic touch which had sealed her purchase. He caressed the cold metal once more, feeling history, seeing again in his imagination the boat weaving in the shallows between the flailing, desperate soldiers.
A seagull, the first of the morning, screeched over the cathedral's Octagon Tower.
Cradling the hot mug Dryden traced with his eyes the outline of the town, west from the cathedral to the Victorian mass of The Tower Hospital. There his wife lay between cool linen sheets, locked still in the coma which had brought both their lives to an abrupt halt: stalling them in this twilight world between the past and the future.
Dryden stood, trying to shake off the depression which always lurked in the hour before dawn, and stepped out over the frozen water to the riverbank. His coarse jet-black hair was already iced white by the frost, a frame around the stone-like geometry of his face. The features were medieval, a Norman brow dominating perfectly symmetrical cool green eyes – a face from one of Chaucer's tales. He could have passed for thirty-five, but by nightfall he'd look a decade older.
The moon cast a long shadow from his 6' 2" frame and he paced the riverbank with it, trying not to think of the past. A sound brought relief, the crunch of tyres as a car left the high road and began to zigzag across the Fen towards Barham's Dock, the long-abandoned inlet where PK 129 was moored. He checked his watch: 7.25am. His other life had begun.
The light was greyer now, the stars fading, as a lifeless colour crept into the December landscape. The white blanket of frost held more light than the pre-dawn sky.
He began to prepare the ritual round of coffees, looking forward to the egg sandwich which would be his in return. When he got back on deck Humph had parked the cab half a mile from the dock and was outside, circling it, his only daily exercise. The cabbie was not hard to see, even at that distance. He carried his startling weight lightly on ballerina's feet, a skipping gyroscope teetering around his beloved Ford Capri, the only two-door taxi on the road.
The third circuit complete, Humph retrieved the greyhound, Boudicca, from the rear seat, taking from the boot the tennis machine Dryden had bought them both for Christmas. The cabbie set it on its tripod feet, putting a fluorescent green ball in the slot, leant back on the Capri's peeling paintwork and pulled the handle, shooting the ball fifty yards along the riverbank. Boudicca, unleashed, moved like a swallow over the black peat, a graceful thudding icon of speed.
The ball returned, Humph loaded it again, and fired.
Dryden zipped up the green tarpaulin covering the wheelhouse and joined them. They drank coffee wordlessly having extracted their egg sandwiches from the foil provided by Humph's favourite greasy spoon café. Humph encompassed his in two bites, the oozing yellow yolk the only colour in the dawn light.
'How cold is it?' said Dryden.
'Search me,' said Humph, enjoying the dog's careering run along the floodbank.
Dryden considered his friend's planetary girth. 'We don't have the manpower,' he said.
Boudicca returned and indecently nuzzled Dryden's testicles.
'Another death,' said the cabbie, nodding towards the Capri. 'On the radio.'
The cabbie nodded. 'Some poor bastard on the Jubilee. Dead in his flat.'
The Jubilee was Ely's sink estate, a warren of brick terraced streets enlivened by the occasional outbreak of ill-judged stone-cladding. Humph had a house there, his home since an acrimonious divorce, which he contrived hardly ever to visit, sleeping instead in the cab in a series of convenient lay-bys.
'What time?' said Dryden, pulling open the Capri's passenger door and bracing himself for the familiar screech of rust from its hinges.
Humph let Boudicca into the back seat and then lowered himself into the driver's seat by holding on to the door and the roof. The Capri listed alarmingly, the suspension twanging underneath.
'Neighbour found him late last night when he saw the windows open,' said Humph.
Dryden tried to imagine it. The flat, up in the sky, with frozen air blowing through it.
He checked his watch again. The Crow's deadline was still hours away, but it was press day and the journalist in him needed a decent tale.
'Let's take a look,' he said, and their moods lifted, buoyed up by the mutual relief that they had somewhere to go.CHAPTER 3
At the foot of the stairwell of High Park Flats a puddle of urine had frozen solid. There was another puddle in the lift, frozen too, but the colour of no known bodily fluid.
Dryden pressed the button marked 12 but the lift didn't move. The doors did a shimmy, closed once, and then retreated. Out on the tarmac he could see Humph in the Capri, smirking.
Dryden trudged up the first flight of stairs, the walls a maze of graffiti except for a Day-Glo yellow poster offering help for the aged during the cold snap. Twenty-four flights of stairs later Dryden arrived on Frobisher, the level where Declan McIlroy had lived until the early hours of that day. There was a wind up here, and it took another five degrees off the temperature. Dryden's breath billowed, and the air made his throat ache. The cold snap had lasted a week now, a dry blast of Arctic air bringing clear skies and showers of oversized snowflakes.
Dryden wrapped his greatcoat around himself and felt the ice in his hair.
On the drive into town he'd rung the station at Ely for the bare details: a neighbour had come onto the landing to rescue his wailing cat, stranded outside by a frozen flap. He'd noticed that the landing window of McIlroy's flat was open, unusual itself at 2 in the morning, but alarming given the freezer-like conditions. The neighbour found the door unlocked and entered to find McIlroy dead in an armchair in the living room, the TV on, a cup of coffee frozen in the mug beside him. All the room's windows were open. Death by hypothermia had been the doctor's call. There'd be an inquest, but McIlroy had a long history of mental illness, and had attempted suicide twice before: both times using a knife.
Dryden peered over the edge of the lift-shaft wall down at the car park as a seagull flew below him. High Park Flats had been built in the 1960s and was the centrepiece of the Jubilee Estate. Fifteen storeys high it tussled, controversially, with the cathedral's West Tower to dominate the horizon. Each floor had an external walkway linking the front doors of each flat. McIlroy's was No. 126, a corner flat, the last on the gangway.
Dryden walked to the door and tried the handle: locked. He was surprised to find the police and emergency services had already left the scene. There was no sign anyone had died here, let alone lived. He knocked once, twice, and waited, looking south towards the city centre and beyond. The rush hour had begun and headlights in a long necklace stretched out east across the Fen towards Newmarket.
Dryden looked through the window but could see little in the gloom – the dull glint of unpolished taps, orange Formica kitchen units and a rusted gas-fired boiler.
'He's not there,' said a voice.
Dryden turned to find an elderly man, perhaps seventy years of age, wrapped in a tartan dressing gown over a jumper and jogging pants, and clutching a mug of tea.
'I heard – about what happened,' said Dryden, taking a step back. 'My name's Dryden, from The Crow.'
'Tell him to fuck off,' said a woman's voice from the half-open doorway behind the neighbour.
Dryden nodded towards the flat. 'Duchess of Kent visiting, is she?'
The neighbour grinned, nodding. 'Don't mind her. Her eyes are bad – shingles,' he said, holding out his hand. 'Buster. Buster Timms. I'm the one what found him.' He nodded at No. 126, and continued to nod. 'Wanna look?' he asked.
'The police?' said Dryden, but Buster was already unlocking the door.
'They ain't bothered. I've been in and out all night with tea. They've gone now – told me to keep an eye on the place ...' He clicked his dental plate with practised ease.
'What was he like – McIlroy?' asked Dryden, as Buster led the way down a short corridor into the living room. It had two picture windows, one looking out east, the other north. There was a small balcony beyond a french window on which stood a single wooden chair, an ashtray beneath was full of ice. The sun up, the room was flooded with light.
Buster ignored his question. 'I found him there – in the chair. Stiff as a board – honest.' Buster beamed. 'Tragic. He wasn't forty.'
'Right – but what was he like?'
'Declan? Mad, I guess. You know. Mental – problems all along really. We're just neighbours you know, there's no point getting involved.'
Dryden nodded. 'There's no doors,' he said.
Buster looked round, running his finger down a door jamb to where the hinges had been. 'He took 'em off. They're in the spare. Don't ask me – but I can guess.' He winked, clicking the plate of his false teeth up to reveal a sudden glimpse of cherry-red gum. Dryden's stomach flipped the egg sandwich. 'Reckon he'd been inside, you know. But he never said.'
Dryden walked into the kitchen. On a Formica-topped table a bunch of carrots lay, the roots still entangled with clay. On the draining board some newspaper was spread under a cauliflower.
'Liked his veg then,' said Dryden, opening the fridge, which was switched off and empty.
'Eats nothing else. He had an allotment – down there.'
They looked out of the greasy window, away from town towards the distant gash of the railway line. Sheds and huts dotted a landscape of bean poles and serried frostbitten greens, a far-flung shanty town of rotting wood and plastic sheeting.
Dryden opened the cupboard over the sink. This was where he'd kept his tea – Darjeeling, Earl Grey, Peppermint, Camomile.
'Blimey,' said Dryden, examining one of the packets, which was almost empty.
Buster leered, and Dryden felt a rare emotion stirring: acute dislike.
'What's funny?' he said, making Buster take a step back.
'He drank,' said Buster. 'Booze. The tea kept him going when he was outta cash.'
Dryden picked up a single glass tumbler on the draining board and wafted it under his nose: it had been rinsed but the aroma of whisky clung to it like the scent of apples.
Buster's teeth were beginning to rattle.
They went into the hall. There was an electricity meter and Dryden noted that the black enamel dial showed it was nearly full: £22.50.
Excerpted from The Coldest Blood by Jim Kelly. Copyright © 2007 Jim Kelly. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Dolphin Holiday Camp, Sea's End,
The Dolphin Holiday Camp,
The Dolphin Holiday Camp,
The Dolphin Holiday Camp,
The Dolphin Holiday Camp,
The Dolphin Holiday Camp,
ALSO BY JIM KELLY,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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