Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Death Wore White

Death Wore White

4.5 2
by Jim Kelly

See All Formats & Editions

Rookie detective Peter Shaw, along with his chain-smoking, hard-as-nails, veteran partner, is confronted with a baffling crime that stretches his wits and nerves to the breaking point, in Jim Kelly's quirky and intelligent mystery novel Death Wore White.

The Washington Post say Jim Kelly has a "biting knack for capturing the essence of people."


Rookie detective Peter Shaw, along with his chain-smoking, hard-as-nails, veteran partner, is confronted with a baffling crime that stretches his wits and nerves to the breaking point, in Jim Kelly's quirky and intelligent mystery novel Death Wore White.

The Washington Post say Jim Kelly has a "biting knack for capturing the essence of people."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Twists pile on twists in Kelly's superb whodunit, the possible first in a series. Soon after Det. Insp. Peter Shaw and Det. Sgt. George Valentine, who had been the partner of Shaw's disgraced policeman father, stumble on a corpse on an inflatable raft on a Norfolk beach, the pair are stuck in a blizzard, their car one of many vehicles blocked by a fallen tree. During this mishap, someone kills Harvey Ellis, the driver nearest the obstruction, with a chisel blow to the eye and manages to escape without leaving traces in the snow. Other bodies surface after the police extricate themselves from the scene of Ellis's murder. While Shaw and his team try to untangle the lies told them by every witness they encounter, he also tries to redeem his late father's reputation by reopening the child murder case that brought his father down. Kelly (The Skeleton Man), winner of the CWA Dagger in the Library Award, maintains the suspense throughout. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and Detective Sargeant George Valentine are on a Norfolk beach looking for a drum filled with toxic waste when they stumble upon a murdered man in a boat. At the same time, a sudden snowstorm traps several cars on a coastal road, and the lead driver is found stabbed to death. There are no footprints leading to or from the car, and the stranded motorists are a motley crew with no apparent reasons to kill the man. Are the two deaths connected? Kelly, winner of the 2006 CWA Dagger in the Library award for his reporter Philip Dryden series (The Skeleton Man, The Coldest Blood), launches a new series introducing two officers often at odds with each other: Valentine, a rising star in the West Norfolk Constabulary until he made a life-changing mistake, and Shaw, the youngest DI on the force and the son of Valentine's former partner. VERDICT Kelly demonstrates his mastery at creating a convoluted puzzle that must be sorted out by even more complicated detectives. An excellent choice for fans of British police procedurals and "locked-room" mysteries.

—Jo Ann Vicarel
Kirkus Reviews
An impossible crime is just one of the outrages confronting DI Peter Shaw, here partnered with old-timer George Valentine. The detour leads to a side road that leads to a felled tree that leads to a lineup of eight blocked vehicles. The first driver is dead, a screwdriver in his eye. When another driver walks over to him, he's so horrified that his heart gives out, and Shaw, hurrying over from examining a drum full of toxic waste and a dead body buffeted on a raft half a mile away, has to radio for help. Detail-oriented Shaw's opposite is George Valentine, his deceased father's former partner, who's waiting out his retirement and the bad reputation the pair got for blowing the Tessier case years ago. Though there'll be another violent death, the first one presents the most perplexing clues. No footprints lead to or from the murdered man's door except those of the heart-attack victim. The passenger who presumably nibbled an apple has vanished. Detour signs have come and gone without official sanction. But Shaw, who had a problematic relationship with his father, is determined not only to solve this new mystery but to resurrect the old Tessier case and rehabilitate the old man's memory. Stunning in plot and delivery, with fluid, visceral prose. Few puzzle solvers will unravel this one before the wind-up, and awards committees will be queuing up to honor this second case for Shaw (The Skeleton Man, 2008).
A significant new talent

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
A Detective Shaw Mystery , #1
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
485 KB

Read an Excerpt

Death Wore White

By Jim Kelly

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Jim Kelly
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9043-1


Monday, 9 February

The Alfa Romeo ran a lipstick-red smear across a sepia landscape. Snow flecked the sands at the edge of the crimped waters of the Wash. To the landward side lay the saltmarsh, a weave of winter white around stretches of cold black water. And out at sea a convoy of six small boats were caught in a stunning smudge of purple and gold where the sun was setting.

The sports car nudged the speed limit as Sarah Baker-Sibley watched the first flake of snow fall on the windscreen. She swept it aside with a single swish of the wipers and punched the lighter into the dashboard, her lips counting to ten, a cigarette held ready between her teeth.

Ten seconds. She thrummed her fingers on the leather-bound steering wheel.

It was two minutes short of five o'clock and the Alfa's headlights were waking up the catseyes. She pulled the lighter free of its holder. The ringlet of heated wire seemed to lift her mood and she laughed to herself, drawing in the nicotine.

A spirograph of ice had encroached on the windscreen, so she turned the heating up to maximum. The indicator showed the outside temperature at o°C, then briefly – 1°C. She dropped her speed to 50 mph and checked the rearview mirror for following traffic: she'd been overtaken once – the vehicle was still ahead of her by half a mile – and there were lights behind, but closer, a hundred yards or less.

She swished more snowflakes off the windscreen. Attached to the dashboard by a sucker was a little picture frame holding a snapshot of a girl with hair down to her waist, wearing a swimsuit on a sun-drenched beach. She touched the image as if it were an icon.

Rounding a sharp right bend she saw tail lights ahead again for a few seconds. And a sign, luminous, regulation black on yellow, in the middle of the carriageway, an AA insignia in the top left corner.



An arrow pointed bluntly to the left — seaward down a narrow unmetalled road.

'Sod it.' She hit the steering wheel with the heel of her palm. Slowing the Alfa, she looked at her watch: 5.01 p.m. She had to pick her daughter up at 5.30 outside the school. She was always there, like clockwork. That was one of the big pluses of owning her own business: she kept her own time. And that's why she always took the old coast road, not the new dual carriageway, because this way there were never any traffic jams, even in the summer. Just an open road. Once, perhaps twice, she'd got caught up at the shop and phoned ahead to say she'd be late. Jillie had walked home then, but Sarah didn't want to let her down. Not tonight, when snow was forecast. She'd make it in time, even with the diversion, as long as nothing else delayed her.

Looking in the rear-view again she saw that the following car was close, so she put the Alfa in first and swung it off the coast road onto the snow-covered track. The headlights raked the trees as she turned the car, but she failed to see that they fleetingly lit a figure, stock-still, dressed in a full-length dark coat flecked with snow, the head – hooded – turned away. But she did see a road sign.

Siberia Belt

Ahead were the tail lights of the vehicle she had been following. There was a sudden silence as a snow flurry struck, muffling the world outside. The wind returned, thudding against the offside, fist blows deadened by a boxer's glove. She searched the rear-view mirror for the comforting sight of headlights behind. There were none. But the tail lights ahead were still visible: warm, glowing and safe. She pressed on quickly in pursuit.


Half a mile away Detective Inspector Peter Shaw stood on the beach as the snow fell, trying to smile into an Arctic north wind. The seascape was glacier-blue, the white horses whipped off the peaks of the waves before they could break. Offshore a sandbank was dusted with snow – icing sugar on marzipan. As quickly as the snow flurry had come, it was gone. But he knew a blizzard would be with them by nightfall, the snow clouds already massed on the horizon like a range of mountains.

'Tide's nearly up,' he said, licking a snowflake off his lips. 'So it should be here. Right here.' He tapped his boot rhythmically on the spot, creating a miniature quicksand inside his footprint, and zipped up his yellow waterproof jacket. 'A bright yellow drum, right?' he asked. 'Mustard, like the other one. Floating a foot clear of the water. So where is it?'

Detective Sergeant George Valentine stood six foot downwind, his face turned away from the sea. He stifled a yawn by clenching his teeth. His eyes streamed water. An allergy – seaweed perhaps, or salt on the air. Valentine looked at his feet, black slip-ons oozing salt water. He was too old for this: five years off retirement, rheumatism in every bone. They'd got the call from HM Coastguard an hour before: toxic waste, spotted drifting inshore off Scolt Head Island.

Six weeks earlier three drums had come ashore on Vinegar Middle, a sandbank just off the coast near Castle Rising. Shaw had been on the early shift at St James's, the police HQ in Lynn – his daughter Francesca played on the beach sometimes, so he'd taken a parental interest. When he got to the scene there was a five-year-old poking a stick into the top of the drum where it had ruptured. Shaw had told her to drop the stick but he hadn't been able to keep the urgency out of his voice, the note of command. Reading a child's face wasn't a textbook exercise. He'd spotted the sudden fear, but missed the anger. The kid didn't like being told what to do, so she'd waved the stick in Shaw's face as he'd grabbed her, pulling her clear of the liquid pooling at her feet. She hadn't meant to do it, but the single thrust as Shaw bent down had caught him in the eye.

The injury was covered by a dressing, secured with a plaster across the socket, the inflamed red edges of a fresh scar just visible beneath. He touched it now, moving it slightly to relieve the pressure. The chemical had proved a mystery: an unstable mix of residual sulphuric and nitric acid, the by-products of some poorly monitored manufacturing process. A 'class eight' substance; highly corrosive, with a ferocious ability to attack epithelial tissue. Skin.

'So where is it?' Shaw asked again. Standing still like this was a form of torture. He wanted to run along the water's edge, feel his heart pounding, blood rushing, the intoxicating flood of natural painkillers soaking his brain – the runner's high.

He raised a small telescope to his good eye, the iris as pale and blue as falling water, scanning the seascape. Shaw's face mirrored the wide-open sea; the kind of face that's always scanning a horizon. His cheekbones were high, as if some enterprising warrior from the Mongol Horde had wandered off to the north Norfolk coast, pitching his tent by the beach huts.

DS Valentine looked at his watch. He'd bought it for £1 and was pretty sure the word ROLEX was fake. Its tick-tock was oddly loud. He shivered, his head like a vulture's, hung low on a thin neck. He tried to keep his mouth shut because he knew his teeth would ache if they got caught by the wind.

A radio crackled and Valentine retrieved it from the shapeless raincoat he was wearing. He listened, said simply, 'Right.' Fumbling it back inside the folds of the coat he produced a tube of mints, popping one, crunching it immediately.

'Coastguard. They lost sight of the drum an hour ago. The water's churning up with the tide.' He shrugged as if he knew the moods of the ocean. 'Not hopeful.'

Shaw ran a hand through close-cropped fair hair. They stood together, one looking south, the other north, wondering how it had come to this: Shaw and Valentine, West Norfolk Constabulary's latest investigative duo.

Some joker in admin, thought Shaw, some old lag who knew the past and didn't care about the future. They needed a new partner for Shaw, who at thirty-three years of age was the force's youngest DI, the whiz-kid with the fancy degree and a father once tipped to be the next chief constable. And they'd come up with George Valentine – a living relic of a different world, where cynical coppers waged a losing war against low life on the street. A man who'd been the best detective of his generation until one mistake had put him on a blacklist from which he was struggling to escape. A man whose career trajectory looked like a brick falling to earth.

It was their first week as partners; already – for both of them – it seemed like a lifetime.

Shaw looked around. He'd played on this beach as a child. 'Let's get up there,' he said, pointing at a low hill in the dunes. 'Gun Hill. Get some height. We might see it then.'

Valentine nodded without enthusiasm. He turned his back on the sea wind, looking inland, along the curve of the high-water mark. 'There,' he said, taking a bare hand reluctantly from his coat pocket.

A yellow metal oil drum, on its side now, rolling in with the waves.

'Let's go,' said Shaw, already jogging; a compact, nearly effortless canter.

The lid of the drum was rusted and crinkled so that the contents had begun to seep out. From six feet he could smell it, the edge of ammonia almost corrosive. The liquid spilling down the side was Day-Glo green, the paint of the drum blistering on contact.

'I'll get the Coastguard,' said Valentine, breathless, digging out the radio. 'The boat could be out there — they'll have dumped others.'

'And call St James's,' said Shaw 'They need to get a chemical team out to make this safe and get it off the beach. We better stay till they get here. Give them the grid reference.' Shaw read out the numbers from his hand-held GPS.

As Valentine worked on the radio Shaw squatted down, picking up ten butter-yellow limpet shells and placing them in a line on the sand. 'We could do with a fire,' he said out loud. The breeze was dropping, a frost in the air now that night was falling. He imagined the brief dusk, the fire on the high-water mark, and felt good. Pocketing the shells, he began collecting flotsam, a beer crate, a few lumps of bog oak, the dried-out husk of a copy of the Telegraph, then turned with his arms full.

Which is when he saw something else in the waves. Ingol Beach shelved gently out to sea, so even though it was a hundred yards away it was already catching the bottom, buckling slightly, flexing in the white water. An inflatable raft, a child's summer plaything in Disney colours. Shaw stood for a few seconds watching it inch ashore. Thirty yards out it ran aground, snagged.

Valentine watched his DI pulling off his boots and socks. Jesus! he thought, looking around, hoping they were still alone, hoping most of all that he'd stop at the socks. Shaw waded on, the jolt of the iced water almost electric, making his bones ache.

There was something in the raft, something that didn't respond to the shuffle and bump of the waves. A dead weight. When he saw the hands – both bare – and the feet, in light trainers swollen with seawater, he knew it was the body of a man: the black hair on the hands, a chunky signet ring. He felt his pulse suddenly thump in his ears as his body reacted to the sight of death. The atavistic urge to flee, to run from danger, was almost overwhelming. And there was the sensation that time had stopped, as if he'd been caught in the middle of an accident, unfurling around him in agonizingly slow motion.

He forced himself to observe; to step out of the scene.

Dead – but for how long? Less than forty-eight hours. The arms and legs were askew, locked in ugly angles, so rigor had yet to pass.

He put a hand on the side of the raft to steady it, his fingers gripping a raised handle at the prow. Jeans, a T-shirt, a heavy fur-lined jacket only half on, leaving one arm free. The limb was thick, knotted with muscle, the hidden shoulder broad. In the bottom of the boat there was an inch of swilling bloody seawater.

Valentine met him on the dry sand, and they pulled the raft round so that what was left of the sunset caught the dead man's head; unavoidable now, lifeless, despite the movement of the waves. The human face: Peter Shaw's passion, each unique balance and imbalance of features as individual as a fingerprint. He noted the bloated, profound pallor, like cold fat, with almost iridescent tinges of blue and green. A young man, stubble on the chin, the eyes half-open but flat, lightless, one eyelid more closed than the other. The lateral orbital lines – crow's feet – deeply scored, as if he'd spent a lifetime squinting in the sun. The muscles beneath defined the skin like the surface of a piece of beaten metal. But it was the mouth that drew Shaw's attention. The lips, uneven lines, were peeled back from teeth which were smeared with blood.

'Shit,' said Valentine, turning, taking three steps and vomiting into the sand.

He came back, dabbing at his lips. 'Sight of blood,' hesaid, avoiding Shaw's eyes. He might be a copper with thirty years' experience, but it hadn't helped him get used to being in the company of the dead.

Shaw tried to reanimate the victim's face in his mind as he'd been trained to do. He tightened up the jaw, balanced the eyes, replaced the graceful bow of the lips. Not a cerebral face, a muscular face.

It was Valentine who first saw the mark on the arm. The seawater had washed it clean and so it bled no more, but there was no mistaking the shape: a bite. A human bite. The teeth puncturing the skin deeply, viciously driving into the sinew and muscle, almost meeting in a crisp double incision.


Sarah Baker-Sibley pulled the Alfa up three car lengths behind stationary tail lights. The vehicle ahead had stopped, a fallen pine tree blocking the way, lit silver by the headlights. Looking ahead she saw that it wasn't a car but a small pick-up truck, with an open back, and a covered low load. The cab had a rear window which showed a light within through frosted glass. The engine idled, the exhaust fumes spirited away each time there was a breath of wind. In a lull she heard music: something urban, jagged and loud. Then silence, and the next track, louder, even less melodic. The flurry of snow had passed, but flakes still fell.

She activated central locking and searched her handbag for her mobile. The latest model: a gift from one of her suppliers, retail price £230. Internet link, GPS, camera, video, the casing decorated with a detail from Monet's Water Lilies.


Searching network

She threw the mobile onto the passenger seat. Ahead the snow lay three inches thick on the road, as clean as hotel linen, the two parallel tyre tracks just visible, running forward to the stranded truck.

Then she heard the crunch of a vehicle behind her and looking in the rear-view mirror she saw headlights coming up until they were so close they fell into her shadow, revealing the driver, once the glare of his lights was gone. A man alone. She checked that the door was locked.

She watched as the man levered himself out of the driver's seat, straightening, with a hand on the car for support. He struggled forward, but when the wind blew he stopped, braced, waiting for a lull.

He lowered his face to the closed driver's window. A strained smile, the white hair matted with snow, the plump fingers holding an outsized working jacket to his throat. Glasses, heavy with black frames, magnified his eyes, which were milky with age. The cold had brought some blood to his cheeks but otherwise he was pale, drained, a cold sweat on his forehead.

'You OK?' he said when she wound the window down an inch. She heard the sound of music again, louder, from the pick-up truck.

'We're stuck,' she said, briskly. 'I need to get through – I'm picking up my daughter from school. Could you check ahead, see if we can move the tree?' He looked forward, licking his lips, reluctant, but then set out. She watched the prints he made in the snow – a single line of flat-footed impressions, slightly unsteady. He slipped at the edge of the ditch when the wind blew, his arms flying out in a crooked semaphore, the coat billowing.

'That's all we need,' she said out loud, punching in the lighter. 'Grandad in the soup.'

She rubbed clear the condensation on the windscreen and watched as he reached the pick-up's window. He bent slightly at the waist, talking, just for a few seconds, then he straightened up, both bare hands deep in the jacket's pockets.

A minute, less, and he was back, out of breath so that he had to lean on the Alfa's roof. 'OK then. We're not gonna move the tree – not now. He says we'll have to all back out. Have you got a mobile?' he asked.


Excerpted from Death Wore White by Jim Kelly. Copyright © 2008 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.

Meet the Author

JIM KELLY, winner of the Crime Writers' Association Dagger in the Library Award, lives in Cambridgeshire, England.

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.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Death Wore White 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
The name Jim Kelly sounds American to me, in a way that the Australian name Ned Kelly does not. But author Jim Kelly is British, and in the tradition of the finest British mystery writers, he has produced a mystery worthy of a series with Death wore White. The descriptions of the two lead investigators on a triple homicide are strong and fully-fleshed, containing those rogue contradictions in character that make the action realistic, and interesting. Other characters are quickly sketched but contain the essence of personality and form. The author uses words the way his youthful Detective Inspector Shaw uses his Forensic Art kit, constructing faces, lives, motives from the heap of choices that surround us. Death wore White is complicated, and filled with the feints and weaves that a complex set of family relationships can throw at someone observing from the outside. But the coast of Britain in winter, protected by Her Majesty's Finest, is a fine place to observe the insecurities and failures of the most well-meaning, and the unexpected strengths and grace of the least among us. What I liked best, I think, was the ending. The straight up-and-down by-the-book young DI does something that might seem out of character for him, but not for his partner DS Valentine, nor for his dead and discredited father. So we look forward to the next development in the series.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Norfolk, partners Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and Detective Sergeant George Valentine find a corpse on an inflatable raft on a beach. However, the pair cannot do much as a blizzard has closed many roads. A detour fails due to a downed tree causing an accident involving eight vehicles. -------------- The first driver Harvey Ellis is dead with a screwdriver buried into his eye. Whoever killed Harvey escaped leaving no footprints in the snow unless the driver of the second car did it; but he died at the scene from an apparent heart attack. More corpses are found and no witness interviewed by the cops seems to be forthright with the truth. While the pair investigate that case, Peter also opens up the cold case Tessier inquiry that destroyed his later father's reputation as a cop and took down his partner George too.------------- Loaded with twists that make San Francisco's Lombard Street appear to be a straight line, DEATH WORE WHITE is a tremendous police procedural that will keep readers up late wondering what next and whodunit. The story line is fast-paced from the discovery of the first corpse and never slows down until several more bodies accumulate. Kim Kelly provides one of the year's best mysteries and hopefully brings back his dynamic police duo.------------- Harriet Klausner