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The Water Clock    by Jim Kelly order for
Water Clock
by Jim Kelly
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

This debut offering from British journalist Jim Kelly is a real treat for Anglophiles. Philip Dryden, who writes for a small weekly newspaper in the Cambridgeshire Fens, is one of the most interesting protagonists in recent mysteries. He retreated from his job on a London daily to his childhood village, after his wife Laura, a well-known TV actress, was severely injured in a car crash. She now lies in a coma.

Dryden is just getting through days which always end with a visit to his wife's bedside in the local hospital. He was the driver when the crash occurred, is still wracked with guilt, and no longer drives. So he is ferried around on his journalistic duties by local cab driver Humph, who occupies the time between trips learning unusual languages on tape. Bereft of any stronger human connections, Dryden and Humph share a touching companionship. Water, and fear associated with it, is a continuing theme that permeates the book, from Dryden's recurring nightmare of his near-drowning after a childhood skating accident to his father's actual drowning in a catastrophic flood when Dryden was a child. Echoing these fears are the omnipresent rain (or snow) during the seven days described in the story, as the weather builds to another disastrous flood.

A car is found sunken in a river with a dead body frozen in a block of ice in its trunk. Almost against his will, Dryden becomes involved in investigating this murder and then a second one, which appears to link both killings back to a violent robbery in 1966. Along the way Dryden hopes to learn more about his wife's accident and the mysterious circumstances surrounding it. Deeper than most mysteries, this one really pulls the reader in. Kelly obviously draws from his own newspaper background in creating the small town paper with its eccentric staff. He displays a journalist's gift for words, as in his description of the attractive reporter Kathy who had 'developed a cat walk designed to draw attention to her hour-glass figure. It was an ample hour-glass through which a lot of sand had passed, but an hour-glass never the less.'

The Water Clock builds to a frightening climax as the weather, an underlying metaphor for Dryden's dismal life, worsens and all the strands of the story come together. Although the author leaves Dryden in a position where a sequel may be difficult to write, we can only hope that Jim Kelly will be back with another insightful mystery.

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