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The Skeleton Man: A Philip Dryden Mystery    by Jim Kelly order for
Skeleton Man
by Jim Kelly
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

During military training exercises in the Fens of eastern England, artillery shells pummel and ground forces have invaded the long-abandoned village of Jude's Ferry. Everything seems to have gone as planned during the anti-terrorist, urban-warfare exercise, but no one is prepared for the bizarre discovery that awaits everyone as soldiers search old derelict buildings for signs of the opposition forces: a badly decomposed and nearly mummified body hangs by its neck at the end of a rope in the basement of what had once been the New Ferry Inn.

Philip Dryden, a reporter for a local newspaper, The Crow, has accompanied the soldiers into Jude's Ferry, a Cambridgeshire village that had been permanently vacated seventeen years earlier. Present when troops find the mysterious body hanging in the basement, Dryden, only moments earlier, made a second and equally puzzling discovery: in the nearby church, adjacent to the elaborate tomb inscribed with the name of a prestigious family, Dryden has stumbled upon a recently open grave from which the remains have been removed.

Dryden is immediately drawn into the combined mysteries of the empty grave and the mummified body. He begins by tracking down records from the past when people in Jude's Ferry were forced to abandon their village when the British government seized it for national security and military training purposes. Then Dryden sets about the painstaking task of locating and interviewing former residents.

Two days after the Jude's Ferry discoveries, however, a barely alive and terrified man is pulled from a nearby river. Now the mysterious man has no idea who he is or what happened to him, but he does know that the words Jude's Ferry are for some reason very important to him.

Dryden begins putting clues together, and he is convinced that the dead body, the open grave, and the frightened man are all somehow related to something terrible that must have happened in Jude's Ferry. Being an indefatigable investigative reporter, Dryden is determined to discover the truth.

In pursuit of what turns out to be a very elusive and well-hidden truth, Dryden will learn that there is an unbelievably horrifying story at the bottom of everything, and it will involve some 'seriously not nice people' who would do anything to protect the secrets of their haunted past.

Meticulously plotted and carefully paced, The Skeleton Man is an effective mystery in the tradition of Colin Dexter, Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters, and Dorothy Sayers. More than a few surprises await and reward readers as accomplished novelist Jim Kelly weaves a top-notch whodunit that is further strengthened by an intriguing setting, fascinating characters, and a complex protagonist who will - we hope - appear again and again in future novels.

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