Is the ‘impossible crime’ story making a comeback? Fracture, a brilliant film of the recent past, was a masterly example of the genre. The Grinning Man was a splendid new episode of Jonathan Creek aired at New Year, and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo describes part of the plot as a ‘locked room mystery’, though ‘closed circle mystery’ would be more accurate. And now we have Death Wore White by Jim Kelly, introducing a new detective duo, Shaw and Valentine. The publishers describe it as ‘the most ingenious thriller in years’ and the tag-line speaks volumes: ‘Nine people trapped in a blizzard. One brutal murder. Eight suspects who couldn’t have done it.’
And there’s more: ‘The crime scene is melting. The murderer has vanished. The body count is on the rise.’ Who could resist such a set-up? Certainly not me. Even the title of the book has a pleasingly traditional feel. And to cap it all, there’s a map of the crime scene!
I haven’t read Jim Kelly before, and the first thing to say is that he is a very talented writer. There are lots of good lines and neat similes in this book. His literary style appeals to me a lot. And he is very good at evoking place – the area around King’s Lynn.
The challenge he has set himself is to weld a classic whodunit scenario with a highly contemporary police investigation and an important sub-plot. It’s a very bold and ambitious concept, because of course, the ‘impossible crime’ story works most easily when it is far removed from the cold light of forensic science and painstaking police procedure.
I was impressed by the novel, although I felt slightly overwhelmed by the number of characters and the convolutions of the plot. Reading the book in short segments, due to pressure of work, I did find myself losing track at times, which was a pity. A cast list would have been very useful, as well as a further nod to the traditional whodunit. However, in the latter stages of the book the momentum was regained, and the disparate story-lines were pulled together rather cleverly. I shall certainly be reading more Jim Kelly.