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The Skeleton Man (Philip Dryden) by Jim Kelly
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Kindle Edition  ISBN/ITEM#: B003GFIW7Y
Date: 08 January 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Philip Dryden, a British Journalist, is writing an article on the abandoned Fen Village of Jude's Ferry. The army is using it for military exercises involving the shelling of selected targets. A bomb explodes beside the New Ferry Inn, exposing a cellar. Within it, the skeletal remains of a man are found hanging from a hook; he is the victim of an execution. Soon afterwards, other lives are put in jeopardy and even lost as Dryden's investigation leads him closer to those responsible for the hanging.

Jim Kelly's classic mystery, The Skeleton Man, is perfect reading for Halloween. What is more appropriate for Halloween than the discovery of grisly remains inside an abandoned, bombed-out village? It's not haunted, but it is hiding a multitude of dark, evil secrets. One woman, Magda Hollingsworth, disappeared on the night that the military evacuated Jude's Ferry. Other inhabitants were buried in secret. It was an event of great sorrow when the military strong-armed citizens into leaving their ancestral homes.

I loved this novel because it was a transitional point in Kelly's writing career. The Philip Dryden series went on hiatus while Kelly's Detective Inspector Peter Shaw series was born. In fact, readers are given a sneak peak of Shaw. Shaw and Dryden work together to solve the mystery of the Skeleton Man. Furthermore, both of them become involved with a group of environmental extremists who steal bones from the Peyton family crypt at Jude's Ferry. In fact, Shaw convinces Dryden to put his life on the line in order to catch the thieves. Unfortunately, Philip is beaten and later abducted.

Dryden's wife, Laura, has been making wonderful progress recovering from Locked-in Syndrome (LIS); the LIS was brought on by a car crash that left her suspended in water for hours. She is speaking now, though her speech is somewhat slurred. She is in a wheelchair. Laura has been offered a small role in a television play. She is undergoing physiotherapy at the Princess of Wales Hospital. At this hospital, she befriends an injured man who was found floating in the river at Ely. He is suffering from amnesia. Dryden suspects he is somehow involved with the dark secrets of Jude's Ferry.

One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Dryden visits Henry Peyton at Sealodes Farm. It was his crypt that was robbed at Jude's Ferry. This farm breeds rats and guinea pigs for lab experiments. Environmentalists want to shut it down. I truly can't blame them. I had guinea pigs as pets when I was a child. They are extremely sweet, cuddly, and adorable. On the farm, Dryden enters a hut where three thousand are living. There are eleven huts total. The animals all squeal in unison because they fear strangers. They later calm down and soon all that can be heard is a gentle cooing.

The Skeleton Man is an excellent mystery. Who is the Skeleton Man? It is a challenging task identifying the corpse because it has been hanging on a hook for seventeen years. At first, it was thought the victim committed suicide. From the beginning, readers know better. It was a lynching. However, who led the mob? Who stood by and allowed this horrible event to occur? Who silently permitted an innocent man to die in their place? This novel, as with many of Kelly's novels, has a superb mystery involving a cold case and numerous present-day subplots that all tie together like a crossword puzzle with a central theme.

Jim Kelly is a very gifted writer. I have read all of his novels and they are all superb. They are well researched and contain highly detailed police and medical procedures that make them read like nonfiction. The Skeleton Man definitely ranks up there with one of my favorites because of its goriness, creepiness, tension, brutal violence, and unique setting among the English Fens.

I highly recommend reading all of Kelly's novels. I'm looking forward to reading his latest novel, The Great Darkness, which is slated for publication on May 3, 2018. It is the debut of his Nighthawk series.

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