A comatose wife as assistant crime solver? It sounds like the ultimate gimmick, but in British author Kelly's skillful hands Laura Dryden's sporadic struggles to communicate are integral to the genesis and development of this quirky, unusual series.
A former soap opera star, Laura was left in a coma after a car accident on the Cambridgeshire Fens four years earlier. Her husband Philip left his high-powered Fleet Street job to become star reporter for the local weekly and sit by her hospital bed.
This second outing (after "The Water Clock") finds Philip at his wife's bedside on a summer day. "The figure on the bed didn't move. Its immobility was a constant in his life, like the heat of that summer, and equally oppressive." Sharing his wife's room is a local woman, Maggie Beck, who, back in 1977, recovering from the death of her parents and son, had helped Philip's newly widowed mother.
Maggie's parents and baby had been killed by the crash of a US military plane. Ironically, Maggie had rescued an American infant thrown free of the wreckage. Now dying, Maggie needs Philip's help to share a deathbed secret.
Meanwhile, as Philip attempts to track down Maggie's daughter and her American traveling companion, a man is dying of thirst, tethered in a concrete bunker, a glass of water left just beyond his reach. And a young barmaid disappears after being drugged and raped, also in a bunker, according to the pornographic photographs of her making the rounds. And a group of illegal African immigrants suffer the summer's hellish heat in the back of a locked truck container.
While Kelly tracks these story lines from various points of view, it's up to Philip to follow the leads and discover each victim's fate, with a bit of help from friends like a bird-watching police detective and an alcoholic American major, both hanging on for retirement. Then there's Humph, Philip's silent, misanthropic driver, and Laura, tapping out an occasional cryptic message between reams of gibberish.
Kelly seems equally at home with heart-shattering pain and dark, nimble humor. Philip is cynical, kind, heart sore and responsible. Prone to private self-criticisms, his bravest acts are motivated by the fear of being discovered a coward. Kelly's writing is wry and evocative and full of sharp insights and humane sensitivity. Atmospheric and insightful, this is a standout series.
Portsmouth Herald, March 13