Review: Death Wore White by Jim Kelly

Some books have a premise with draws me in like the proverbial moth to a flame. Death Wore White offered a modern version of a locked room mystery in which a handful of people are trapped in their cars during blizzard and one of drivers has a chisel plunged into his eye seemingly in full view of everyone else but no one saw anything. We won’t ponder what it says about me that I rubbed my hands with glee when I read a blurb like that.

The book turned out to be a more standard police procedural than the blurb suggested (how shocking, a misleading book blurb). It’s a solid example of its sub genre but as the vast majority of the action takes place long after the blizzard-trapped people have gone home it wasn’t really the book I was expecting.

The two policemen at the heart of the are quite fascinating. Peter Shaw is something of a hotshot: a forensic artist, rescue boat crewman and loving husband and father as well as being a Detective Inspector. Shaw’s father was a policeman too until he was accused of planting evidence when investigating the case of a murdered boy ten years previously. Shaw has now been partnered with George Valentine who had been his father’s partner during that disastrous case. Valentine has been demoted and must now take orders from his old partner’s son. The two men work through initial distrust and hostility towards something of a grudging, though sporadic, respect as the book progresses and the relationship between these two is the kind of thing that will bring me back to more books in this series.

I didn’t find the story itself quite as compelling. The plot is terribly complicated and I never became fully engaged with it so had to re-read several portions in order for the chain of events to make sense, especially for the first half of the book. It seemed to me that there were a lot of events crammed into the story and all, apart from the minor thread relating to the old case that ruined the career of Shaw’s father and George Valentine, were treated fairly superficially. With a few less dead bodies and overlapping crimes to investigate there might have been time for a closer look at the victims or the motivations of the criminals (of whom there were many).

However, I did enjoy the writing style of Death Wore White and the main characters were interesting enough for me to want to read more about them so I will seek out, Death Watch, the second book in this series which is due for release this year.

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My rating 3/5

Publisher: Penguin [2008]; ISBN: 978-0-7181-4951-2Length: 390 pages, Setting: England, present day

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Death Wore White has been reviewed by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise enjoyed the book more than I did

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5 Responses to Review: Death Wore White by Jim Kelly

  1. Maxine says:

    Excellent review, as ever. I know what you mean about the over-convoluted (complicated) plots, I always felt this about the author’s series (that began with The Water Clock) – I stopped reading these after the first three or four as I felt they were gradually running out of steam after a great start.
    Maybe I should pick him up again now he has written a non-series book – I do think he’s a talented author, even if not always as realistic or plausible as he could be.


  2. Maxine says:

    PS I am getting quite fond of my little cartoon character, apart from the sticking plaster over mouth 😉


  3. Deb says:

    I haven’t read this one, I’m waiting for it to be available at my local library. I did read all of Kelly’s Phillip Dryden series, which I enjoyed very much. Yes, the plots are meaty, with lots of characters who have overlapping histories, and admittedly a few strands of the tangled knot could be snipped away with no damage done, but I like convoluted plots–as long as everything is resolved, which (as far as I can recall) Kelly did in every book. I also liked the back-story of Dryden’s wife gradually awakening from a coma.


  4. Bernadette – I always look forward to your thorough, interesting and helpful reviews. I understand what you mean about not getting engaged with the characters. I also empathize with starting a book because of the blurb and finding out it’s something completely different; that’s why I read reviews like yours when I’m deciding what to read. I do find “impossible” mysteries fascinating, so on that score, may put this one on my TBR list.


  5. kathy durkin says:

    I liked this book, liked the two main characters and their back stories, relationships, and more. Yes, I did find the plot very complicated. In fact, when I finished the book I realized that I didn’t know how every dead body got to its location or the exact logistics of the locked-room-in-a-blizzard. But I did know whodunnit and why. I liked Kelly’s writing, which stood out for me more than in many police procedurals. I was interested in the lives of his two protagonists. I look forward to his next book.


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