Summer, 1976. A plane crashes on a farm in the Cambridgeshire fens. Out of the flames walks young Maggie Beck, clutching a baby in her arms. Twenty-seven years later, investigative journalist Philip Dryden - visiting his wife, Laura, in hospital - is witness to Maggie's deathbed confession. But some secrets are best kept secret, and what started out for Dryden as a small and curious story about the only survivor of an almost-forgotten plane crash soon escalates into a full-blown murder investigation. And while Dryden is wondering what other secrets Maggie carried, his semi-conscious wife is trying to tell him something that might just save his life...
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What's not to like about a crime novel that incorporates the illegal smuggling of immigrants, trafficking in low-grade porn, suggestions of incest, a deathbed confession, an airplane disaster, and crucial clues supplied by a coma patient? All of that, plus threats directed against the journalist determined to get to the bottom of this sordid nightmare.
Returning to England's Cambridgeshire Fens district, the setting for his debut novel, The Water Clock, Jim Kelly introduces us, in The Fire Baby, to Maggie Beck, who as a teenager in 1976 was one of only two survivors of a U.S. Air Force transporter crash outside the small town of Ely. Her farmer parents and her 13-day-old son on the ground were among the dozen people killed, while the other person left alive was Lyndon Koskinski, the newborn child of an American flyer from Texas, whom Maggie carried out of the flames. At least, that's how the tale was reported. But now, as Maggie Beck lies dying of cancer in an Ely hospital room, she's tape-recording a different story for her teacher daughter, Estelle, 25, and Koskinski, now a 27-year-old Air Force pilot come for one last visit with the woman who'd saved him so long ago--a story that will change minds and hearts, alike. On hand to watch this developing crisis is Philip Dryden, the cowardly and guilt-plagued newspaperman from Clock, whose former soap star wife, Laura--comatose ever since a car accident four years before--is Maggie's roommate. But Dryden also has his hands full inquiring about a missing barmaid, the scandalous use of World War II-era military sites, and the often cruel importation of foreign laborers. When these investigative threads start tangling about him, Dryden will need all the help he can get, not only from his unsociable driver, "Humph" Holt ("the only cabbie in Britain with a two-door taxi: a triumph of indifference over reality"), but from Laura, whose rudimentary efforts at communication may offer the solution to more than one puzzle.
It's no small accomplishment that Kelly keeps his myriad subplots straight, and drives them all toward a logical collision at The Fire Baby's climax. The visceral torments faced by several characters are credible, and though there's a twist of undue convenience at book's end, the shattering of lives and loves, and the tragic consequences of too many secrets kept are all skillfully handled. Kelly leaves readers with high expectations for his third elemental mystery. --J. Kingston PierceAbout the Author:
Jim Kelly is a correspondent for the Financial Times. He lives in Ely.
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Book Description Penguin, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: Brand New. 352 pages. In Stock. Bookseller Inventory # zk0141009349
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