The Coldest Blood - By Jim Kelly


This is a work of fiction but several experts have been generous with their time to ensure that technical details are as accurate as possible. I am particularly indebted to Dr Alan Whitmore, of the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital; Neil O’May, head of the criminal law department of Bindman & Partners; and the Forensic Science Service, for guidance on issues pertaining to blood. Thanks also to members of the Fen Skating Committee, who were welcoming and gave freely of their memories. Let’s hope that, despite climate change, their sport thrives for at least one more generation. All information on the national electricity grid and the network of pylons which are its backbone came from the internet – beginning with the indispensable Pylon of the Month website. Would-be pyloneers should start here. The National Farmers Union in East Anglia was helpful in explaining the use of commercial kites to replace more traditional bird-scaring devices.

So much for specific areas of expertise. Others have given constant help and encouragement. My wife, Midge Gillies, has provided a wide-ranging consultancy throughout the writing of The Coldest Blood; from plot, through character, to setting she has made an indispensable contribution. Beverley Cousins, my editor, has continued to keep me on course with her combination of experience and skill. Faith Evans, my agent, is an ever-present guide to good writing.

Trevor Horwood, my copy-editor again, combined meticulous attention to detail with a watchful eye on continuity. Other friends have provided help selflessly: Jenny Burgoyne read the manuscript with forensic intensity and Bridie Pritchard brought an overview to the final draft; Martin Peters set me on the right road from the start with some commonsense advice about the properties of blood. My brother Bob Kelly provided a vivid insight into the realities of an ice storm.

And finally, the landscape – the English Fens and the cathedral city of Ely. As in Philip Dryden’s earlier adventures, The Coldest Blood combines entirely fictitious characters and plot with locations blending real and imagined geography. This has allowed me once again to be creative with place names, institutions and traditions in order to enrich the story and facilitate the plot, a liberty I hope will not infuriate my loyal, local readers too greatly.

The Dolphin Holiday Camp, Sea’s End

Thursday, 29 August 1974

The dagger lay on his naked thigh, its blade as cold as a rock-pool pebble. Lying back in his bunk, he raised the weapon with one hand and splayed the fingers of the other across the muscle of his upper arm, stretching the suntanned skin taut as a drum. Outside, the water of the saltmarsh slapped against the Curlew ’s hull, rocking him on the incoming tide.

He tasted salt on his lips as he bit down on the leather belt in his mouth and pressed the dagger’s V-shaped point into the biceps, wincing at the gritty sound of the metal penetrating the flesh. He knew he mustn’t scream, but his stomach rolled at the thought of what must come next.

The holiday camp was a mile away but he’d seen kids wandering at dusk in the marsh, four of them, torches dancing amongst the reeds. No one must hear. No one must know.

He held his breath and bit down again on the strap, drawing the blade through the skin, revealing a hint of the meat of the inner arm, a single artery exposed, then severed. Blood flowed like poster paint, dripping from his elbow, as the pain – sudden and electric now – jolted his nervous system and made him drop the dagger and cry out, despite himself.

He gagged on the strap, wanting to weep, and spat it out. ‘Two more,’ he said. A jagged S, like a lightning bolt. Three cuts. But he knew he couldn’t see it through, not then, so he lay flat, matching his breathing to the slow cadence of the sea beyond the dunes, and for comfort placed a hand on the cold metal of the box at his side, a finger outlining the double locks.

If he could just do this, he told himself, it would be perfect. Not for the first time in the twenty-three years of his life he felt God-like, weak with control. Nothing could stop him if he had the courage to finish it; so he felt for the blade again.

But the touch of the metal brought him to the edge of unconsciousness. He reached out for the warm wooden ribs of the old boat: it had been his