Due to flooding the graves of a King Lynn cemetery are being exhumed and moved. What the diggers did not expect to find was the bones of a black man lying on top of a coffin buried nearly thirty years before. Forensic evidence suggests that he was thrown in the grave the night Nora Tilden was buried, killed by a blow to the back of the head. DI Peter Shaw and DS George Valentine are assigned to the case, which they know will difficult to solve given the intervening years. What they are hoping is that by asking awkward questions they might dislodge the truth. What they discover is a family with secrets that want to keep them hidden. At the same time they are trying to solve another cold case – one that involves Shaw’s father and Valentine. Thirteen years previously DCI Shaw and Valentine were demoted for supposedly planting evidence. Shaw is determined to clear his father’s name and to put the guilty party behind bars, even if it means potentially jeopardizing his own career.
Death Toll is a solid police procedural. Kelly skillfully weaves the two cases around and through each other as Shaw and Valentine struggle to keep on top of both cases. The plotting is carefully constructed and paced. The characterization is nicely realized, and although I didn’t really take to either Shaw or Valentine that didn’t seem to matter. There is a very strong sense of place, Kelly dropping the reader into the landscape of Kings Lynn and the Norfolk coast. The prose is quite workmanlike, but has flourishes of nice, colourful imagery. My main critique is that sometimes the storytelling is over-elaborated, with passages that added little to the story, and the text would, I feel, have benefitted from some trimming to increase the pace and tension. Overall, a well constructed police procedural.