DEATH TOLL (A Saga) – Jim Kelly

The words that most clearly convey the theme of DEATH TOLL are spoken by Mark Antony is Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” – “the evil that men do live after them….”

The story opens on December 12, 2010.  The bodies buried at a cemetery are being moved to higher ground to avoid flooding.  When the grave of Nora Tilden, buried in 1982, is opened, grave diggers are shocked to find another body, a skeleton, on top of the casket.  The body had to have been thrown into Nora’s grave on the day she was buried.  Nora was the owner of the Flask, a popular pub, which she inherited from her father, Arthur Melville.   Nora is a hard woman and her relationship with her husband, Alby, is stormy, that is, until the night Alby pushed Nora down the stairs.  With Nora dead and her father in prison, their daughter, Lizzie, becomes the owner of the Flask.

As was her mother, Lizzie is only nineteen when the business is passed to her.  Alby wants to protect her so he contacts her aunt, Bea, Nora’s younger sister who has been living for many years in the United States, asking her to return to East Lynn to help Lizzie.  Bea does as requested and moves back to her home town with her son, Pat, who is twenty.

The major players are now in place but they are by no means the only characters who will walk across this stage.  The catalyst of the story is Latrell Garrison, an American GI, a black man, who marries Bea.  Together they have their son, Pat.  When Bea returns to East Lynn with Pat,  the resentments created by Latrell’s presence awaken.  Pat doesn’t have an easy time and when he disappears Bea doesn’t look for him, believing that he returned to the United States.  Now Pat has been found in Nora’ grave.  Detective Inspector Peter Shaw and Detective Sergeant George Valentine are assigned  this very cold case.

On their own, Shaw and Valentine have been working on another cold case, the murder of Jonathan Tessier, a nine year-old who knew too much about a puppy.  Shaw is determined to solve the case because it is the one his father couldn’t let go.  Valentine wants the solution to be found because a misuse of evidence cost him his rank and derailed a trial.  Shaw and Valentine are both in danger of losing their jobs if they antagonize the chief suspect, a wealthy and respected solicitor.

DEATH TOLL is a saga, a big story about a family.  Arthur Melville fathered Nora and Bea.  Nora gives birth to Mary, who died when still an infant, and Lizzie.  Bea is the mother of Pat, the mixed race child she has with Latrell.  As other characters are introduced, the frailty of the bonds of the descendants of Arthur Melville are revealed.

DEATH TOLL  is a saga that addresses big issues as they impact on one family.  There is the hatred between Bea and Nora that surfaced when Bea decides to go to America with Latrell.  Nora swore that she would never speak to Bea again if she left with him.  Nora isn’t a racist; she doesn’t want Bea to be out from under her control.  Nora keeps her word.  She never speaks to Bea again.   Racism is the elephant in the parlor of East Lynn.  Latrell was welcome, a well-liked man.  But by the time Pat arrives in East Lynn,  PEN, the Party of English Nationalism, is gaining supporters among the electorate and a black man is suspect.

Overshadowing life in East Lynn is incest, literally and figuratively.  There are frequent references to Leviticus , the third book of the Bible.  Leviticus describes the punishment in store for those who violate the boundary that protects the family unit.  Incest among the players and characters in East Lynn is a poison that is destroying the family Arthur Melville established.

DEATH TOLL is a book that cannot be put down.  From the beginning scene, when Nora’s grave is found to contain the body of another victim, everyone must question their relationships.  Trust is violated.  Secrets are hiding in plain sight.  The evil that men do live after them and engulf their posterity, an inheritance that poisons the lives of those who should not be punished for the sins of  their fathers.  This is an exceptionally engrossing book and a satisfying mystery.

ET IN ARCADIA EGO,  (I also lived in Arcadia (paradise) is engraved on Nora’s grave stone.  On one hand, it is a gross mistake.  There was nothing of paradise in East Lynn.  But another interpretation of the phrase has Death uttering the words.  No matter the place, no matter the innocent, death can be found lurking in the shadows.

The author does the reader a considerable favor by including a family tree on page 164.

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1 Response to DEATH TOLL (A Saga) – Jim Kelly

  1. Pingback: AUTHORS I – M | MURDER by TYPE

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