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Wednesday 24 April 2019

‘The Mathematical Bridge’ by Jim Kelly

Published by Allison and Busby,
21 February 2019.
ISBN 978-0-7490-2166-5 (HB)

Detective Inspector Eden Brooke is walking through a cold and snowy Cambridge one evening in January1940 when a young constable informs him that a college porter has spotted a body in the River Cam. But this is not just any body.  It is the body of a young boy who has been cruelly confined in a sack whilst still alive and was crying out for somebody to help him.  DI Eden mobilises all the forces at his disposal, but the boy, Sean Flynn, an Irish Catholic evacuee who had only recently arrived in the town, does not survive.  Subsequent investigations show that Sean had been severely injured before he was put in the sac.

Next a bomb goes off at a local factory and a transistor vital for the war effort is stolen. An Irish Republican slogan is left at the scene and Eden has to decide if the two crimes are linked. Eden’s task becomes harder when intelligence suggests that there will be at least one more bomb to follow.  And just to make life even more complicated, Cambridge is expecting a visit from the King’s brother.  The royal prince is determined to attend a football game and insists that Eden is responsible for his safety.

The Irish and Catholic connections of the two crimes lead the police towards St Alban’s Catholic Church and school. Both are heavily involved with caring for the evacuated children, including the murdered Sean. The parish priest and the headmaster of the school are both interesting characters, but are they criminals as well? One of the church’s parishioners is murdered. The headmaster’s wife describes him as a saint, but is he a sinner as well? 

As part of his legacy from serving in the previous war DI Eden Brooke suffers from an acute and painful aversion to light, and a chronic inability to sleep for any sensible length of time. His night wanderings help to consolidate Cambridge as one of the main characters in the book. They also introduce us to several of Eden’s “nighthawk pals” – his former batman, a college porter, a young neighbour doing observation work on the roof tops, and Rose who runs a night café etc.  Eden’s wife and daughter, both nurses, feature regularly as does the family’s underlying concern for their son who is in the army waiting for action on the borders of Belgium and France, and their son-in-law who is a submariner.

All these characters, and many more, are sympathetically drawn and help to make us feel at one with the university town that, like the rest of the country in January 1940, was waiting to be bombed or invaded. The pace at which the story develops seems perfectly in tune with the troubled times and place, and despite its relatively grim content I found The Mathematical Bridge a most delightful and engrossing read: one that deserves to be widely appreciated.
Reviewer Angela Crowther

Jim Kelly was born in 1957 and is the son of a Scotland Yard detective. He went to university in Sheffield, later training as a journalist and worked on the Bedfordshire Times, Yorkshire Evening Press and the Financial Times. His first book, The Water Clock, was shortlisted for the John Creasey Award and he has since won a CWA Dagger in the Library and the New Angle Prize for Literature. He lives in Ely, Cambridgeshire.

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

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