Author – William Shaw
Published – 2013
Genre – Crime fiction
If you follow my blog you probably know that I’m a huge fan of police procedurals. It was only when I read (and loved) The Birdwatcher that I discovered William Shaw had also been writing a police procedural series and just before Christmas I treated myself to the first three books (book no. 4 is the most recent to be published).
Set in London in the late 1960s (the book opens in 1968) the series is ‘Breen and Tozer’; Breen is DS Cathal Breen and Tozer is WPC Helen Tozer. Breen is a member of the Marylebone CID and not its most respected officer. Tozer is assigned to work with him as a Temporary Detective Constable at a time when WPCs were expected to do nothing much more than make the tea.
The initial case Breen investigates is the discovery of a young woman’s naked body in an alley close to Abbey Road. The investigation, both to identify her and to find her killer, proceeds quite slowly but the lack of pace doesn’t feel like an issue. The book is a pleasure to read and as Breen works on the case a number of other threads come in to play and we also find out more about Breen as a character. He is certainly one of the more enlightened members of the CID and that, perhaps, has something to do with his lack of friends in the force. He’s willing to give Tozer an opportunity and listen to her point of view where other colleagues only subject her to sexist jibes. Of course their relationship isn’t all plain sailing but compared to much recent crime fiction it’s refreshing to have two characters who may have their flaws but also manage to be likeable. The book does speed up and there’s a good, old-fashioned car chase and an exciting climax.
This is the London of The Beatles and the White Album, of hippies and John and Yoko, “Rivers of Blood” and anti-Vietnam protests. Shaw captures the feeling as effortlessly as he did the desolate setting of The Birdwatcher. The details are skilfully dropped into the story and I can’t be the only person to have read the book and have had some ‘I remember that’ moments. Writing about a past that your readers may remember feels like a risky choice but I can’t imagine that Shaw has made errors in the setting, it feels absolutely real.
Shaw uses the plot to highlight political issues of the time, and not necessarily those you might be familiar with. One of the characters is from Biafra and I now know more than I did when I started the book about the struggles in Nigeria / Biafra at the end of the 1960s. The theme of ‘outsiders’ and their treatment is also a strong one throughout the story and unites most, if not all, of the threads.
If I do have a quibble (and I gave this 4 stars rather than 5) it’s around the resolution of the main plotline. But I can’t say anything more without giving the game away! Having looked at reviews on Amazon and Goodreads I think this is just me.
Regardless of this I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the series and finding out more about how the relationship between Breen and Tozer develops. A cracking start to a series!