William Shaw

Grave’s End – William Shaw

61NOyKRNDGLTitle – Grave’s End

Author – William Shaw

Published – July 2020

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the third book in the Alex Cupidi series; I thought I’d missed out on the hardback as I didn’t buy it when it came out last year but City Books in Hove sorted me out and even got the copy signed!

In the tradition of all good crime fiction there are diverse and seemingly unconnected incidents which are slowly drawn together as the stories unfold to reach a satisfying conclusion.

Zoe, Cupidi’s daughter, is broadening her interest in the environment and is scoping out the wildlife in an area that’s been fenced off by a developer in advance of a new housing estate being built.

Cupidi is assigned the case of an unidentified body discovered in the freezer of a luxurious unoccupied house.

Cupidi’s friend and colleague, Constable Jill Ferriter, has a new beau – but is the relationship everything it seems?

While the other stories unfold Cupidi’s investigation becomes more complicated when there is a further death in even more puzzling circumstances.  Her enquiries lead her to dig up old, long-buried secrets and she is surprised to discover that there is a political interest in her case which comes from the highest level of government – but she’s not the sort of person to be cowed by someone in authority.

As with the previous books Cupidi does manage to get herself in some pretty serious scrapes and despite my belief that she was going to make it out and survive to the end of the book they were still alarming and did have me worried!

As well as being a cracking crime read with the deft plotting that I’ve come to expect, the book also tackles a range of contemporary social and environmental themes – and does this in the best way, where you feel better informed but not as if you’ve been lectured. Of course another great asset of this series is the cast of characters – three very different women who each bring something important to each of the books and who are growing and developing with the series.

I read this really quickly – always a sign that I’m enjoying a book but it does make me feel guilty that it doesn’t reflect the amount of effort the author put in to writing it!

A really enjoyable read – definitely back on form!

1star1star1star1star1star

Deadland – William Shaw

Cover DeadlandTitle – Deadland

Author – William Shaw

Published – 2 May 2019

Genre – Crime fiction

Picking up where Salt Lane left off, this is the second in the Alex Cupidi series and also sees the return of William South from The Birdwatcher.

The opening line is a real attention grabber, something Dick Francis would have been proud of! Two teenage boys who are fairly inept thieves manage to steal a bag from the wrong man. They’re forced to go on the run when they realise how seriously the victim has taken the loss and what he’s prepared to do to get his belongings back.

At the same time Cupidi involves herself in a strange mystery after a severed arm is discovered in a work of art. Whose arm is it? Is there someone, somewhere who is injured and needs help or might this be a murder? Or is there even a crime to investigate?

This is a much simpler book than its predecessors, with two main investigations and two main points of view (Cupidi and the two boys on the run). As the stories unfold the huge contrasts in the social divide between the young petty thieves who have to hide out on the marshes and the characters they come into contact with, versus the incredibly wealthy celebrity owners of the artwork add an extra dimension to the story. There is also a lesson to be learned about being taken in by the perception of ‘celebrity’.

During the course of the book we learn more about Detective Constable Jill Ferriter, who is now becoming one of the mainstays of the series. Cupidi’s home life is still an important part of the book and we learn more about the circumstances that led to her moving out to the Kent coast and Zoë, her daughter, continues to worry her.

As in the earlier books in this series and in Shaw’s Breen and Tozer series, the excellent characterisation brings the diverse cast to life. They are truly believable and that really draws you into the story. The sense of place is important, as has been the case with the preceding books, and the experience of these characters provides a different point of view of the desolate coastline and the more urban areas.

A really enjoyable read.

1star1star1star1star

Salt Lane – William Shaw

Title – Salt Lane

Author – William Shaw

Published – May 2018

Genre – Crime fiction

My favourite ‘sub-genre’ of crime fiction is the traditional UK police procedural and over the past few months I’ve read a few of these – Salt Lane is the first review up but to follow is the 7th McAvoy novel by David Mark and the second DC Childs by Sarah Ward. I know not everyone is a fan of this type of series but I like the conventional framework that the procedural uses, the feeling of seeing behind the scenes and the framework usually provides a resolution towards the end- something important to me in crime fiction.

Within the sub-genre there are obviously different approaches to the story, the involvement of external characters (both within the police and outside) and the treatment of the main detective / policeman – are they painted as a maverick and/or with a drink problem, rocky personal life etc. etc?  Modern crime fiction shows this isn’t always a given and the characters can be more nuanced. Although William Shaw’s lead detective in Salt Lane is actually anything but.

Introduced in The Birdwatcher, DS Alexandra Cupidi is new to the Kent area having transferred from London, the reason being the subject of gossip in the police station. She’s quite a character – forceful, not backwards at coming forwards, dogged, determined, somewhat lacking in grace and finesse and perhaps a little lonely.

There are a number of threads to the story but the opening one with a case of mistaken identity was intriguing. There are two main investigations, one following the discovery of an unidentified woman in a watery grave close to the Salt Lane of the title. The other is the death of a young man in a farm’s slurry pit, beaten before his death, his age and appearance leading the investigation towards illegal immigrants and then on to the possibilities of people-smuggling, drugs and groups of migrant workers. As the two main plots unfold the potential connections between events becomes apparent and not in a way I could have guessed at. The investigations are a team effort and special mention must go to her colleague Constable Ferriter who provides quite a contrast to Cupidi’s character.

This is a perfect example of crime fiction helping to illuminate an issue that most readers might not be aware of (I’m not going to say which issue it is). It’s achieved by ‘showing’ during the course of the story rather than a lot of ‘telling’ in explanation and I think this helps to bring the issues to life for the reader. As with The Birdwatcher the sense of place is captured really effectively and as well as being atmospheric the landscape also plays an important part in the story.

Despite the quite domestic setting there are plenty of action sequences and tension in the plot and some quite thrilling chase sequences across the Kent landscape. Someone’s poor judgement in one of the earlier action sequences adds to the mix by prompting an internal investigation so there really is plenty going on.

Cupidi’s personal life is fleshed out and her relationships with her daughter and her mother play an important part in the book, providing some of the drama as well as filling out some of Cupidi’s backstory.

I did enjoy the contrast of Cupidi and the irascible William South in The Birdwatcher and that’s perhaps what, if anything,  I was missing in this book. While Cupidi is a great main character and there were other colleagues and family members who populated the book they didn’t provide the same sharp contrast that South did.

A really enjoyable read.

1star1star1star1star

A Song From Dead Lips – William Shaw

Title – A Song From Dead Lips

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!

1star1star1star1star

The Birdwatcher – William Shaw

51c4B126sqLTitle – The Birdwatcher

Author – William Shaw

Published – 19 May 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

William Shaw is a Brighton-based writer who is no stranger to crime fiction, having written a trilogy of books set in the 1960s  featuring ‘Breen and Tozer’. I came across him, however, when he was at Deal Noir talking about his new standalone, The Birdwatcher, and I was intrigued by it. The connection with Deal is that the book is set nearby, on the bleak and desolate coastline at Dungeness. Missing out on a copy at the event I was lucky enough to get approved for a Netgalley (thank you Netgalley Gods!).

The main character is William South – he’s a local Police Sergeant drawn into a murder investigation when a new DS from London, Alexandra Cupidi, needs some local knowledge. We know two things from the start about South – he’s a birdwatcher and, by his own admission, a murderer. He is also a pretty grumpy character. He doesn’t want to be involved in a murder investigation and he takes a pretty critical view of Cupidi. In fact all he wants to do is be left alone to watch the birds and catch up on his paperwork. But the brutally murdered man turns out to be his neighbour and friend, and that means South won’t leave the investigation alone, even when perhaps he should.

South quite quickly becomes involved in the lives of Cupidi and her daughter Zoë, perhaps seeing some similarities between his younger self and Zoë. She was reluctant to move from London and is struggling to settle into her school and it is with her that South shows a more sympathetic side (although still a bit grumpy).

The story switches between the present and South’s childhood in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. He grew up in a time when violence was commonplace and he saw more than his fair share.  As the two storylines unfold South’s past informs on his present. While South isn’t a completely likeable character he is certainly one that I was able to empathise with; his backstory provides some of the explanation for his outlook on life and his choices.

So now to try to explain why I thought this was such a brilliant read. Before I started blogging about books I would never have thought about what specific sub genre of crime fiction I like but I’ve come to realise that it’s the police procedural that I’d put at the top of the list. So one box ticked! While The Birdwatcher isn’t heavy on the detail of the investigation it manages the right mix for me, balancing this with the personal stories of the characters, and these are some well-drawn and credible characters. This is all within the framework of a plausible plot which has some changes in pace and manages to weave around in some unexpected ways. The story is focused on a very narrow location and Shaw uses this to great effect, the whole of the story really reflects the bleak and desolate setting and I was really immersed in the atmosphere Shaw created. When I got off the train at the end of my commute I kept being surprised that I wasn’t arriving on a wind and rainswept coast!

Although the story and themes are quite dark, and there are only a few more lighthearted moments, this was a book and a character that really gripped me.

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