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Wednesday 31 December 2014

‘A House of Knives’ William Shaw

Published by Quercus,
12 June 2014.
ISBN: 978-1782064206

London, 1968. Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen has a death threat in his in-tray and a mutilated body on his hands – the wayward son of a rising MP ...

This police procedural evokes what the swinging sixties were like for so many ordinary people: grotty bed-sits mixed with posh houses decorated in the newest style and squats of drug-taking hippies, racism, the police corruption and brutality, as drunks are beaten up in the cells. Breen’s side-kick Helen Tozer resents the sexist comments and attitudes: as a WPC, she’s not allowed to drive, and tea-making and children are automatically her job. Forensics is in its infancy, and to get help in a tight situation, Breen has to bash on doors and ask to use a phone. At the start of the novel, Breen has just lost his father, and his superiors are keen to use his bereavement as an excuse to get him off the case, especially when he asks awkward questions. He’s a likeable hero, ‘square’ in his conventional suits, attractive to women but shy of doing anything about his liking for Tozer. Their relationship is convincingly developed from the first novel, A Song from Dead Lips. The minor characters are vividly drawn: the predictable station boss, Bailey, the typist Marilyn and Breen’s fellow copper, Jones. Real events, like the John And Yoko ‘bedsheet’ concert, are woven into the story, and a key character is Robert ‘Groovy Bob’ Fraser,  modern art dealer and thrower of glamorous parties. The dual storyline – the MP’s son, and the death of a dead vagrant, possibly a labourer linking back to Breen’s Irish community – is cleverly plotted, and moves along at a brisk pace, with good action sequences and a satisfying finish.

A PP with interesting characters and a vividly realised 60s background. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

 William Shaw was born in Newton abbot, Devon, and grew up in Nigeria and lived for sixteen years in hackney. Starting out as assistant editor of the post-punk magazine ZigZag, he has been a journalist for The Observer, The New York Times, Wired, Arena and The Face and was Amazon UK Music Journalist of the Year in 2003. He is the author of several non-fiction books including Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood, about a year spent with the young men of South Central Los Angeles, and A Superhero For Hire, a compilation of columns in the Observer Magazine. A Song from Dead Lips is the first in a trilogy of crime fiction books set in London in 1968 – 1969. He lives in Brighton.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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