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Sunday, 9 September 2018

‘Salt Lane’ by William Shaw

Published by Riverrun,
3 May 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-00-818120-8 (HB)

It's always good to get in at the start of a promising new series, especially when the author has already demonstrated his sure hand with both plot and character in earlier work. Salt Lane is William Shaw's first venture into the contemporary police procedural in series form, but neither form nor location is unfamiliar territory.

In fact, it's not even the first time his lead character, Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, has made an appearance. In his standalone Birdwatcher she is the protagonist's sidekick, but clearly made enough of an impression on him to stick around for her own series. Alex is an exile from the Met, transferred to rural Kent following a disastrous affair with a colleague (why is it always the woman who has to move on?) and finding that serious crime isn't exclusively the domain of the big city.

There's a strong topical theme in the form of illegal immigrant workers; and an interesting puzzle arises when the identity of a dead woman is called into question by her son, who claims to have seen her alive some days after her purported death. Add in a young woman detective too keen for her own safety, and Cupidi's daughter with far too much teenage angst for comfort, and it's soon plain that things are going to get a lot more complicated.

The story starts to resemble one of those spider diagrams TV cops use to form connections between apparently disparate elements of a case. One line goes back into London, Cupidi's old stamping ground. Another stretches into the desolate marshland on the fringes of the Kent countryside. Yet another feeds back to the 1980s, the Greenham Common camp and the Peace Convoy.

The characters are very much the kind you feel go on existing when you close the book. Between a tendency to open mouth without brain in gear, a daughter who hardly talks to her and a mother with hardly a maternal cell in her body, Cupidi's home and work lives promise to be interesting to say the least. Jill Ferriter, the young detective, has plenty of room to develop and shows distinct signs that she will. Their boss DI McAdam exhibits a vulnerable streak senior detectives are usually reluctant to admit to.

Not only is Salt Lane rich with characters, landscape and a tautly and evocatively written story with plenty of emotional undertow; it also carries the promise of a series which could run and run. And William Shaw is a name who could be popping up on shortlists for awards in the not too distant future.
Reviewer:  Lynne Patrick

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.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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