Wednesday, July 07, 2021

She's Leaving Home - William Shaw



I learned from reading William Shaw’s Alexandria Cupidi series that his fictional detectives are usually, to one degree or another, pretty flawed human beings. Shaw is, in fact, quite the master at creating policemen who vividly come to life on the page precisely because those flaws make the cops so easy for the reader to identify with. Now having just read Shaw’s debut novel, She’s Leaving Home (2013), it is apparent that using flawed heroes around which to build a series of books has been a William Shaw trademark from the beginning. 


It is 1968, and DS Cathal Breen has been called to the St. John’s Wood section of London to investigate the discovery of an unidentified young woman’s body. Because the body has been found so near Abbey Road Studios, Breen believes the victim to be one of the dozens of Beatle fans who regularly hang around the area hoping to get a glimpse of the Beatles as they come and go from the studio. Now he has to figure out who she was and why someone left her naked body where it could so easily be found.


As for Breen, being a policeman has never been an easy thing for him. Already an outcast of sorts among his fellow policemen and women, Breen has recently made things much, much worse for himself by running away and hiding from a crime in progress during which his partner was being physically held at knifepoint. This is not the kind of behavior that any policeman should expect ever to recover from, but Breen has been given one more chance to prove himself — if he is only up to it. 


Breen spent several years caring for his aging father, even moving the older man into his own small flat toward the end of the man’s life. And now although his father is gone, Breen continues to act much older than his years and seems to have turned into a younger version of his own father. 1968, however, is a year during which everything seems to be changing and loosening up around him except for the ultra-conservative Cathal Breen himself. Then to Breen’s chagrin, rookie investigator Helen Tozer is assigned to Breen’s mentorship at a time when female investigators are still rare in the UK, and Breen finds himself changing in more ways than he ever imagined were possible. Helen Tozer is a rather free spirit who has eagerly adopted the societal changes that Breen continues to ignore, and she has a lot to teach her supposed mentor about the world around him. 


Bottom Line: She’s Leaving Home is a first-rate debut novel in which William Shaw quickly proves that he will stand out from the crowd of today’s crime writers because of his memorable characters. The two investigations that Breen investigates in this one are both interesting and satisfying, but Beatles fans are going to find the St. John’s Wood murder investigation to be particular fun. George Harrison, who lives nearby, even makes a cameo appearance of sorts at one point during the investigation. Part of the fun, too, comes with the recognition that the novel’s title is also the title of a great Beatles song from the band’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. (Hint: check out the song lyrics if you get the chance.) But, the best news of all for readers who enjoy this one is that there are three other Breen and Tozer novels just begging to be read. 


William Shaw

15 comments:

  1. Yet another writer that you have introduced me to. This one sounds like a winner.

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    1. William Shaw is really good, Dorothy. This is the fourth of his books I've read, and they are all at least "good," and a couple of them are better than good.

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  2. I read The Birdwatcher in 2017 and was hooked. Thanks for pointing out Shaw's debut novel, Sam. I want it!

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    1. Jen, I hope you get a chance to work it in. I'd love to know whaat you think of it. The Breen and Tozer characters are really interesting and since the series seems to be set in the late sixties, the plots should be lots of fun, too.

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  3. I read and loved The Birdwatcher after you reviewed it. This sounds interesting as well and such a unique cover. And, is there even a baby boomer alive who doesn't like the Beatles? LOL

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    1. No doubt about it, Diane...still millions and millions of Beatles fans out there, including my 18-year-old grandson to whom I gifted all my Beatles LPs when he graduated high school this year. He still thinks that was the best gift he received...he's a huge fan.

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  4. I think perfect people are not only a bit boring to read about, but hard to relate to. It's in our flaws and imperfections where we as humans connect. I think that's why flawed characters in books feel so authentic to me.

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    1. I totally agree, Lark. The fun part of crime fiction and detective novels has become for me seeing how authors so cleverly create such believable characters on both sides of the law.

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  5. Funnily enough one of the suspects in a book I just finished was a huge Beatles fan. I didn't know that William Shaw had had another series on the go before he wrote The Birdwatcher. I thought his writing in that was superb, making me want to visit that area of Kent where it was set.

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    1. I'd love to see that part of Kent, too, Cath, and wish I'd managed to do that at some point before international travel became so difficult. I knew he had another series, but I hadn't realized that this was the first book in that series when I checked it out of the library. Now, I know I want to read the other three books in the series...and hoping that they are easier to get here than the latest books in his Cupidi series. Those are really hard to find.

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  6. I am looking forward to reading this one soonish, or the first D.S. Cupidi book. Sometime later in the year.

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    1. Tracy, I would definitely recommend that you start with the first in the Cupidi series.

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  7. I am really looking forward to this one.

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    1. I think you'll like it, Cathy. Still wondering, though, why his books are still so hard to get hold of in this country.

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    2. It makes absolutely no sense to me-- especially when I learned that writers like Sara Paretsky love his books, too.

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