The Kings of London (The Breen and Tozer Mystery Series) Volume 2, by William Shaw

The second volume of the Breen and Tozer series depends heavily on the first. It extends several story lines from “She’s Leaving Home,” revealing for the first time their depth and darkness. Volume 2, like its prequel, incorporated newsworthy events, historic figures, especially the exponents of the arts and the changing cultural scene. The “generation gap” and the conflicting values of parents and children feature prominently, especially as they relate to politics, art, urban development and the drug scene.

Detective work takes a back seat to the analysis of the sociological landscape of 1968-9. The older generation may have scratched its way to the top within Harold Wilson’s New Britain, but many of its rich, confident and hedonistic children sneered at their prestigious parents. The young espoused the belief that if they were to free themselves from moral restraints, they and the world would know peace. Pop culture deified the “cool,” who attracted unquestioning followers escaping from the restrictions of the establishment. When hedonism led to addiction and freedom to bondage, Breen and Tozer picked up the pieces.

Helen Tozer’s ability to engage suspects and follow leads missed by others insured her succeed as a copper. However, her cold reception within the Criminal Investigation Division and her father’s deteriorating mind discourage her law enforcement ambitions. She loved London but had to think of her family.

Paddy Breen attracted the wrath of several who would gladly see him dead. Official interference blocked his investigations. Sidelined, he continued to puzzle over scattered shreds of evidence. His freelance activities repeatedly led him into danger, ruined more than a few suits and shed his blood. His relation to Tozer continued to develop. In the end, Paddy found that he had changed and not necessarily for the better.

Volume 2 sets up the further adventures for Breen and Tozer in Volume 3.

She’s Leaving Home (The Breen and Tozer Mystery Series) Volume 1, by William Shaw

If “a book is a ship that takes you to distant lands,” then the Breen and Tozer series welds together a tour bus, a “Tube” carriage and a time machine. The Anglophile – with online maps and satellite views – becomes an accidental tourist, following the action, riding from one Underground station to the next and peering down on villages along the M4 and A33 as the detectives make their way across southern England. It’s not just a mystery, but a geography lesson, an anthology of Anglo-slang, and a time capsule.

If you’ve missed the 1960s the first time around, here’s a chance to catch a slice of 1968 just as the “generation gap” ripped open. The “gap” rent families, often with disastrous consequences. In England, it separated the older generation and its notion that “Britannia rules the waves,” from the “hippies” who preached, “Britannia waves the rules.” The moral imperative of the former – “Do what you like, but don’t get caught” – their greatest enemy, “scandal,” their ally was “the discrete wink and nod.” The boomers rejected the rules, did what they liked and resented the imposition of censure by the “establishment.” Homicide detectives Breen and Tozer stood on opposite rims of the gap, each with a family disaster affecting his and her world views.

In London, murder happens even around the corner from EMI’s Abbey Road Studios, the Beatles’ headquarters and the setting for Breen and Tozer’s first case together. Metropolitan Police Detective Sergeant Cathal “Paddy” Breen – the girls say he’s a looker, thirty-two, a contemplative loner who hadn’t a clue when it came to women or the Beatles. Temporary Detective Constable Helen Tozer –twenty-two, a farm girl from Devon, one of the original members of the Beatles Fan Club – had the effrontery, as a woman, to transfer into a detective unit. As you can see, they’re a match made in heaven.

Breen and Tozer blend their strengths as they travel to Devon and Essex in pursuit of the identities of murder victims and murderers. Subplots touch on immigration, popular and unpopular wars, urban development and police corruption.

The author masterfully developed his characters, illuminated the social and family lives of the constabulary, and the police interactions with the citizenry. In an effort at authenticity, his characters used sexist, racist, ethnically inflammatory, vulgar and otherwise “politically incorrect” language. He incorporated contemporary events, persons, news, fashion and attitudes of 1968 – a time of contrasts between cosmopolitan London and rural Devon, low-income housing and posh flats, Commonwealth immigrants and nationalistic Londoners.

Readers who lived through the 1960s may feel a twinge of nostalgia. Those who missed out, may recognize how much the 1960s shaped their own generation. The teens of the 60’s are the parents and grandparents of the majority of today’s readers. Maybe it’s time for a family discussion?