Unforgettable Fictional Friends

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We read novels because we care about the people who live between their pages.

William Shaw develops fascinating characters. Each person is vulnerable and brilliant in his or her own way, including the cast of The Birdwatcher.

Police Sergeant William South serves as Neighborhood Officer in the coastal patch of Kent in Southeastern England near Dungeness. He’s a first responder and the man who tracks down an elder who has lost his way. He keeps an eye on the local drug scene and chases shoplifters. A solitary man, South spends hours along the beaches and bogs looking for unusual birds.

On page one, when Sergeant South is ordered to assist in a murder investigation, he begs off because it’s October and prime birdwatching season and although no one else knows, William South is a murderer.

Luck abandons the Sergeant. The Dungeness victim happens to be his next-door neighbor and fellow birdwatcher. He’s torn between exposure and helping the Serious Crime Directorate find his friend’s murderer. He could leave the investigation in its early stages or later when told to stay away. Call it fate, but even official duties and ordinary acts like shopping or helping a friend, drag him deeper into the mystery. Each involvement redoubles his risk of exposure and even death.

Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi’s past drives her from the Metropolitan Police and London. She’s desperate to make a strong first impression in Kent. A guilt-ridden single mother, she weighs professional success against her daughter Zoe’s adjustment to Kent.

Cupidi sees Neighborhood Officer South as an asset in her investigation. He knows the victim, the territory, and the shortcuts. Their relationship deepens as South eases tensions between Cupidi and Zoe. He rescues Zoe from bullies at her new school and hides her indiscretions.

Zoe is mature beyond her age—an adult trapped in the life of a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl. She loves and understands her mother. At the same time, Zoe compromises Alexandra’s professional and personal life. She can’t talk to her mother or the “cows” at school. Surprisingly, she confides in William South and plays matchmaker between him and her mother. Bored, Zoe gives birdwatching a try. Her drawings of birds in flight capture their jizz, amazing the experienced South.

The murderer lurks in the shadows and hides in plain sight. He or she may be stalking Cupidi, Zoe, or South. Cupidi believes that it must be a man. A woman could never kill with such violence and frequency, “Someone who literally cannot control themselves, or doesn’t want to. Someone so consumed with anger they cannot stop.”

Cupidi is anxious to close the case and secure her place in the Kent Serious Crime Directorate. When someone fits her image of the killer, South challenges her conclusions. His experience as a murderer suggests someone else is guilty.

Birds and birdwatching add color and plot twists. Birdwatching focuses on the extraordinary visitors, not the local gulls and sparrows—migrating species and individuals blown off course by ocean storms. South’s birdwatching parallels his police work. The Sergeant scans for anything unusual—a broken window, an abandoned automobile, or a group of individuals camped on a beach. South applies his birdwatching techniques to the murder investigation—high power binoculars and stakeouts even the birds can’t detect.

The Birdwatcher is two stories in one. Each chapter ends with a snippet set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. Parallels between the life of young Billy and adult William include their interest in birdwatching and their fear of murder investigations.

The first page of The Birdwatcher accuses William South. Could he get away with murder, suffer imprisonment, or fall prey to the Kentish murderer? He’s an engaging character with great potential. Does he have a future?

 

 

A Book of Scars (The Breen and Tozer Mystery Series, Volume 3), by William Shaw

A Book of Scars ( DS Breen and WPC Tozer # 3)

Detective Sergeant Cathal “Paddy” Breen of the Metropolitan CID (Marylebone Police Station, London) can’t seem to avoid disaster whether he’s rescuing a cat from a tree, investigating a crime scene or chasing a bad guy. To his aid rides Helen Tozer, a Woman Police Constable who wants to do more than fetch tea and biscuits for her male counterparts.

The introverted Paddy dabbles in art, rendering accurate sketches from memory. He methodically covers the floor of his apartment with scraps of paper—clues representing the puzzle-pieces of his murder inquiries. His mind shuffles snippets until, hopefully, a pattern emerges. He was born before WWII and fits well with the older generation and their methods of operation.

Although only a few years younger, as a post war baby boomer, Tozer stands on the opposite side of the canyon known as “the generation gap” from Paddy Breen. The more intuitive and “with-it” Helen, a farm-girl from Devon, belongs to the Beatles Fan Club, plays a guitar and likes to drink. She calls Paddy, not Cathal, but “Careful Breen,” because he rarely tempts fortune, letting misfortune come to him, and come it does. Paddy’s “old school” perspective blocks his access to witnesses, after a nanny and her charges find the murdered body of a Beetles fan, whereas Helen speaks their language and earns their cooperation.

A Book of Scars begins with the injured Paddy convalescing at the Tozer farm in Devon. Bored out of his mind, he looks for a case to solve, a cold case, such as the brutal death of Alexandra, Helen’s sister. He finds the coroner’s report that describes the horrible nature of Alex’s unsolved murder. The report spurs Breen and Tozer to track down the sadistic killer and determine the killer’s motivation, especially when it seems that the same horrible death awaits others.

A Book of Scars begins as a murder-mystery, but it dips into the horror genre. Although, it serves up generous portions of “who done it” suspense with a full slate of suspects, the heavy handed violence in Africa, the Biafra/Nigerian War, the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya and the dark side of the drug trade between Europe and North Africa spill over into the character’s lives and the story lines.

As witnesses to local examples of this unthinkable violence, Breen and Tozer realize that methods justified elsewhere during an “emergency,” have returned home with the ousted colonials to terrify their inventors. The novel includes descriptions of brutal torture. Unfortunately, these savage acts are based on actual testimony of victims of similar atrocities—atrocities committed with a wink and a nod from the colonial authorities.

Despite the grim aspects of the final volume, trilogy fans will enjoy the progress in Breen and Tozer’s personal relationship. A Book of Scars opens more doors than it closes, raising hopes that William Shaw turns the trilogy into a much longer series. He has almost fifty Paddy and Helen years in which to weave a lifetime of sequels for enjoyment of his readers.

The US titles for the first two volumes in the Breen and Tozer Trilogy are She’s Leaving Home and The Kings of London. The final volume, not readily available in the USA goes by the UK title, A Book of Scars.

For reviews of She’s Leaving Home and The Kings of London, press control/click on these titles.

https://dmulcare.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/shes-leaving-home-the-breen-and-tozer-mystery-series-volume-1-by-william-shaw/

https://dmulcare.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/the-kings-of-london-the-breen-and-tozer-mystery-series-volume-2-by-william-shaw/

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?