London, October 1968. As Beatles fans encamp outside Abbey Road Studios up the road, the Marylebone CID is as much an old boys' club as it ever was: comfortably sexist, racially prejudiced and crawling with corruption.
Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen is the pariah of the office, having just run out on a fellow officer held at knifepoint, when it's shaken up by the arrival of WPC Helen Tozer: awkward chatterbox, farmgirl, and the first woman to enter the murder unit - apart from the secretary.
When a young woman is found naked and strangled in well-to-do St John's Wood, her identity is a mystery. The neighbours offer nothing but xenophobic suspicions, witnesses are staying silent; only Tozer's savvy gives Breen a lead.
Following it, resourceless, deep into the rural backwaters, Breen sees one dead body lead to another - a trail of bloodshed taking them dangerously close to a killer with everything to lose...
©2013 William Shaw (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
I review books, mostly audiobooks, mostly mystery. That's about it!
Rarely does a book strike such a chord with me as this one, set in 1968 it took me right back to my teenaged years. A time when we girls strove to look like Twiggy, the skinny little model, or Cathy McGowan with her long straight hair from TVs "Ready, Steady Go". We spent our money on Rimmel cosmetics and practiced the complicated eye make up of the time. Our musical loyalties were divided, most adored the Beatles, others of us loved The Rolling Stones, Canned Heat or Yardbirds, but we all had to endure listening to our parents' favourite pop song, Mary Hopkin warbling "Those were the days, my friend". Actually, I quite like that song now.
Known to most as Paddy, Breem was born and raised in London, as his mother had died at an early age, the job of raising him fell to his father, an Irish builder. When his father became frail and sick, Breem moved him in to his own flat where he cared for him until his death.
DS Cathal (Paddy) Breem is, as befits the hero of any story, a little different to his colleagues of the squad room, he's not one of the boys, that fact alone makes him less than popular. Adding to his unpopularity, an uncharacteristic act by him during the course of duty was viewed as cowardice by his colleagues and earned him the reputation of being "windy". Everything he does seems to add to his unpopularity, inherently a good man, he condemns the brutish tactics accepted by most as a normal response to provocation. He never takes the easy way out in an investigation, he doesn't give up. Nor do his fellow officers understand Breems way of organising information so they ridicule his methods, Breem, of course, doesn't allow any of this to sway him from his course. When W.P.C Helen Tozer, the first female officer allocated to the C.I.D. rolls up, she's faced with the male prejudices of the time. Those were the days when female officers were deemed suitable only for dealing with children, women, bereaved families and, of course, making the tea for her male counterparts. Breem tries to treat her with respect, but, being a product of his time, doesn't understand quite how to treat a modern woman, he has little idea of what is offensive to females or even why!
Helen Tozer is a country girl who could talk the hind leg off a donkey, but she knows what's what in the world, to the men, she gives as good as she gets and stands up for herself, shocking behaviour for a woman! Gradually, despite putting his foot in it several times, Helen and Breem develop a successful working relationship. Intriguingly, over time Breem realises that Helen has a family secret, and she is unwilling to share.
There we have them, the two main characters whose job it is to discover who murdered the girl, a young girl callously murdered and discarded behind some bushes, like trash. The investigation commences in the usual way with door to door inquiries revealing seemingly little of any use. Later, the investigation leads to the famous Abbey Road recording studios and from there to some Beatles fans. The girls live in a world that is alien to Breem, and it is here that Helen Tozer shows her worth, she is familiar with their world and is able to communicate with them. She also proves her investigative skills, Breem is impressed, and during the course of the investigation Helen teaches him the ways of this world so unfamiliar to him. He even thinks about buying a Beatles record.
As Helen and Breem gradually unravel the threads, they are met with yet more twists and turns, just when you think you know whodunnit along comes another little piece of the puzzle, and there you are scratching your head again. I loved the story, it's an intriguing mystery populated with wonderful characters, an exciting mix of fact and fiction. I liked the way Helens' character is slowly built until her personality and intelligence shine through, she is my hero of the story. I can understand the barriers she had to push aside and, in truth, it would have taken a strong and brave woman to enter that all male domain back in 1968.
William Shaw has crafted a remarkable work, the well researched facts are blended beautifully with fiction to create a memorable story. I have part 2 of the trilogy (or hopefully, series) ready and waiting.
Cameron Stewart tells the story well, he has a pleasant voice and is easy to listen to, he speaks clearly and with just the right pace. The character of Breem was born in London and raised by his Irish father so it could not have been an easy task, creating an anglicised Irish accent. He had a few regional accents to deal with and did so well enough, though his Welsh did let him down just a tad, however, had I not lived in Wales for a few years I probably wouldn't have noticed. I'm happy to see he has also narrated the second book in the Breem and Tozer trilogy.
This audiobook is my personal copy, I have recieved no renumeration for writing this, my honest review.
I enjoyed this story much more than I thought I would. It really captured the feel of the sixties and I'm looking forward to hearing more of Breen and Helen
"Dated and a little disappointing"
I think this is the first in the series which is why I thought I'd take the plunge. It was OK really - it is dated and has dreadful attitudes shown towards women and Africans , generally the story was OKish, but I didn't really like the rookie detective Tozer - I may try the next in the series after a bit of research as I do generally like William Shaw. I have just finished this book and have an 'underwhelmed and dissatisfied' feeling.
The Main character Breen, is OK and I think it may be worth a try to check out number 2. Cameron Stewart was fine with the narration - though his women's voices made me laugh on occasions.
"the 60's are alive in this book!"
The Beatles were a nice back drop for this book, all the themes of gender equality, face and the changing police force are covered in this book.Great first in the series.
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