Review: A Song From Dead Lips by William Shaw (5/5)

Monday 12 May 2014
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.

The first in a trilogy featuring DS Breen and WPC Tozer, set against a clashing backdrop of sixties idealism and a corrupted CID on the brink of exposure.

I've read crime fiction constantly since I was entering my teenage years and so I often look for books which are a bit different to what else is out there. Luckily crime fiction is a huge genre and alongside all the repetitive stuff are a few little gems, one such gem was this book. I read the blurb on Net Galley and requested it immediately. It stood out as something unique and different and for me I couldn't wait to get started with it. I've read it on and off the past few days and enjoyed it massively. I challenge anyone to read the blurb and not want to read this book...

Straightaway just from the writing of the book you really could tell this book was set in 1960's London. The author has done an incredible job of capturing that era. The book felt very authentic and realistic and I definitely felt as if I had gone back in time during this book. A body of a young, naked woman is found by a spoilt child and his nanny. Cathal Breen is the man brought in to investigate and I have to say I really liked this character. He has a bit of a past and some baggage and I definitely enjoyed reading about him. I'd say he reminded me a bit of Tom Thorne (Mark Billingham) in certain ways and he is my favourite fictional detective of all time so we were off to a good start already! Upon finding the body police officers who usually work the beat crowd around and are given jobs to carry out by Breen. Finding a dead body is a bit of a novelty for them when they only usually walk the beat! 

Working alongside Breen is Helen Tozer and again I really liked this character. The book is full of sexism and racism which is of course relevant to the time as it was rife back then. A woman police officer joining a force of men doesn't go down well with Breen's colleagues, who already have a vendetta of sorts against him after he abandoned a fellow officer who was being held at knifepoint. I especially liked the scenes between Breen and Tozer, plenty of banter alongside a new friend/partnership. Both are interesting characters and both have history, Breen's comes from moving out of the police home to live with his father in a flat who has now passed away and Tozer's from having a family member bearing stark similarities to the dead girl who has been found. Tozer isn't welcomed to the force by anybody but Breen and it was fascinating just reading the sexism of her fellow colleagues and how unprofessional they came across. Again though all very believable for the time. Women in crime fiction today are of course commonplace.

Of course this wouldn't be a book set in the 60's without a mention of the Beatles, or perhaps a reference to the arrest of one of them? The dumping of the body is also around the corner from the Abbey Road studios and Breen and Tozer visit a Beatles fan club as part of their investigation. However it's when they visit the dead girl's parents that the story really picks up and as always to say any more would be to ruin the story. What I would say is I did work out who the killer was fairly early on, well, not worked out but I picked out who I thought it might be and ended up being right! Overall I seriously loved this book and reccommend it so much to crime fans, fans of Mark Billingham especially. London in the 60's was brought to life in this book and I just loved reading about it. Breen is definitely a character to watch and as this is book one of a trilogy I imagine by the end of it he will have became one of my favourite detectives. 

Huge thanks to Quercus for the review copy of this fantastic book. 

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