Review: A House of Knives by William Shaw (5/5)

Wednesday 4 June 2014
Today I am very excited to share my review for A House of Knives. And also share with you a piece written by William which tells you 'Six things you shouldn't do if you're going to write a book' which you can read at the end of this review.

I recently reviewed book one in this series, and if you are planning on reading A House of Knives then the place to start is book one, A Song From Dead Lips and you can read my review for that book here.

These two books for me have probably been two of the most exciting crime fiction books I have read in recent years. Original, authentic and very gripping with some of the best characterisation in the genre today I have loved reading them and can't reccommend them enough. 

The decade is drawing its last breath. In Marylebone CID, suspects are beaten in the cells and the only woman has resigned. Detective Sergeant Breen has a death threat in his in tray and two burned bodies on his hands. One is an unidentified, unmourned vagrant; the other the wayward son of a rising politician. One case suffers the apathy of a depleted police force; the other obstructed by a PR-conscious father with the ear of the Home Office.

But they can’t stop him talking to Robert ‘Groovy Bob’ Fraser – whose glamourous Pop Art parties mask a spreading heroin addiction among London’s young and beautiful – nor to a hippy squat that risks exposing it. Then the potential perpetrator of his death threats is murdered and Breen becomes a suspect. Out in the cold, banished from a corrupt and mercilessly changing system, Breen is finally forced to fight fire with fire.

William Shaw paints the real portrait of London’s swinging sixties. Authentic, powerful and poignant, it reveals the shadow beyond the spotlight and the crimes committed in the name of liberation.

Having only recently read A Song From Dead Lips, book one in this trilogy I was very excited to see that book two was out soon after I'd finished reading! I received this book for free in return for my review so a massive thanks to Quercus and William Shaw for that.

As a prolific reader of crime fiction I love it when a book comes along which is different than the rest. This book is set in 1960s London and so definitely fits that bill. I loved the first book so had high expectations for this one. After finishing I would say that the storyline in the first book was more enjoyable and gripped me more than the one in this book. What stood out for me more in this book though was the character development of Breen and Tozer. Both are brilliant characters. I'm just a bit disappointed this is a trilogy and not a series as I would love to follow these characters for a few more books at least.

William Shaw is a brilliant writer, but he's that good I really had to take my time with this one and take in everything I was reading. His writing style for me took a bit of getting used to. That, along with the plot of the book meant it was 80 or so pages before I was comfortable with the book but after that I was gripped and so I am glad I persevered. But he is incredibly descriptive with everything he is writing about, even the small things. For me this is 'clever' crime fiction as opposed to the throwaway kind you often find where you read, forget it and move on.

After a burned out body is found and established to be that of probably a homeless drunk Breen is the only person who seems to care. Another burned out body is found and this time the victim is the son of a very high profile MP who of course expects answers. Francis Pugh is the victim but his father Rhodri seems more concerned about protecting his image than finding out what happened.

While this is all going on Breen is receiving threatening notes and then something quite shocking happens to him which finally makes him sit up and take notice. Beforehand he was a bit blasé about the notes. Working alongside Tozer he sets out to find out the truth about what happened to Francis by retracing his steps, checking his bank accounts and talking to the people he was involved with. One such person being Robert Fraser who I am led to believe is real and had to Google to find out more although I'm sure those familiar with the era won't need to. My knowledge of Sixties London is mostly about the Krays and other gangland figures.

For me the story surrounding Breen's threatening notes and his friendship/relationship with Tozer was the story I enjoyed the most. Tozer especially as she faces much discrimination from her colleagues and superiors and as I read a lot of crime fiction where the top brass are sometimes women it's interesting to read a book where they are treated like dirt basically by the men.

The setting of the book is wonderful. Sixties London is completely brought to life by the author and the images in my head were so vivid. Everything from the dialogue to the scene setting just feels so authentic. Of course anyone can look up a list of dates and reel off events that happened at the time their book was set but for me Shaw has really added authenticity to the events and the whole book just feels so much more realistic and enjoyable because of it. The difference in policing back then is especially interesting to read. It's a book I would definitely recommend to crime fiction fans and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Roll on book three!

Buy from Amazon

Six things you shouldn’t do if you’re going to write a book

1/. Don’t build a beautiful shed in your garden.
A lot of people put off writing because they imagine they need the right environment in which to create. A nice desk. A contemplative spot. Somewhere where the juices will flow. A shed is nice, but it doesn’t actually help writing at all. The best place to write is in front of a boring brick wall. Or on the 7.16 to London, which is where I wrote A Song from Dead Lips. Boredom is the greatest gift to the imagination.

2/. Don’t listen to your friends.
Actually, do listen to your friends, but don’t take them at all seriously unless they’re best-selling writers. Why? Because most people who are not in the publishing industry can’t tell the difference between a manuscript and a published book. As a result they’re likely to say silly things that you must never take seriously. This is because it’s hard to suspend disbelief when you’re faced by an untidy pile of paper with crossings-out on written by someone you’ve seen when they’re drunk on a karaoke night. The genius of great editors and agents is that they can imagine what a manuscript will be like when it’s between shiny covers.

3/. Don’t stop until you’ve finished.
Most people never finish their novel. Fact. It’s really, really hard getting to the end of a book. It takes bloody forever. But as far as publishers are concerned, a finished book that’s half-good is infinitely better than a good book that’s half-finished. Unless it’s the Mystery of Edwin Drood.

4/. Don’t have children.
The great critic Cyril Connolly said, “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” Cyril Connolly didn’t know his arse from his elbow. Go ahead, have children, if you want to. They’re ace. I have two. Exploit them relentlessly to tell stories to. I spent many nights inventing ridiculous stories for them under the pretence that this was a way of getting them to sleep. Actually, I was just practicing.

5/. Don’t pay any attention to the critics.
At least that’s what you should tell everybody you do. “I never read my own critics.” God no. Perish the thought. That’s the lie every writer always tells. Of course everybody reads their notices. Most even read their own Amazon reviews. The trick is to realise that there’s a skill to reading them. Which is: 1) Take all the positive reviews Very Seriously Indeed. 2) Read all the bad ones until they all coalesce into a blob: Such as, William Shaw’s characters are weak-willed and ineffectual. Distill that thought. Contemplate it. It will be the purest definition of what makes you stand out from the struggling mass of other writers.

6/. Never use Twitter or Facebook.
They are a tiresome distraction that produces nothing of value. The only exceptions to this are @william1shaw and

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