Review: A Book of Scars by William Shaw

Saturday 30 May 2015
Title: A Book of Scars (Breen & Tozer, #3)
Author: William Shaw
Publisher: Quercus
Publication Date: 4th June 2015
Pages: 416
ISBN: 9781782064244
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 4.5/5
Purchase: Amazon
Five years ago, teenager Alexandra Tozer was murdered on her family farm. Her sister Helen Tozer will never forget. Returning home after quitting the Met Police, she brings with her the recovering Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen, who slowly becomes possessed by the unsolved case.

He discovers the Tozers were never told the whole truth. Alexandra was tortured for twenty-four hours before she died. But when he tracks down the original investigating sergeant, the man goes missing. And so does Helen.

Suspicion falls on her. But Breen is on a trail that goes far beyond the death of a schoolgirl. For the two men connected to this case met in Kenya, during the Mau Mau uprising; and the history that Britain has turned its face from is now returning to haunt it.

So when another innocent woman is abducted, Breen knows he has just twenty-four hours to save her.
Having read and enjoyed A Song from Dead Lips and A House of Knives, I was disappointed that the Breen & Tozer series was only going to be a trilogy but after finishing A Book of Scars I can see where William Shaw was going with the series and it works incredibly well as three books. This is definitely one of the most exciting and original trilogies I have read in recent years.

A Book of Scars is a difficult book to summarise, on a very basic 'this is what happens' level, Helen Tozer has left the police and returned home to her parents' farm, the place where five years ago her teenage sister Alexandra was brutally murdered. She has brought with her the recuperating DS Cathal Breen who as with a lot of fictional detectives is not satisfied with just resting up to recover from his injuries, and so he soon becomes obsessed with the murder of Alexandra and quickly unearths evidence that was kept hidden from the family. Helen and the original investigating sergeant go missing, and Breen soon realises this was not just a straight forward murder.

William Shaw is a brilliant writer, and he completely brought life in London in the 1960s to life in his first two books. The research he has carried out for this series is impeccable. In A Book of Scars we return with Helen to her parents' farm, some brilliant descriptions creating a quite vivid picture in your mind of this setting, the backdrop for a rather brutally described murder when we start to learn more about how Helen's sister really died. The characterisation is strong in this series, the attitudes and behaviours of some of the characters appearing outdated, but of course being relevant to the time period. I can't claim to be a history buff, and when I read the blurb I wondered whether certain things would just go over my head. But A Book of Scars is a shocking read, completely laying bare long-buried secrets and 'the history that Britain turned its face from'.

The last few chapters in particular were quite brutal in their intensity, it was a showdown that had me gripped and definitely exceeded any expectations I might have had before picking the book up and definitely with a number of plot twists I didn't see coming and some twisted and disturbing individuals, but totally believable. It isn't one of those stories which has a predictable ending, and in keeping with the realism of the series the whole way through, it was a very satisfying one. And one that left me hoping that we may see more from these characters in the future? Perhaps it's unlikely, but I certainly hope we see more from William Shaw in the future.

How to be a writer: find the perfect place to write
by William Shaw

Imagine having an idyllic spot in a small wooden shack, with a desk looking out over a muddy estuary, a river filled with waders and bobbing boats. (I do, actually, but that’s another story). Perhaps you’re looking forward to having that whimsical shed in the garden? Or that room in the attic that you’re about to convert for the purpose, so you can barricade yourself away from the kids.

Imagine having exactly the right writing tool, too. Perhaps a classic old Olivetti typewriter like the one my grandfather used to use when he was filing dispatches to The Times from the Balkan front during World War II. (True fact: my grandfather was the first man to report the death of Mussolini after being dragged out of bed by Italian partisans who drove him to see the dictator’s mutilated body). Or perhaps you’d choose the latest top of the line Apple MacBook Pro? Or a yellow notebook.

If you’re still waiting for the ideal conditions in which to start your novel, I feel for you. However the truth is that the perfect place to write is wherever you can grab a spare 15 minutes and the perfect tool is whatever’s at hand. I wrote most of A Song From Dead Lips on the 8.33 to Victoria, squashed between a man who leant on me and snored and a woman opposite adjusting her lipstick and spilling coffee on my £150 netbook.

See, whenever I’m in my small wooden shack, it’s much easier to look out over the estuary than actually write. The best place to write is somewhere unbearably dull. Facing a wall, for instance. As Kafka once said, "I have often thought that the best mode of life for me would be to sit in the innermost room of a spacious locked cellar." But if you can’t find that, write wherever you are now. And the best time to write? Right now, of course.


  1. Great review Shaun - and William Shaw is lovely - after I had problems getting A House Of Knives on NetGalley, he personally sent me one. What a nice guy! This sounds great. My friend hasn't read the first two but has just read your review - should I tell her to read the first two, or could she read this as a standalone? I haven't got to this one yet, so thought I'd ask you!

  2. It could be read as a standalone Linda, but I do have a bit of a soft spot for the characters and the series is great so I would recommend reading all three if possible!


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