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Shaw, William - 'A House of Knives'
Paperback: 480 pages (Feb. 2015) Publisher: Quercus ISBN: 1848667426

This is a really superbly interesting, atmospheric and deftly plotted police procedural set in the late 1960s, an era I remember very well. I could not fault the author on his attention to research and getting the little isolated details correct. Like its preceding novel, A SONG FROM DEAD LIPS, its main character is Detective Sergeant Cathal "Paddy" Breen of Marylebone, London CID. A lot of the first part of the story, is used to set the scene and paint the picture of a police department where investigation was done not with the help of computers or elaborately detailed forensics but by educated reasoning and hard, paper-based, research. When Breen went out of the police station accompanied by his colleague WPC Helen Tozer he could not use mobile phones or tablets but had to actually speak to people in the old fashioned way, face to face as happened in the TV series Life On Mars. Breen is gradually getting over the death of his father from dementia, after patiently looking after him in his flat for the last six years and Tozer has been obliged to resign and is awaiting her notice to finish so that she can leave and return to the family farm in Devon, where her sick father is barely coping in looking after his dairy cattle.

The story is fairly slow moving as the reader needs to appreciate the more relaxed pace of life in the late 60s and the office banter between all the colleagues of Breen and Tozer is very lively with much racist and sexist comment which was very typical of that time. Breen keeps receiving death threats and there are some very nasty things being done to his desk whenever he is not in the office. At first he believes it is to do with a colleague, whom he reported to his superiors for operating a swindle but later he is not so sure. Anyway, Breen and Tozer are obliged to attend the location of a discovery of a mutilated body, which as the title suggests has been stabbed many times. The dead man was the wayward son of a rising MP with the ear of the Home Office and everywhere Breen turns to investigate, he finds himself obstructed and increasingly alienated.

The public relations-wary politicians can't stop him talking to the art dealer Robert 'Groovy Bob' Fraser whose glamorous parties mask a spreading heroin addiction amongst London's young and desirable people. Fraser is a great help to the more staid Breen. However, the more new facts that Breen uncovers the worse his bosses appear to think of him, until ultimately he is suspended and forced to proceed in a much more softly, softly, manner to finally get to the bottom of a very difficult case.

I thought that the book was even better than his previous one in the trilogy and impeccably researched and infused with period detail. It was a real page turner and I was gripped until the final, exciting conclusion. Although, it is very helpful to read the first book , A SONG FROM DEAD LIPS, which featured the same main characters, it is not obligatory as the author, helpfully, explains the plot in some detail. This is one of the best police procedurals that I have had the pleasure of reading for a very long time and I cannot wait for the final book in the series in June, A BOOK OF SCARS.

Strongly recommended.

Terry Halligan, England
April 2015

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 12/04/2015 20:58