A Song for the Brokenhearted: William Shaw

“Violence had its echo.”

A Song for the Brokenhearted is the third volume in William Shaw’s Breen and Tozer trilogy. The dynamic between these two main characters, both outsiders for different reasons, are a major draw for this series. CID CS Cathal Breen, known as ‘Paddy’ doesn’t ‘fit in’ with his Division, and Helen Tozer, never taken seriously by her male colleagues, is a young female policewoman, Temporary Detective (“Probationer,”) who hails from the countryside. In the first book, She’s Leaving Home, the mismatched team of Breen and Tozer tackle a murder case, in The Kings of London Breen investigates the murder of a wealthy art collector, and this final book in the trilogy, opens at the Tozer farm. Helen has given up on her career and has returned home to work. Breen is there for.. well read The Kings of London for that one.

The series is unique for its 60s setting–Tozer, in the first book is the source of many sexist comments and expectations from her male workmates who think she exists to make their coffee and giggle over their jokes, and meanwhile Beatlemania rages through Britain. Shaw’s characters are firmly rooted in their time, so we have speculation about why a nice girl like Helen Tozer wants to be a policewoman, but the answer to that lies in her past.

a song for the brokenhearted

That brings me to A Song for the Brokenhearted–anyone who read the first and second books in the series knows that Tozer is haunted by the brutal, unsolved slaying of her sister Alexandra. This vicious crime is the root cause for Tozer’s career choice, and the murder is so deeply embedded in the character of Helen Tozer that we know its solution had to occur somewhere in the series. With Breen bored out of his mind on the Tozer farm, he grasps how the unsolved murder permeates the household. He begins poking around in the cold murder case.

Murdered people never really go away. They stay with you. If you never discover why they were killed, or who the killer was, it’s worse. As a policeman he knew this from the families and friends of the victims that he’d met over the years. Now living here, the dead girl was all around him in this house.

Using Tozer’s influence, he accesses the old files and discovers that information regarding a key witness, one of Alexandra’s many secret lovers, is missing from storage. After discovering the name of this witness, a wealthy local married man, Breen begins digging into the case, and the past comes back with swift retribution.

As with the previous two books in the series, the author does an excellent job of recreating the 60s atmosphere without nostalgia, and since this entry in the trilogy is set, mostly, in the countryside, the 60s references are more social values than star power, so at one point, for example, we see a pregnant woman puffing away at a cigarette–funny how that seems shocking these days, and hear about jury selection for the Kray brothers’ trial.  Shaw presents the generational gap between Breen and Tozer as the world of the 50s clashing with the 60s. This is a world in flux with rapidly shifting values. In this novel, there’s an additional element of colonialism, and the Dirty business carried out in Kenya washes up in unexpected ways in spite of, apparently, being swept under the rug.

Review copy.



Filed under Fiction, Shaw William

26 responses to “A Song for the Brokenhearted: William Shaw

  1. The conflicting values that you allude to in this work sound really appealing. Books set in the 1960s seem to have so much potential to explore such interesting themes. Times of change and disruption often make great fodder for literature.

    • I’ve been watching old rock videos and times and technology have really changed as manifested through that type of media alone. You forget how people smoked and drank while pregnant, but then again, when I watched Mad men it was funny to see every executive with a private bar at the ready in the office.

  2. This sounds like a really good book although one where I think it is probably best to start at the beginning. I really like books set before forensics transformed the solving of fictional crimes and the 60s is a great era of change. Thank you for another great review and a potential three more books for me to seek out.

  3. I recommended this series to a friend after reading your review of the second novel, so I must check to see if she ever picked any of them up. The 1960s setting definitely appeals.

  4. So glad the last one in the series didn’t disappoint. Getting the period to sound authentic requires a lot of skill. Over do it and the book feels forced but under do it and there is no atmosphere

  5. Interesting. I don’t think I’ve read any crime fiction set in the 60s before. I love the cover also. It reminds me of Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn & Child.

  6. Your reviews have got me interested in crime fiction again – maybe not to the point of reading it, but enough to see how, if you read enough, you can become very skilled in seeing to the heart of what a writer’s doing, and have a language for describing it. You’re my virtual crime library.

  7. It’s hard not to think about Mad Men when someone speaks of women in the workplace in the 60s.

  8. I need to get to this series.
    I had similar reactions when reading Richard Yates. Many pregnant women smoke and drink and it’s shocking.

  9. I’ve got the first book now after your original review – now I need to make time to read it!

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