Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Review of A House of Knives by William Shaw (Quercus, 2014)

London, 1968.  Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen of Marylebone CID is having a rough time.  He's haunted by the unsolved case of a dead man who is badly burnt, his father has just died, his colleague – Helen Tozer – who he has recently had a one night stand with has resigned and is serving her last few weeks on the force, and he is receiving anonymous death threats.  Added to his case load is another badly burnt body, one that has been stripped of his skin and drained of blood.  The victim is a popular womanizer who frequents London’s party scene and the son of a government minister and Breen is under pressure to solve the case without attracting any publicity.  Not long after he and Tozer start their investigation the assumed perpetrator of his death threats is murdered and Breen is suspended as a possible suspect.  Nonetheless, he continues to pursue his two active murder cases, while also trying to clear his name.  With the exception of Tozer, however, everyone else would prefer him to let the cases lie.

A House of Knives is the second book in the Breen and Tozer series set in late 1960s London.  Book two picks up shortly after the end of the first and I would recommend reading them in turn, starting with A Song From Dead Lips.  The real joy of both books are the likeable characters of Cathal ‘Paddy’ Breen and Helen Tozer and their interactions and on-going battles with their colleagues.  Both are outsiders – Breen, second generation Irish who mainly plays things by the book (unlike his colleagues) and Tozer, a headstrong, independent woman in a pretty much all male police force – and both are interesting company.  As for the story, it’s a fairly pacy police procedural set in the dying days on the Swinging Sixties in which Shaw intersects three main plot lines, each focusing on a murder – the deaths of an anonymous man, a government minister’s son, and the person suspected of sending Breen death threats.  There’s plenty going on, but the story never loses direction.  However, the denouement of one strand felt somewhat weak and unsatisfying.  Nonetheless, A House of Knives is an entertaining read and I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series.

1 comment:

Icewineanne said...

Even though it's not a 4 star read, it still sounds intriguing enough for me to seek out book #1 in this series. Thanks for the interesting review.