Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review of A Book of Scars by William Shaw (Quercus, 2015)

1969. Helen Tozer has quit the police force and moved from London back to her parent’s farm in Devon. She is trailed there by Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen, who is on sick leave after being shot. The Tozer farm has been a miserable place since the murder of Alexandra Tozer five years previously, though the presence of Hibou, a young, former drug addict rescued by Helen has started to lift the grief. Helen though is unhappy working on the farm again, jealous of Hibou’s relationship with her father, and unsure whether she wants a relationship with Breen. Breen to pass the time starts to investigate Alexandra, opening old wounds as he finds fresh leads. His actions also unsettle some who questioned in the original case and not long after a police sergeant disappears. It seems that the case involves a lot more than the death of a young girl and has its roots in the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. As Breen and Tozer dig they uncover a shameful history of violence and revenge, one that is still being played out several years later.

A Book of Scars is the third book in the Cathal Breen and Helen Tozer series set in the 1960s. In this outing, it’s 1969: Tozer has left the police and Breen is recovering from being shot. While recuperating Breen starts to secretly investigate the violent murder of Tozer’s sister five years previously. A carefree teenager, Alexandra had been conducting an affair with a local Lord when she was snatched, tortured and killed. Breen’s sniffing about has unsettled some of those questioned in the original case. But the investigation takes a turn neither he or Tozer was expecting, leading them back to London and the disappearance of a sergeant in the drug’s squad and the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. Shaw has really hit his stride with this outing. Although a little slow and ponderous at the start, layers are added to the uneasy, complex relationship between Breen and Tozer, the mystery of Alexandra’s death is laid bare, and the story is politically-charged, uncovering the history of the Mau Mau crisis in Kenya and the politics of colonial rule and the violence and torture used to tackle resistance movements. The characterisation is nicely developed and the plot is compelling. The result is an engaging story that works on different levels – personal, institutional, political – moving all the elements of a good police procedural series forward.

No comments: