Breen and Tozer

There are four books in William Shaw’s Breen and Tozer series.

A Song From Dead LipsA House of Knives, A Book of Scars and Sympathy For the Devil

They cover the last two years of the 1960s, referencing the music, the politics and the significant social changes going on at the time.

It’s the temporal setting that attracted me to the books. It covers my late childhood years, my last years of living in England, and therefore the books have a nostalgic appeal.

DS Cathal Breen meets new recruit WPC Helen Tozer while investigating the murder of a young woman near the Abbey Road studio in London. Breen is a little out of touch with the rapid changes in the world going on around him.

Helen Tozer’s exuberance contrasts with Breen’s conservatism as she pushes against what is expected of a young woman in the Metropolitan police force, a valuable asset giving her access to areas from which Breen, by himself, would be excluded.

Both are trying to put difficult family experiences behind them, but find its not easy to escape the effects of the past, in particular the childhood murder of Tozer’s sister.

Over the course of the series, complications in their relationship increase when their personal and professional lives become increasingly interdependent.

The four titles are standalone books but have common threads linking them together. While each story has a primary investigation, background incidents in one can be revisited in a subsequent book. A minor incident can become a major plot point later.

For me one of the more interesting things in the series was the weaving of real events and real people into the stories. The Biafra war. The Kenyan Mau Mau uprising. The Kroger spy scandal. The death of  Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones. Each play a significant part in one or more books, not only as background colour, but as critical parts of stories.

I’ve now read all of them and would definitely continue with the series if the author chooses to continue with these characters, especially as they move closer to my teenage decade. Should future books be written, portraying the 70s with the kind of evocative details as Shaw did with the 60s, I’ll be a very satisfied reader.