Author: William Shaw
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Release Date: January 19, 2016
So many readers say, "If a book doesn't catch me right away, I just can't finish it." A Song for the Brokenhearted doesn't just catch you. It tears into you like a thorn.
It's 1969 in England. The infamous Kray brothers are on trial. There are riots in Ulster. Doctors' nails are yellowed from cigarette smoke, and radios are tuned via large round dials.
Detective Sergeant Cathal "Paddy" Breen is recuperating from a line-of-duty gunshot wound at the family farm of his former partner, Helen Tozer. The idyllic setting is driving him mad. Partly out of affection, but mostly out of sheer boredom, he begins investigating the one murder Tozer can't: her sister Alexandra's.
Breen and Tozer already have a complicated relationship. Breen's knowledge of the horrific circumstances of Alexandra's death - facts that even the family doesn't know - makes him even more determined to use his sick leave to solve the case. But Tozer was, after all, also a policewoman, and she soon insinuates herself into his off-duty investigation. The pair follows a trail that leads from a titled local landowner, through the hippie and drug cultures, and into the infamous Mau Mau uprising, a notoriously ugly war between Kenyans and British colonialists.
While a brilliant mystery, A Song for the Brokenhearted is also a fine read. "He never slept like this," Shaw writes of Breen, "but the sheets always seemed clean in this house and smelt of the air they were dried in and the lavender Mrs. Tozer sewed into little packets and left in the cupboards." This slightly poetic and soft touch is counterbalanced by unrestrained descriptions of unimaginable crimes committed against often innocent people. And Shaw's talent extends to his characters who are so well-drawn - so believable - you forget the action is taking place nearly 50 years ago. But then Breen mentions his black-and-white TV or looks for a payphone, and you remember you're in a different time and place.
The line separating a good writer from a bad one is easy to discern: good writers create stories you want to read. By this standard, Shaw is tremendously talented.
Prose 'n Cons recommends A Song for the Brokenhearted to anyone who enjoys an intelligent, character-driven mystery.