This is my review of A Song from Dead Lips: Breen & Tozer 1 (Breen and Tozer) by William Shaw.
One of the latest in the seemingly inexhaustible series of dysfunctional detectives, Breen has more reason to be so than most – he is recovering from the recent death of his father for whom he has cared during a long decline. Is this sufficient excuse for running from the scene of a robbery on seeing his work colleague Prosser held at knife-point? Breen understandably has to face a good deal of flack from the rest of the team for this, but perhaps less convincingly no formal disciplining. Yet we can see he is an above-average officer from the painstaking attempt to interpret evidence on the murder case of a young woman and his tolerant attitude towards Tozer, the often out-of-line female officer foisted on him in an otherwise solidly male team.
Set in 1968 around Abbey Road at the time of Beatlemania, this story will strike several chords with those who can remember the period. Others may find it hard to credit the sexism, casual racism, ubiquitous chain-smoking, unchallenged bullying at work – in short, general political incorrectness, and it is unsettling to realise how unthinkingly one accepted it at the time.
Beneath a fairly conventional police detective drama there lie some serious issues such as police corruption in the 1960s and the cynical British reaction to the Biafran war, of which I was to my present shame then completely unaware. There is also some quite strong character development behind the stereotyped attitudes of the police officers, and the crude workplace humour and rivalries. After building up to a dramatic climax, the author clearly leaves the ending open for a sequel or two. Apart from a feeling that the subplot relating to Prosser is handled in a rather rushed way, and the quality of the writing, generally good, occasionally slips, I recommend this novel and intend to read the sequel, "A House of Knives".