She’s Leaving Home by William Shaw (Mulholland, Feb. 11th, 2014)-It’s 1968 London, and a young girl’s naked body has been found by a Nanny in a trash heap, not far away from EMI Studios (Abbey Road Studios), home of The Beatles, and it’s up to DS Cathal “Paddy” Breen to find the killer. Unfortunately, after an incident in which he left the scene during the attack on a fellow cop, he’s not exactly a favorite at headquarters, but he’s trying his best to keep his head down and work the case. He’s also been partnered with Temporary Detective Constable Helen Tozer, and he doesn’t know what to make of this young woman who is so brash, forward, and more than willing to throw her two cents into the investigation, and take more than enough initiative for the both of them. Tozer also has her own tragic reason for being so determined to find the killer of this young girl.
Breen is a man out of time and place, in a city that’s in flux. His father has just passed away, and he’s still reeling from that loss, and a bit adrift after having to care for him for so long. He’s continually bemused by a London that, in spite of retaining its post-war look, has suddenly taken on an explosion of color, sound, and people of all nationalities. His father was an immigrant and his name, Cathal, pronounced Cah-hal is a constant source of embarrassment for him, so he generally goes by Paddy. However, Helen’s refusal to call him anything but Cathal, is, I think, rather sweet (you’ll see why I think this, and it’s a very telling, even endearing scene.) He’s intimidated by the influx of young people into the city, with their long hair and cocked hips, and he feels as if they are silently accusing him of not standing for anything. It causes him to wonder if he’s ever stood for anything. Regardless, it’s Breen’s dogged pursuit of the truth in this case that carries the day and leads him and Tozer to a group of people committed to stopping the Biafran War, as well as to the victim’s own family. The mystery is a fascinating one, but it was Breen that made this a standout story. Quiet and complicated, he’s just the kind of hero I love to root for, yet he is flawed and very human. Helen Tozer is also a pleasure, and her willingness to tell off her fellow coppers for their lip is refreshing for a time when women were not all that welcome in that profession.
She’s Leaving Home (A Song From Dead Lips in the UK) is a very strong first effort from William Shaw, who has a background in pop culture journalism, which shows. Beatlemania is going strong in 1968 and his exploration of that obsession, against a background of a country, and a generation in flux, makes for absorbing reading. There are a lot of heavy themes here, but the author handles them so expertly, you won’t realize you’ve just gotten a heady dose of history until it’s over. I can’t wait for the next book-I’ll follow Breen and Tozer anywhere.