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William Shaw’s Breen and Tozer Mystery Trilogy

William Shaw’s Breen and Tozer Mystery Trilogy

Mid-summer I read the most recent mystery novel by William Shaw, The Birdwatcher.

I liked it so much I immediately ordered William Shaw’s three earlier novels and read them straight through one after the other.


The trilogy takes place in the late 1960s in London, England. The first She’s Leaving Home, and the second The Kings of London were written in 2014, and the third A Song for the Brokenhearted in 2015, and all take place over the span of only a few years.

I knew London well at this time; I often visited with friends for school holidays and then lived there the summer after I finished High School in 1969. This was a more innocent time – but it was also a time of drugs, sex and rock and roll. This is the world in which William Shaw places Detective Sergeant Cathal “Paddy” Breen, and Constable Helen Tozer, Breen’s partner.

Breen and Tozer are working in a world without cell phones, they use typewriters with carbon paper, Wednesday is half-day closing, Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton are all the rage. The Beatles are changing, Yoko Ono and John Lennon are making news, everyone has spider plants in their homes, Bobby Kennedy is assassinated, Nixon is elected, the war in Viet Nam is escalating, American draft dodgers are leaving not only for Canada but also England. Young people are travelling in Europe and into Morocco and Afghanistan, bringing drugs into Europe through Franco’s Spain.

I found myself remembering places and events I had completely forgotten – Jumbo Records where a friend worked, the Roundhouse where rock bands often performed. During my summer in London I volunteered for an organization called Street Aid – we manned a trailer at folk and rock concerts around southern England to offer assistance to those who had taken drugs and needed help – the perk, of course, seeing all the performers. Street Aid had an office high above Trafalgar Square, while I lived in a squat in Lambeth with other young Canadians and Americans, and a young Irishman we later realized was probably an IRA supporter.

It is uncommon in the 1960s for women to be in the police force and Helen Tozer experiences such verbal abuse and sexism it is hard to imagine that any woman could withstand it all and continue to pursue a career as a Detective. The sexism is relentless, and though it is disturbing it is not as disturbing as the corruption within the police force. It is hard to believe the lack of discipline and respect generally. Breen seems often to be alone in his attempt to be fair and follow procedure in his investigations.

Helen Tozer is young, a woman in her early 20s and she is completely in tune with the young people in London. She loves the place, having grown up on a farm in England’s southwest she is determined to have a great time and to be a police woman who makes a difference. She is smart and she is fearless.

Breen is a little older, though only in his early 30s he is out of touch with the young. Raised by his widowed father, an only child, Breen is a solitary man. A careful man who finds Helen Tozer a fascinating creature.

Together Breen and Tozer are a great team and spending time with them was a pleasure. Each novel moves forward their professional and personal relationship, though I found the crimes in the third volume of the trilogy a little more graphic and gruesome than I am comfortable reading, I still found myself needing to know what happens to these compelling characters.

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