Sympathy for the Devil by William Shaw
Sympathy for the Devil is the most recent book in William Shaw’s Breen & Tozer Investigation series. But, a word of warning – don’t start reading Sympathy for the Devil if you want to get anything else done in the next day or two.
If you have not read the earlier books in the Breen & Tozer series you could start with the first She’s Leaving Home – or if you don’t mind reading out of order I think this book stands on it’s own and reading the earlier ones after will just fill in the details for you.
Sympathy for the Devil, sub-titled Summer of Love, Summer of Death, begins with the death of Brian Jones. Many will know he was once a member of the Rolling Stones, and there was much speculation about the cause of his death by drowning in his own pool in 1969. There was, and are, all sorts of conspiracy theories about whether or not his death was accident or murder.
William Shaw is writing about a time when my generation was young – thin, and even if we didn’t know it, beautiful. These are the days of swinging London – discotheques and clubs, rock concerts and ‘free love’, Twiggy, Mary Quant setting the style we all imitated.
Looking for images of the time I did a little research and laughed to discover that I am truly an antique, as there is an exhibit opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on 6 April 2019, “Introducing Mary Quant”. “Inventive, opinionated and commercially minded, Mary Quant was the most iconic fashion designer of the 1960s. A design and retail pioneer, she popularised super-high hemlines and other irreverent looks that were critical to the development of the 'Swinging Sixties' scene. Our fashion collections include examples of her famous designs from across the 1960s and 1970s.”
People my age remember that time – if we haven’t forgotten it – but William Shaw was not yet a teenager, and I wondered why he chose to write about this time and how he knew it so well. I sent him an email, to which he replied, “ I wasn’t a teenager but I was the youngest of four, so my oldest sister was born in 49 and the next in 51 which put them into the Helen Tozer bracket. It’s always an advantage having older sisters.” He well remembered the hairstyles and clothing his sisters wore and their activities as teenagers in the late 1960s.
This was a time of great change in London, but Cathal ‘Paddy” Breen, eight years older than his girlfriend, Helen Tozer, is considered a square – though she is just the right age to be part of it and embraces her freedom.
The story begins with an introduction to Julie Teenager – a prostitute who poses as a spoiled teenager - attractive to a sort of man I cannot even imagine. When Julie is murdered, and Breen begins to investigate he enters a world with which he is completely unfamiliar. Julie was no ‘ordinary’ prostitute, nor were her clients. There is a tangled web of espionage – or not. Some of the good guys might be bad guys, and some of the bad ones maybe not so much. Woven into this storyline is the day to day life of Paddy and Helen, and their friends who are more or less part of the young swinging London scene – though two of the women are pregnant and close to giving birth. I was happy to see, in this novel, the deepening love between Paddy and Helen, even as she tries to preserve her own independence and identity. No one in 1969 wanted to end up a housewife like their own mother, and Helen had worked hard to establish a career in the police force.
William Shaw is now writing two series, The Breen & Tozer Investigation series, and another series featuring Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, that takes place in much our own time. I have just read the most recent in both series and do not hesitate to recommend them. I feel that William Shaw has hit his stride. He knows his characters well, he knows how they are likely to behave while still leaving room for surprises.