Corruption and deception run rampant in 1960s London as a detective struggles to balance a recent loss and a stalled homicide investigation.
It’s 1968, and London is swinging, as drug use rises dramatically and the bohemian counterculture is everywhere. DS Cathal Breen—known around the station as Paddy because of his Irish heritage—returns to work after the death of his elderly father and is soon called to the scene of a gas explosion that left a charred, unidentified corpse. Temporary DC Helen Tozer—Shaw admirably depicts the steep uphill battle for women trying to make a career with the police in the '60s—assists Breen, accompanying him to a second mysterious fire. The victim there is Francis Pugh, the son of a prominent government minister. Pugh’s limbs have been skinned, and Breen eventually determines that the young man was a heroin addict and suspects the post-mortem skinning was an effort to erase track marks. While contemporary readers might initially raise an eyebrow at Breen’s naïvete when it comes to drugs—he’s unaware that heroin is addictive, let alone deadly—Shaw convincingly makes the case that Breen’s ignorance is a piece of the larger societal issue concerning the sharp uptick in hard drugs. Breen pushes forward without the support of his department—where his fellow coppers are all varying shades of dirty—and follows the clues to the inner workings of the London art world and a hippie commune in the center of the city.
Shaw (She’s Leaving Home, 2014) makes the gritty English capital come alive, and while the action is slow-burning, it’s worth waiting for the inevitable explosion.