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A Song from Dead Lips (Breen and Tozer) Hardcover – 1 Aug 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: riverrun; First Edition First Printing edition (1 Aug. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782064168
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782064169
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 3.5 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 342,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'A first-rate police thriller set amidst the seamy underside of the swinging sixties ... The totemic year of '68 will never seem the same again' C. J. Samson. (C. J. Samson)

'Convincing atmosphere, lively dialogue and a fun cop duo unite Beatlemania, English racism and the Biafran war' The Times. (The Times)

'Excellent ... authentic, often humorous ... The Sixties have been examined and presented every which way, but A Song From Dead Lips manages to be something fresh, both in this regard and as a detective novel' Killing Time Crime. (Killing Time Crime)

'Excellent' Mail on Sunday. (Mail on Sunday)

'Excellent procedural ... A gripping story, with two appealing protagonists and impeccably researched period details deployed throughout' Laura Wilson, Guardian. (Guardian)

'London in 1968 is an evocative setting and Shaw skilfully re-creates an era of social turmoil and class conflict' Sunday Times. (Sunday Times)

'Superb characterisation, a vivid recreation of the era, its sights, sounds and prejudices make this a highly enjoyable and readable debut for the pairing, although with Tozer threatening to return to the West Country, a series seems a shade ambitious. I trust that Shaw, who is certainly a name to note for the future, has a plan to subvert this and we shall see this original and likeable couple again soon' Crime Review. (Crime Review)

About the Author

William Shaw was born in Newton Abbot, Devon, grew up in Nigeria and lived for sixteen years in Hackney. He is the author of the acclaimed Breen & Tozer crime series set in sixties London: A Song from Dead Lips, A House of Knives and A Book of Scars. For over twenty years he has written on popular culture and sub-culture for various publications including the Observer and the New York Times. He lives in Brighton.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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This excellent (or should that be 'fab'?) detective novel is set in 1968 Swinging London. The first novel to feature Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen and WPC Helen Tozer - on probation with CID when women are considered unable to even drive police cars, although always called upon to put the kettle on... Breen is an interesting character, not greatly liked by most of his fellow officers and having created a distance from them by moving out of police accomodation to care for his elderly father, who has since died. The author gets the politically incorrect office banter just right as he recreates a time and place where casual sexism and racism are the norm, as is police corruption (including the infamous Pilcher from the drug squad, who targeted John Lennon and Mick Jagger, among others).

Breen is sent to investigate the murder of a young girl, her naked body discovered in a St John's Wood alley. She has been left by a block of flats backing onto Abbey Road, the recording studio where young girls congregate to wait for the Beatles, and also close by the house of an eminent African surgeon. This atmospheric crime novel will take you from Apple Scruffs, to building sites, through to fund raising for the war in Biafra; to both the city and country, as Breen refuses to accept the obvious suspects as the correct ones. Breen and Tozer are fantastic characters, both with their secrets and demons to deal with. I sincerely hope that they will appear together in future novels, as this was so enjoyable and well written. Lastly, if you enjoy crime novels set in the 1960's you might also like Kiss Me Quick.
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By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER on 24 Aug. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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".
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By Raven TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 10 Aug. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Prepare to be transported back to the heyday of the swinging Sixties in this thoroughly enjoyable debut by William Shaw. Drawing on the sights and sounds of this iconic era, with a musical soundtrack resonating with references to the age of Beatlemania and the hugely influential Abbey Road studios, Shaw has conjured up a gripping crime thriller infused with period detail. I think to simply draw comparisons with Life On Mars vis-a-vis the police element is fair to an extent- the novel is peppered with references to racism, homophobia, sexism and the more Neanderthal methods of policing, all in what we view now as the non-PC language of the time- but I think this does the novel a bit of a disservice. As the larger, and indeed more global, themes of the novel become apparent, and the strength of the police characters generally have a more intrinsic depth to them, Shaw rises above a mere whimsical trip back to the past and produces something altogether more gritty and compelling.

The main police protagonists, DS Cathal Breen and WPC Helen Tozer are well-drawn and carry the weight of the plot with ease. Breen is a deep and thought provoking character, set apart from his more brutish colleagues in the murder unit, often being at the brunt of their misplaced humour or vitriol. At times he shows a distinctly more human and empathetic approach to both victim and the suspects, and genuine physical responses to the criminal acts he bears witness to. The interplay between him and the ballsy Tozer, the first woman assigned to the murder unit, is beautifully realised combining a mixture of humour, camararderie and emotional involvement, which makes the scenes between these two in particular, one of the most satisfying aspects of the book.
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