I’ve been on a bit of a mystery kick lately (Louise Penny, you are a master!) and I came across William Shaw’s British mystery, She’s Leaving Home. Set in London in 1968 and the first of a trilogy, disgraced Detective Sergeant Cathal Breen investigates the apparent murder of a young woman. What initially seems to be an open-and-shut case soon becomes something much more complicated. Politics, race relations, music, and the changing shape of modern day London all force Breen to look deeper into this young woman’s death. What was once a simple investigation soon becomes all too complicated.
Assisting Breen is newcomer, policewoman Helen Tozer, a woman motivated by her own past, who offers Breen some insight into a world he’s realizing that he increasingly doesn’t understand. He doesn’t get the Beatles craze, nor the fashion preferences. Really, Breen’s wondering when all these changes happened, seemingly under his nose. Battling both internal and external prejudices and assumptions, Breen and Tozer slowly unravel the unexpected motivation behind the young woman’s murder.
She’s Leaving Home was an excellent mystery novel. It had the perfect balance between mystery and fully fleshed out characters. I’m not always a fan of the mystery genre since, all too often, the mystery comes at the expense of having flat, boring, unexplored characters. This is the not the case in She’s Leaving Home. Breen is an interesting character. He’s not some amazing Sherlock-like cop. He’s reeling from the death of his father and feels totally at sea in the world around him. He doesn’t understand the Beatles craze, he’s oblivious to some of the inter-departmental politics going on in his station. Despite the fact that Breen isn’t your average detective hero, what I like about She’s Leaving Home is that readers see a transformation in Breen. At first he’s very hesitant, almost afraid of doing his job. But slowly readers learn that this is a guy with integrity working in a job that is rife with corruption and prejudice.
Helen Tozer, like Breen, is a bit of an outcast, courtesy of her gender. As a woman, Tozer doesn’t get a lot of respect from her male colleagues. Despite the opposition she encounters, Tozer is enthusiastic and not without her own resources. With Tozer, Breen gets some insight into the changing world around him, although this does mean he has to put up with her rather incautious driving abilities. Breen and Tozer are a perfect pairing; they both bring necessary elements to the investigation. Their dynamic alone will have me coming back for book two.
The 1960s setting is another strong part of She’s Leaving Home. The era plays an important part in the mystery because public opinion of the time helps to shape the direction that Breen and Tozer investigate. Should Breen and Tozer buy into the prejudices of the bystanders, who seem to assume that the murderer must be the Africans that moved in next door? Shaw never sugarcoats less than politically correct attitudes of those directly and indirectly involved in the murder investigation; a cozy mystery this is not. For me, the realism affected in She’s Leaving Home was a huge draw for me. The setting was absolutely well-rendered and I appreciated the fact that it actually played a part in the book and that it wasn’t there as window dressing. Great setting and great characters what more could you ask for?
I absolutely loved reading She’s Leaving Home. The setting hooked me, but the characters kept me interested. This is the perfect read for those who love British crime and who love their characters imperfectly human. This one is highly recommended!
I’ve been obsessed with Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series since the audiobooks were recommended to me, which has contributed to my interest in the mystery genre of late. Penny’s series is a great follow-up to She’s Leaving Home. While the Gamache series is more gentle, the atmospheric quality and engaging characters are extremely appealing. Start at the beginning with Still Life.
If you like the British setting, try Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James contemporary mystery series. I didn’t love this series to start, but the further I go into the series the more hooked on the characters I become. Start at the beginning with A Share in Death.