The Kings of London is Shaw’s second Breen and Tozer mystery, and this one once more takes Breen into a realm of experience he’s unfamiliar with. When a mutilated body is found in a burned house, Breen is charged to investigate only to find his efforts hampered by the victim’s political father. It certainly wouldn’t be good press if it was discovered that Francis Pugh was a heroin addict when his minister father campaigns against it.
Assisting Breen once again is Helen Tozer who’s on her last days with the police. Soon Tozer will be returning to her family’s farm to help out, but not before Breen convinces her to help in his not exactly officially sanctioned investigations.
What shines in The Kings of London is the fact that Breen continues to be delightfully out of touch with pop culture:
The woman in the cotton skirt said, “My old man says when they get enough money they’re going to build a giant computer when all this information is held so anyone can get it at any time.”
“Wow,” said Breen. “A giant computer.”
“Wow?” said Tozer. “Did you say that?”
“I don’t know,” said Breen. “It just came out.”
“Are you a cop?” said the woman, looking Breen up and down.
“Yes,” said Breen.
“Yes,” said Tozer.
The girl started untying the thread. “I can’t believe I was going to give the fuzz one of my bracelets,” she said.
“Are you going to say ‘Cool’ next?” she asked Breen, when the girl in the long skirt had scurried off down the curving corridor.
“I’m sorry,” said Breen (p. 223-224).
Cathal Breen is not your average lead detective. The fact that Breen does feel out of touch with pop culture and makes expected and human errors works to make him an appealing character. Super sleuth he’s not, but Breen gives readers a human character that they can route for.
The mystery element to The Kings of London was less interesting than the first book, She’s Leaving Home; however, there is an overarching theme of police corruption that I think we’ll see wrap-up in the final book in the trilogy. The Kings of London shows the less than scrupulous actions of the London police force and the question becomes whether or not Breen will avoid that corruption or if his capitulation is inevitable. Readers are not giving an answer in The Kings of London, but Breen gets some first hand experience of how that corruption can be both good and bad for him in particular.
My one little gripe with The Kings of London and the trilogy so far is that it is referred to as a DS Breen and WPC Tozer mystery. So you would think that Tozer would get some more screen time. For the most part, the novel is related in Breen’s perspective. I would love for readers to actually get some of Tozer’s perspective. Because Tozer is younger I would assume that she has a different reaction to the very things that confuse Breen; I would dearly like to “see” her side of things. At this point, I feel like there’s a piece of the story missing, so here’s hoping that this might change in the final book.
The Kings of London offers readers refreshingly human characters in a time characterized by it’s rampant change. While fans of strict procedurals may not appreciate the style and setting of The Kings of London, those that like their mysteries with interesting characters and an examination of cultural era will appreciate the detail that can be found in The Kings of London. This is a mystery that I highly recommend.
For similar reads, check out my recommendations from my review of She’s Leaving Home.