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Monday, February 1, 2016

A Song for the Brokenhearted by William Shaw

Mulholland Books, 416 pages, $26

British author William Shaw ends his Breen/Tozer trilogy with “A Song for the Brokenhearted.” It is a grisly, bloody, heart-wrenching end to an outstanding series.

Detective Sergeant Cathal “Paddy” Breen and his ex-colleague, Helen Tozer, begin the book far from the bustle of a police station. At the end of the second series entry, “The Kings of London,” Paddy was wounded and Helen had quit the force to take care of her parents’ farm when they can’t. She has taken Paddy with her to recuperate. Helen’s mother feeds him barely edible food.

They are joined by teenaged Hibou, rescued by Helen from a drug house. Instead of healing and burgeoning with a connection to the earth, most of the inhabitants of the farmhouse are overcome with gloom. Hibou, full of ideas about organic farming and nurturing the land, is the exception. Buoyed by her enthusiasm, Helen’s father is coming out of his funk.

Why are people depressed? Paddy’s injury is slow to heal and he is bored. Helen’s sixteen-year-old sister, Alexandra, was tortured and murdered a few years ago. Helen’s father probably blames himself and he sits in front of the television, daring his farm not to fall apart in the meantime. Helen’s mother keeps the home fires burning in the kitchen, but no one seems particularly interested in her bit of nurturing. And the last place Helen wants to be is on a farm doing work she hates.

Helen sweet talks the local policeman into letting Paddy look at the police reports of Alex’s death, which brings him out of his doldrums. Alex’s killer was never caught, so Helen’s ulterior motive is to provoke another investigation into her death.

What brings this book to life is Shaw’s depiction of the interrelationships of the main characters. There are tensions, irritations, and incompatibilities. For instance, Helen and Paddy are sometime-lovers, frequent antagonists, and permanently not on the same page. Helen is especially prickly and Paddy is especially clueless. Helen also bristles at her father’s growing dependence on Hibou.

Here’s a little depiction of Helen and Paddy:

A fellow poiliceman: “‘…[Y]ou and her. She’s a bit nuts. And you’re…’”

Paddy: “‘Conventional.’”

Shaw masterfully turns what could be another good British mystery into a great one by adding an unexpected storyline. There are many victims, not all of whom show the scars of their torment.

Here is the first MBTB star of 2016!

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