My turn today on the blog tour for Salt Lane by William Shaw. A big thank you to Hannah at Riverrun books and Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of the tour. And to William Shaw who indulged my ‘pick me, pick me’ message on social media.
No-one knew their names, the bodies found in the water. There are people here, in plain sight, that no-one ever notices at all.
DS Alexandra Cupidi has done it again. She should have learnt to keep her big mouth shut, after the scandal that sent her packing – resentful teenager in tow – from the London Met to the lonely Kent coastline. Even murder looks different in this landscape of fens, ditches and stark beaches, shadowed by the towers of Dungeness power station. Murder looks a lot less pretty.
The man drowned in the slurry pit had been herded there like an animal. He was North African, like many of the fruit pickers that work the fields. The more Cupidi discovers, the more she wants to ask – but these people are suspicious of questions.
It will take an understanding of this strange place – its old ways and new crimes – to uncover the dark conspiracy behind the murder. Cupidi is not afraid to travel that road. But she should be. She should, by now, have learnt.
Salt Lane is the first in the new DS Alexandra Cupidi series. With his trademark characterisation and flair for social commentary, William Shaw has crafted a crime novel for our time that grips you, mind and heart.
You may remember back in 2016 when I raved about a book called The Birdwatcher. You can read my review here. The story was set in Dungeness and was about police officer William South. He was asked to help a new CID officer, DS Alexandra Cupidi, with her murder case. In Salt Lane, DS Cupidi takes centre stage, no longer a minor character, and she proves to be quite the star turn.
I’m not sure where to begin in telling you how much I love this book. OK, firstly, I’m a slow reader normally. I started this book Friday afternoon and I finished it Saturday afternoon. All 450 pages. I hardly ever do this. So what gripped me?
Plot. In the Acknowledgements, William Shaw admits that the premise of the book came from misreading someone else’s story. How could a woman be both dead and alive at the same time? It’s a puzzle for DS Cupidi and her team but it’s not the only murder on their patch. A North African man is drowned in a slurry pit on a local farm. Salt Lane handles immigration and the exploitation of immigrants in a sensitive fashion but without shying away from the horror. There are lots of threads in this novel and it’s testament to William Shaw’s skill as a storyteller that everything dovetails together.
Character. DS Alexandra Cupidi is ace! She’s not sleek or particularly PC. She’s very tall and often has food stains on her clothes. She tends to speak without thinking and her reason for leaving the Met and dragging her teenage daughter to a desolate part of Kent is revealed in quite a dramatic way. But I also love DC Jill Ferriter. If Barbie was dressed as a police detective, she’d probably look a lot like Jill. Based on first impressions, Cupidi doesn’t think much of her young DC but Ferriter soon proves her worth. Dealing with her colleagues is one thing but Alexandra also has to cope with her unhappy daughter. Work keeps getting in the way so she turns to her own mother, Helen, for help. Theirs isn’t the easiest mother/daughter relationship so Cupidi finds herself stretched all round.
Setting. I remember in my review for The Birdwatcher saying how much I loved the desolate setting of Dungeness. Salt Lane broadens out more to include the local farmland and surrounding countryside. But it also takes Cupidi back to London in an attempt to solve the riddle of one of the murders and even to Hertfordshire.
Although I’ve separated out these three things, they don’t stick out separately in the book. Everything flows together just beautifully. As I said before, it has to be a pretty special book for me to read it so quickly. Now I’m wondering if I read it too fast. Maybe I should have slowed down a little to appreciate its brilliance more. I just loved it. And Salt Lane has booked itself a place in my Top Ten Reads for 2018.
To find out more about William Shaw and buy his books, click here.
About the author
William Shaw was born in Newton Abbot, Devon, grew up in Nigeria and lived for sixteen years in Hackney. He has been shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger, longlisted for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year and nominated for a Barry Award. A regular at festivals, he organises panel talks and CWA events across the south east. A regular at festivals, he organises panel talks and CWA events across the south east.
He is the author of the Breen & Tozer crime series set in sixties London: A Song from Dead Lips, A House of Knives and A Book of Scars; and the standalone The Birdwatcher. 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.