Deadland (DS Alex Cupidi 2) by William Shaw

Ramping up the tension…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When a severed limb turns up inside an urn on loan to the local art gallery, DS Alex Cupidi and the team have a real mystery on their hands. First they have to try to work out to whom it belonged and if the owner is dead, and why it was left in a place where it was bound to be discovered, all before they can even begin to investigate who put it there. At the same time, two local lads, Sloth and Tap, are starting out on a life of petty crime. They decide to steal a mobile phone, but unfortunately for them they pick the wrong victim, and soon find themselves being hunted by someone who seems willing to go to any lengths to recover his property, so they run off into hiding. While Alex is tied up in the possible murder investigation, she can’t help being worried for the safety of the boys – criminals they may be, but they’re also victims, of difficult homes, of substandard schools, of a society that doesn’t seem to care. And they’re the same age as Alex’ own daughter, Zoe…

Alex Cupidi is a great detective. She isn’t an angst-ridden maverick, but there are enough complications in her personal life to make her interesting, and her relationship with her daughter is entirely credible. Zoe is seventeen, mostly adult but still part child, and Alex is finding it difficult to get the balance right between protecting her and letting her find her own way in life. The situation is complicated by Zoe’s zealous championing of causes which sometimes bring her into confrontation with the forces of law and order. Shaw handles this excellently, never taking it too far, and there’s plenty of love in the relationship to help smooth over any areas of conflict.

The police procedural aspect is just as good. Shaw lets us know about the painstaking detail that goes into an investigation without allowing the story to get bogged down in it. Alex’ colleague and friend, Jill, has got herself into a tricky personal situation, and this lets us see another side of Alex, trying to juggle loyalty to her friend with the professional demands of the job.

One thing I particularly loved was that Shaw includes people of different ethnicities and sexual orientations without making a big deal of it. I’m so tired of authors feeling they have to write “about” diversity – until we start treating diversity as normal, it never will be. So hurrah for an author who makes it unremarkable…

(This is the second time I’ve made a comment like this recently, the other being in relation to the entirely believable, positive background portrayal of racially diverse Birmingham in Lucie Whitehouse’s Critical Incidents. A new trend, perhaps? If so, a very welcome one.)

The plotting is great – complex and fast-paced, but never to a degree where the reader feels lost. It takes Alex and Jill into the rich and shady world of art-trading, where vast amounts of money changing hands provides opportunities for all kinds of dodgy dealing, and the wealthy shelter behind their security fences and sense of entitlement. But through Tap and Sloth we also see the other end of the social spectrum, where a meal in a burger bar can seem like a feast. There’s no faux “that day” suspense in this one. Instead, Shaw makes us care so deeply about the two boys that the tension level ramps ever higher as the story unfolds, with some real heart-thumping moments along the way. And there’s no cosiness about it, so that there’s a real feeling of fear that one or both of them may pay the ultimate price for their stupid crime. But equally their story is not too grim or gritty to be enjoyable. There’s a lot of warmth and humour in their friendship – two misfits who’ve each found someone they can rely on, even love.

Shaw makes excellent use of his Kent setting, both in town and out on the wild and forbidding marshland landscape of Dungeness. He lets us see all the contrasts in wealth in this area, the secluded and luxurious homes of the rich, while the old seaside hotels and boarding houses along the Kent coast are now hostels housing many of the refugees and migrants recently arrived on our shores.

William Shaw

This is one of those rare masterclasses in crime writing that should be made compulsory reading for all aspiring authors. I loved everything about it, especially the sections of the boys on the run, and raced through it because I needed to know whether they would make it. Did I come out of it smiling or sobbing though? I’m afraid you’ll have to read it for yourself to find the answer to that question. One thing I will tell you – I’ll be backtracking to read Shaw’s earlier books, and adding him to my read-on-publication-day list for future ones…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, riverrun at Quercus.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

42 thoughts on “Deadland (DS Alex Cupidi 2) by William Shaw

  1. I have Salt Lane and Deadland in my reading pile – really looking forward to them. It’s definitely time to stop making a big deal of ethnicities and sexual orientations, I totally agree. Glad to know it’s not an issue in this book.
    I really recommend The Birdwatcher, the book that introduces Alex Cupidi.

    • It was all the glowing reviews of The Birdwatcher that tempted me to go for this one so I’d really like to read it. I’ve also had his Breen and Tozer series recommended to me in the past, so I think I might have to have a binge catch-up at some point… but after the 20 Books of Summer – I can’t afford to get thrown off my schedule on the first day of the challenge… 😉

  2. Well, hello there, my long, lost friend! I love seeing you pop up in my notifications, FF! What a review to pop up with, too! This sounds like a terrific read. It seems like when I traced my family tree that at least one branch was from Kent, so that piqued my interest. I’m taking note of this series!

    • Hello, there! This tennis business doesn’t half interfere with my blogging… or is it the blogging that interferes with the tennis? 😉 I only know Kent from fiction, though I did get hopelessly lost driving round it during one particularly rainy holiday several years ago! This is definitely worth adding to your list… 😀

  3. OK, where have I been that I haven’t tried this series yet, FictionFan? It sounds great, and I’m always glad when the characters in a story act like, well, normal human beings. I can see how you found the setting appealing, too. My TBR will not like this, but I can see I’m going to have to try this series. Oh, and it’s lovely to have you back!

    • Thanks, Margot – this tennis stuff doesn’t half interfere with my blogging schedule! 😉 I’ve only heard about this series through other bloggers and yet it’s at least as good as any of the contemporary series I’ve read in the last several years. One where a comparison to Peter May would actually be appropriate for once, which as you know is high praise coming from me…

  4. Hey, I thought you were busy watching tennis? 😉

    Great review. A masterclass in crime writing – that is high praise indeed. Luckily, I don’t do TBR lists, but if I did, this one would be added immediately.

    • Ha! I am, but I realised I was seriously overdue for some review books, so I’m trying to do both… and failing dismally! 😉

      What???? Oh no, we’ll have to get you onto the TBR treadmill… books are no fun if you’re not constantly stressed out by the hundreds waiting to be read… 😀 This could be the first one on your list…

      • I know! Outrageous, isn’t it. No TBR… I can hear the tsk, tsk’s from all over the place.

        However, I do enjoy hearing about everyone else’s TBR and all the fun and frustrations you have with it 😉

        • I’m shocked to my socks!! Though I vaguely remember never having a TBR either till I started blogging. I’d acquire a few books, read them, then get a few more… the good old days! 😀

  5. I think Shaw is one of the really great Police Procedural authors but somehow he doesn’t seem to get the attention he deserves. I agree, this is a really good read.

    • This is my first introduction to him, based in part on your recommendation, and I thought it was great. It is odd, isn’t it, how some authors get loads of attention and others who are just as good or better seem never quite to become one of the big names. However I’ve heard a lot about Shaw with his last couple of books so hopefully he’s finally getting recognition. Looking forward to reading his earlier stuff…

  6. Your glowing review makes this sound so good! Knowing it’s not the first in the series, did that seem to make any difference to you. So often there are references to earlier cases or people that don’t really make sense if you are jumping in mid-stream. I definitely need to look up this author.

    • I’m so picky about contemporary crime that it’s a major pleasure to come across one where I can’t find anything to criticise! I would read them in order though, starting with The Birdwatcher. This one works well as a standalone but it does give a couple of spoilers for the earlier book, so I might have to leave it for a while before reading that one. With my rubbish memory, it shouldn’t be too long before I’ve forgotten everything though… 😉

  7. I was able to put Salt Lane on hold at my library but I can’t put Deadland there because it hasn’t been published here in the States yet. I guess that I will have to follow William Shaw so that I’m notified when Deadland is released.

    • I love when I find a great new-to-me author with a back catalogue! I really want to read Salt Lane, and I’d probably recommend reading The Birdwatcher before this one – although this one works great as a standalone, it does give one or two spoilers for the earlier book. And by that time, hopefully this one will be out over there… 😉

    • Police procedurals are definitely my preferred type of contemporary crime novel, and this one really is great! And happily he has a fairly extensive back catalogue to explore… 😀

  8. Yay! Having enjoyed The Birdwatcher and of course, fallen for Dungeness, I have this one and Salt Lane ready and waiting. Great to read such a glowing report! (S starts wondering about a 20 books of summer reshuffle and we’re only on day 1… )

    • It was partly your glowing report of The Birdwatcher that persuaded me to go for this one, so thank you! I’m looking forward to reading some of his back catalogue – I’ve also been told his Breen and Tozer series is very good. (Hahahaha! No, you can’t reshuffle for at least a week!! 😉 )

      • I’m gratified that this one lived up to your high standards 🙂 Seriously, it’s helpful to me because I know nothing about crime novels, police procedurals etc etc so I had nothing much to compare The Birdwatcher against. It’s good to hear how good Shaw’s books are from an expert! Hope you’re enjoying the tennis. I see that Wimbledon isn’t starting until July – a week later than usual?

        • I always think that the best contemporary crime books aren’t too far from being general fiction – they usually say something real about society. The ones with all the ridiculous twists are just fluff, and quite often not very well written. There are a few authors that rise above the genre – Peter May, Ian Rankin, CJ Sansom, etc – and I reckon Shaw should be included in that category, on the basis of this book at least. The French Open is hotting up now! Yes, they’ve finally realised, I think, that the French and Wimbledon were too close together – it never gives the players enough time to get proper practice on grass courts…

  9. I don’t think I’ve read any of his. Your review makes this one sound most tempting. I’ve been binge reading cozies of late, so perhaps it’s time for a bit of a change. Nice to have you back here, FF — you know today’s Rafa’s birthday, don’t you??

    • Happy birthday, Rafa! He wasn’t playing today, but I seem to remember last year they gave him a birthday cake after his match at the French. 😀 I’ve only been hearing about Shaw recently although he’s been around for a while – he seems to be breaking through with this new series. I thought this was really great…

  10. Well you’ve sold me on this one – a little bit of a shame since I’ve just picked my 20 books of summer! Moving on William Shaw sounds like a great author for me to explore especially as other bloggers have championed his books – so much I agree with such as the lack of fanfare around the diversity being very welcome as is the tension borne of real events and emotions rather than events created entirely to support it.

    • Hahaha! I know, I’m saying I want to read his earlier books and even as I was typing it I was thinking, but when?? I think you’d probably love this as much as I did – it reminded me just how much I love the police procedural format, rather than the recent trend of twisty thrillers. And I loved the way he didn’t get bogged down in “points” and “issues” although there were plenty there in the background… 😀

    • There were some hard-hitting bits in this but I think for me grim can work so long as there’s an actual plot – a reason for the violence. I’m not so keen on the crazed psychopath kind of story – somehow they just feel like using horrors for entertainment purposes… This one has a real plot! 😀

  11. This sounds like a really good book, one I think I would enjoy! It sounds like he touches upon a few topics (diversity, refugees etc) without making a big deal about it, which as you said is the most realistic way to deal with it, because this is how most of us are exposed to these things in our everyday lives now.

    • I do think you might enjoy this one! Yes, I much prefer when authors manage to show all these parts of modern life without so obviously making “points” – they should trust the readers to get the point for themselves. Racial diversity is so commonplace now that I really can’t understand why so many authors still treat it as a big thing – I reckon most people never think about it as anything other than normal in their day to day lives.

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