William Shaw

Sympathy for the Devil

"Shaw’s research is immaculate, and brings to life the mores and attitudes of the 1960s..."


It is the summer of 1969, and the Swinging Sixties will soon be over. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones is found dead in his swimming pool on July 3, and Neil Armstrong will be walking on the moon on July 20. In addition, the Harold Wilson's government is about to exchange spies with the Soviet Union, the spies being Gerald Brooke and the Krogers. This is causing great resentment, as Britain seems to be exchanging dangerous Soviet spies - the Krogers - for a powerless man who wasn't a spy at all.

It's against this background that Cathal Breen investigates the murder of a prostitute who called herself Julie Teenager. But as his investigations proceed, he realises that this is no ordinary murder. Her real name is Lena Bobienski, she's Polish, and she has a client list that brims with people of influence. He also finds that he is being hampered by people who, for reasons of national security, would like the murder to remain unsolved. At the same time, Breen's partner, ex-cop Helen Tozer, is heavily pregnant, and fascinated by the death of Brian Jones. Was it an accident, or was it murder? Soon she herself gets drawn into Breen's investigations. He eventually uncovers the murderer, only to find that there will be no court case, due to national security.

Breen is outraged that the culprit will not be charged. So will the murderer get away with it? Or will justice prevail?

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I am a fan of William Shaw's Breen and Tozer books, and this latest tale reinforces my opinion. It has a twisting storyline, but unlike some other books with torturous plots, Shaw still manages to make it sound so simple - which is no mean feat. Shaw's research is immaculate, and brings to life the mores and attitudes of the 1960s, a time when the Cold War raged, youth was discovering the power it had, and casual racism and sexism was rife. The real events of the summer of 1969 are interwoven into the plot, and some of the places mentioned in the book (including one nightspot) actually did exist. The writing itself is clear and precise, and Breen is a real character, with the strengths, doubts and weaknesses most of us possess. He is, however, a man who believes in justice, and as the concept of justice begins to slip through his hands as far as this case is concerned, we see a new Breen emerge - someone who can see that justice is not just the prerogative of the state. And there's one final point which I found satisfying. The title of the book, 'Sympathy for the Devil', is the title of a song in the Rolling Stones album 'Beggar's Banquet', brought out the year before Brian Jones died.

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