The naked corpses of Aylmer and Mary Younis are discovered in their home. The only clues are a note written in blood and an eerie report of two spectral figures departing the crime scene. Officer Jill Ferriter is charged with investigating the murders while her colleague Alex Cupidi is on leave, recovering from post-traumatic stress. The dead couple had made investments in a green reforestry scheme in Guatemala, resulting in the loss of all their savings. What is more disturbing is that Cupidi and Ferriter’s disgraced former colleague and friend Bill South is also on the list of investors and the Younis’s were not the only losers. Despite being in counselling and receiving official warnings to stay away from police work Cupidi finds herself dragged into the case and begins to trawl among the secrets and lies that are held in the fishing community of Folkestone. Desperate to exonerate South she finds herself murderously compromised when personal relationships cloud her judgement…
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have read pretty much every book William Shaw has written, and am always pleased to see another addition to his excellent DS Alexandra Cupidi series. So here we have The Trawlerman, again set on the Kent coast, with an emotionally battered and mentally bruised Cupidi, currently signed off work with PTSD, but once again finding it difficult to ignore the job completely, and finding herself lured into two intriguing cases…
What I like about Shaw’s books, and this is meant as no criticism whatsoever, is that the very ordinariness of the crimes he weaves into his books, act as a really solid backdrop for him to branch out, and explore larger themes or interesting nuggets of history from Dungeness and its surrounds. The very fact that he sets the books in the ecologically diverse habit of this area, and wildlife and birding usually have a large part to play, is enough to draw me in as a complete nature nut, and his nuanced and authentic portrayal of the wildlife, the coastline and so on, is always pitch perfect. Consequently, having previously had little or no knowledge of say the eponymous world of fish trawling, and the inherent dangers and its essential part in the community, I found myself drawn into it through Shaw’s research and depiction of this world. There is something extremely satisfying of having the dual experience of accruing new knowledge, but also being wholly sucked into a compelling and satisfying crime story.
Having had cause to think a lot about characterisation recently, William Shaw is one of the author’s who springs to mind, when thinking about convincing and believable characters. I totally buy into Cupidi’s world every time, as Shaw so effectively portrays her world of personal and professional triumphs and failures. Being a single parent and a full time police detective brings with it a whole host of challenges, and although her daughter, Zoe is an older teenager, this proves to be perhaps the most worrying and difficult time for Cupidi, drawn into the instantly recognisable world of stilted conversations, miscommunication or sudden and powerful moments of emotional reconciliation, beyond the bickering. This central relationship between Cupidi and her daughter adds a real emotional heft to the series, and small glimpses of acceptance and acknowledgement of each other’s more annoying traits starts to solidify and change the bond between them. As the daughter of a single mum, much of this strikes a personal chord with me, as their relationship changes and develops in every book, and Shaw always impresses in how he manages to capture this particular dynamic of family life.
These moments of missteps are also replicated in Cupidi’s relationship with her neighbour, and ex-police officer William South, with whom she shares a certain amount of difficult history, and once again poor old William is put through the emotional wringer, with Cupidi again having to make some choices between head and heart. I also love the character of Jill Ferriter, one of Cupidi’s police colleagues, who achieves a wonderful balance of flighty and professional, and it was great to see her playing a more expansive role in this one too.
Perhaps the most powerful and affecting strand of this story is Shaw’s depiction of Cupidi’s battle with PTSD, which was incredibly well-realised, capturing the mental and physical effects of this condition, from moments of extreme portentous fear, to visceral hallucinations and traumatic dreams. Having read a good amount of fiction and non-fiction based on the subject, particularly of military personnel, Cupidi’s personal struggles with the condition seemed authentic, and more affecting because of this. So once again in The Trawlerman, Shaw has produced another completely absorbing read, packed full of emotional tension and disrupted relationships, against the wonderfully rugged landscape of the Kent coastline. Not for nothing is he one of my favourite crime writers. Highly recommended.
William Shaw has been shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger, longlisted once for the CWA Gold Dagger and twice for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year, and nominated for a Barry Award.
His DS Alexandra Cupidi series – and the standalone bestseller The Birdwatcher – are set in Dungeness Kent. He also writes the acclaimed Breen & Tozer crime series set in sixties London. He worked as a journalist for over twenty years and lives in Brighton. For updates and giveaways, subscribe at willliamshaw.com/subscribe. He’s also the author of several non-fiction books including Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood, about a year spent with the young men of South Central Los Angeles, and A Superhero For Hire, a compilation of columns in the Observer Magazine. Starting out as assistant editor of the post-punk magazine ZigZag, he has been a journalist for The Observer, The New York Times, Wired, Arena and The Face.
(With thanks to Riverrun for the ARC)