Source: Purchased copy
Publication: 14 May 2020 from riverrun
Length: 11 hours and 21 minutes
A bizarre discovery.
An unidentified cadaver is found in a freezer in an unoccupied luxury house. No-one seems to know or care who it is or who placed it there. When DS Alexandra Cupidi is handed the case, she can have no idea it will lead her to a series of murderous cover-ups and buried secrets. Namely the discovery of the skeleton of public-school boy, Trevor Wood, beneath a housing development.
A historic crime.
His disappearance 25 years earlier had almost passed unnoticed. But as evidence surfaces that his fate was linked to long suppressed rumours of sexual abuse, Cupidi, her teenage daughter Zoe and her friend Bill South find themselves up against powerful forces who will try to silence them.
A buried life.
Digging deep into the secrets that are held underground leads to Cupidi’s realisation that crime and power are seldom far apart. There are dangerous connections between the two cases, which are complicated by Constable Jill Ferriter’s dating habits, a secret liaison and the underground life of Trevor Wood’s only friend.
I had this book as a review copy from Netgalley, but for various reasons I’m behind in my reading and because I’m a fan of William Shaw’s series I decided just to buy the audiobook and review that.
I love the relationship between D.S.Cupidi and her younger colleague, Constable Jill Ferriter. Shaw’s setting always play a pivotal role in these books and they are rich and atmospheric as a result
In Grave’s End, Shaw draws on the geography of the coastal headland of Kent to create a mystery that is rich in detail of the area and picks up on its conservation designations as a national nature reserve, a Special Protection Area a Special Area of Conservation) and part of the Site of Special Scientific Interest of Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay.
Utilising an introduction, unique as far as I’m aware when it comes to crime thrillers, Shaw gives us life in the area from the perspective of an ageing badger. Once top of the heap, our badger has got slower and weaker and now avoids the inevitable fights with more aggressive dominant males as he digs new tunnels to keep himself safe, venturing out of the sett at night to forage for worms.
Our badger is living in an area which has been marked for a new housing development, unsurprisingly controversial and a local campaign has been building against the proposed new builds.
DS Cupidi’s daughter Zoe is involved because of her passionate commitment to wildlife in the area; she and a friend have been watching for badgers at night, hoping to be able to show that this protected species needs the development stopped to protect their habitat.
The badger is having the territory available to it severely curtailed which is how he comes to be digging up some old human bones buried on the proposed Whitefields development. Bones that tell the sad story of Trevor Woods, a young boy who went missing 25 years ago.
First though, Shaw takes us to a rather grander environment; that of a converted Oast house where a young estate agent is trying to impress his girlfriend by inviting her in for a spot of the other, knowing the house is vacant while up for sale.
Looking for somewhere to chill their prosecco the couple find the body of a man in the freezer. Thus begins quite a complex case where the motives sometimes seem obvious, but nothing is quite as you would expect it to be. This murder victim is someone Zoe knows. Vinnie Gibbons is a fellow naturalist and he was involved in the protests against the housing development. He has been poisoned.
Alex begins her investigation of Vinnie’s death but the trail leads her in some unexpected directions, reaching back in time as well as involving contemporary local politics and takes Alexandra to Parliament and some high powered meetings.
Shaw builds in some well thought through plot points and soon we have a number of leads, but which is the most important? Frankie Collins was arrested for badger baiting. Is that arrest for a vicious crime connected to Vinnie’s death?
There’s also, as Alex discovers, to her peril, a connection between some of the individuals involved and the history of the Thornhead Boys Boarding School. As if all that was not enough to keep Alex’s mind swirling, it turns out that the fabulous Jill Ferriter has just started to date Harry French, a young man deeply involved in the Whitefields Development.
I do love Jill Ferriter. She’s screamingly funny and forthright, especially when she’s had a drink and she’s a great foil for the more straight laced Cupidi and the pair work really well together. Zoe too is developing as a character and her relationship with fellow campaigner Bill South, (who Alex was responsible for sending to prison in a previous book) is creating an interesting triad.
As Alex’s investigations proceed apace she finds her own life in danger and knows that she must solve this case if she is to survive.
Shaw has once again taken the remarkable wildlife living at Dungeness, with over 600 different types of plant: a third of all those found in Britain and made it a strong character in his novel. The third person narration of the badger’s thoughts works remarkably well as we learn of this badger’s life and the dangers it faces from cars to farmers with shotguns and badger baiters – in short as humans try to wipe out badgers through a host of hostile actions.
Credit to Jasmine Blackborow whose narration is clear and straightforward and whose reading of the badger and Jill Ferriter’s voices in particular are full of warmth and humour.
Verdict: Complex, tense, exciting and beautifully plotted, this is a class act from William Shaw whose books are rich in atmosphere and character and which offer many current social and political themes for the reader to ponder on, without once detracting from the thrilling police procedural. This is powerful and compelling storytelling. I love this series.
Before becoming a crime writer, William Shaw was an award-winning music journalist and 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 and was Amazon UK Music Journalist of the Year in 2003.