Like the coast about which Shaw writes in this DS Alexandra Cupidi novel, the latest (4th) book has now swept up on the rocky beach at Dungeness to land itself amongst the sometimes windswept, sometimes calm shore of the readers who have grown to love this crime series.

Lucre, lechery or lunacy. The 3 great reasons for murder”, says Alex and this plot covers all of those topics.  We find Alex off sick with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and struggling with anxiety, panic attacks and terrible nightmares. The opening scene of the local heritage train arriving with a bridal party spectacularly erupts as a mother-in-law arrives shouting that one of the women is a murderer.  Alex has a frightening premonition of the woman and a knife which turns into reality, so even off duty at the pub her police reactions come into play again. Despite being at home and away from the police Alex’s antennae pick up a case of concern.

“Something really, really bad was about to happen”. It does when the naked corpses of Ayman 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.  Alex’s partner – and friend- Officer Jill Ferriter is charged with the investigating the murders while Alex is on sick leave, but still almost obsessed in following the case.

Great characters abound including some that have been in all the books. Alex’s teenage daughter Zoe is a fantastic girl. Now caring for her mum, she is a volunteer with the local Wildlife Trust and an avid birdwatcher (an ongoing theme in all the books).Bill South , ex copper and convict reappears with a more major role. He is a close friend of Alex and Zoe, who lives nearby in a similar Dungeness beachside home, Bill has had a difficult time but does seem to be sorting out his life again. Of course one of the biggest characters in Shaw’s series is Dungeness itself and the surrounding landscape and sea. There is no one better than perhaps famous film director the late Derek Jarman (who had a stunning home and garden on the Dungeness beach) to evoke the beauty of a place where wild meets wonderful.

In previous books the sea is there but as the title suggests in this novel it is the local fishing industry and boats that come to the fore as Alex wants to uncover who did murder Mandy Hogben’s husband Frank seven years ago.  There is an excellent scene where Alex decides to accompany her friend Curly (a local fisherman) out on a trawler to find out how Frank could have died. Shaw tells us he did similar real research – let’s hope the weather was better on his trip!

Meanwhile back on land the murders seem to be linked to an investment scheme with a green reforestry scheme in Guatemala. The local golf club also throws up connections especially with Ayman’s friend Terry Neil and perhaps a love interest for Alex? Any faults? I do get the feeling in so many books with female lead characters they need to drink copious glasses of wine….I mean no problem really but could we have a different drink of choice!?

There are lots of twists and turns, lots of potential suspects. A great plot that weaves its way through the lanes of the Kent countryside to the more rundown drug dens of coastal resorts. But above all as with all Shaw’s books, contemporary topics are brilliantly brought to the fore with the people whose lives we become engrossed with. Difficult descriptions of mental illness made personal and at times frightening (for us as well as the character) alongside the basic greed of scams and the destructiveness and life destroying drug taking that often haunts our cosy seaside sun and ice cream idylls.

There is often a fear in a crime series of things drifting and running out of impact. But this book throws everything back in the mix and also raises the new personal dilemmas of the police and ethics when individuals come so close to the cases on which they work.  As a personal read superb as usual. I’m also a great fan of Shaw’s series ‘Breen and Tozer’ set in 1960s London. Watch out for the subtle link! Book groups will devour the story and if you haven’t been to Dungeness in Kent before I can imagine sat navs will soon be set for the south coast!

Reviewed by Philipa Coughlan

Published by Riverrun (13 May 2021)
Hardback, ISBN 978-1529401820