Salt Lane by William Shaw

J. L. Harland • September 20th, 2020

Salt Lane is the first in the DS Alexandra Cupidi thrillers. Williams Shaw creates an atmospheric sense of the landscape and events, uncovering an underworld of illegal migrants and dangerous gang masters in the fruit-picking fields of Kent. A previous crime series, featuring investigators Breen and Tozer, is set in 60s London.

This first novel about DS Alexandra Cupidi introduces us to a new character in the world of crime fiction; and she takes her place with flair. DS Cupidi has arrived in Kent from London and soon the dead bodies she deals with underline the difference in the world she now inhabits. The first corpse is found in one of the ditches that crisscross the flat landscape and the second has been asphyxiated in cow dung. The depiction of the Kent landscape is particularly atmospheric and an integral part of the sense of threat and impending danger, adding a further layer of intensity to the story. The constant holding back of water in the flood defences heightens the overall sense of jeopardy. Two bodies are found floating in ditches and DS Cupidi herself nearly drowns in one.

Her sidekick is the petite Ferriter, who, we are told, looks as though she could work behind the counter in Boots. She is the opposite of the rangy and troubled Cupidi, who has brought a damaged reputation and a sullen teenage daughter with her to Dungeness. Ferriter’s naïvete is contrasted with the more experienced and jaded outlook of her boss. But she has ideals and a brave heart and as the story develops so does their understanding and appreciation of each other.

The dialogue is a powerful tool in delivering the story with an emotional range that encompasses the highly charged to the comic.

The story engages us with important questions about those who are on the edges of society, through choice or by the necessities of poverty and politics. There’s a feeling of bearing witness and giving voice to the illegal migrant workers and their appalling experiences as modern-day slaves. Despite the brutalising effect of their labour, they play an integral and redemptive role in saving Cupidi’s life towards the end of the story.

So, in the final days of summer, everything is tied up in surprising and satisfying ways. DC Cupidi has solved the ruthless murders and the way is paved for further thrillers in the series.

Salt Lane, by William Shaw is published by RiverRun, a Quercus imprint. It is the first in Shaw’s new series of crime thrillers set on the Kent coastline.

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