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  • Barbara Copperthwaite

Review: SALT LANE, William Shaw

Salt Lane, by William Shaw. Review by Barbara Copperthwaite

‘William Shaw’s writing, plotting, and sense of light and shade, of when to rush and when to pause, are faultless’



DS Alexandra Cupidi has done it again. She should have learnt to keep her big mouth shut, after the scandal that sent her packing - resentful teenager in tow - from the London Met to the lonely Kent coastline. Murder is different here, among the fens and stark beaches.


The man drowned in the slurry pit had been herded there like an animal. He was North African, like many of the fruit pickers that work the fields. The more Cupidi discovers, the more she wants to ask - but these people are suspicious of questions.


It will take an understanding of this strange place - its old ways and new crimes - to uncover the dark conspiracy behind the murder. Cupidi is not afraid to travel that road. But she should be. She should, by now, have learnt.

Salt Lane is the first in the new DS Alexandra Cupidi series. With his trademark characterisation and flair for social commentary, William Shaw has crafted a crime novel for our time that grips you, mind and heart.


Gritty, hard-hitting crime rarely sits beside brooding atmosphere, flawless writing, and characters so real you could have a chat with them, but Salt Lane is that rare gem.

Before I started to read this book I felt a mixture of excitement and reticence. I had absolutely adored The Birdwatcher, a standalone in which we first meet the character of DS Alexandra Cupidi. Now she is back in her own series (there is no need to read The Birdwatcher before this. But it’s such a great book that I suggest you treat yourself at some point). For me, there were fears Salt Lane would lack the same incredible, intense sense of place that had dominated so vividly The Birdwatcher, where the landscape had become a brooding character. Would William Shaw be trying to recapture that in Salt Lane, and in doing so simply write a poorer, more watered down version? Worse, would he know better than to even attempt that, and instead simply ignore the eerie landscape of fens, ditches and stark beaches, haunted by birds and wildlife, and shadowed by the towers of Dungeness power station?

Instead the author did something incredible. He created a book that combines fast-paced thrills, alongside sometimes claustrophobic stillness. He has enough of the landscape to create incredible atmosphere, and adds light touches of it here and there within scenes, so that it weaves in and out of the story yet is no longer dominant. In other words, he gets it exactly right for this intelligent and slightly different detective series.

At the heart of the series is DS Alexandra Cupidi. She is that classic mix of toughness and frailty that is familiar in popular detectives of fiction. She is no cliché though. We meet her whole family: mother and daughter, and they all share that brittle, hard-to-get-to-know shell, yet the author gives us wonderful glimpses behind the exterior. Enough to make the reader want more. Enough to make us keep coming back. I found myself really warming to them.

This is an intelligent crime novel. There is social commentary within the storyline, as it tackles drugs, mental health, immigration, homelessness and the gig economy, but it doesn’t beat itself on the chest. As for the crime itself, it is quite rare for me to read the solution, sit back, and say: now that was clever. I did this time - and that’s all I’ll say about that, for fear of spoilers.

Salt Lane is a fabulous start to what I’m sure will be a must-read series. William Shaw’s writing, plotting, and sense of light and shade, of when to rush and when to pause, are faultless. I’m totally sold. I strongly suggest you read it, and find out for yourself.

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