Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

The Birdwatcher is the first book of the author’s that I’ve read and I have to say that I’m impressed. Set on a desolate patch of isolated Kent coast it tells the story of Police Sergeant William South, a keen birdwatcher, who arrives at the scene of a brutal murder, only to find that it’s a close friend, beaten and stuffed into a trunk. With him when he makes this grim discovery is Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, newly arrived from the Met from where she transferred, a talented officer keen to make a good first impression.

It soon transpires that the murder victim, William’s neighbour Bob Reyner, a friend he used to go birding with, has been living a lie, complete with fake sister and make believe past as a school teacher. Early on, Donnie Fraser, a drifter from Northern Ireland and a ghost from Sergeant South’s past is fingered for the crime, and South becomes convinced that Donny didn’t do it. What follows is a twin investigation, the official one led by Cupidi, and South’s own, more tentative, private one.

There is much to contend this book. I liked how the protagonist William South wasn’t your usual detective, instead he’s a neighbourhood beat cop, uncomfortable in this world of CID investigation. Early on we also learn that he has a past, that he grew up amongst the troubles of Northern Ireland and murdered his father. The author successfully uses this to hang a pall of foreboding over events, but is careful not to overdo it. Capidi, the single mother of a teenage daughter, is also well drawn, as is her daughter Zoë who takes to birding in the same way South did, to avoid troubles at home and at school.

To be sure there are a fair few coincidences and loose ends left open in this book. Just why was Donnie Fraser, a man from South’s past in Northern Ireland in Kent? Towards the end we learn that he might have been looking for South. Well OK, but how did he get mixed up in events? This is never adequately explained. Similarly, while the mystery of who Bob Reynor was and why he was murdered is finally solved, we never learn why his entire past was fabricated. It’s kind of explained but we don’t learn who he was, prior to the relationships that got him killed. None of this ruined the book for me and they were only nagging issues, but still.

In conclusion, this was an enjoyable and intelligent thriller and I have no hesitation in recommending it to others.

4 out of 5 stars

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