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THE BIRDWATCHER
by William Shaw
Mulholland, June 2017
336 pages
$26.00
ISBN: 0316316245


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The first thing we learn about Police Officer William South is that he doesn't want to be on the murder team for two reasons: first, migrating birds have been arriving on the Kent coast and he doesn't want to miss them, and second, he's a murderer himself, a secret no one knows.

Nevertheless, when new detective sergeant Alexandra Cupidi arrives from London, South, a community officer, is asked to partner with her. The murder victim is South's own neighbor, Robert Rayner, a fellow birder violently killed in his cottage. It's mostly quiet in this part of Dungeness, a low bleak headland extending from the marshes, with only a few cottages and a nuclear power station—and the birds, of course. But following upon the one violent murder is the disappearance of Judy Farouk, a low-level drug dealer who lives in a nearby trailer park.

The story bounces back and forth between the present and South's boyhood in Northern Ireland, a history that follows the middle-aged veteran cop to the present. Although a solid police procedural, the novel is rich in characterization. We see a friendship grow between South and Cupidi, as well as between South and Cupidi's teenage daughter, Zoe, who is rebellious and angry—but who comes to love birding with South.

The qualities that mark a good birder—patience and the ability to watch for a long time—help South in the investigation, which slowly unspools, in a direction that ties together plotlines you didn't even know were part of the main story.

This is not Shaw's first novel, but it may be his breakout novel. THE BIRDWATCHER has been longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, and the buzz has been growing for months. It's worthy of all the good reviews. This is an intelligent, solid police procedural that is compelling, and it has a powerful ending.

§ Lourdes Venard is an independent editor who divides her time between New York and Maui.

Reviewed by Lourdes Venard, October 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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