****The Birdwatcher


photo: Alan Schmierer, public domain

By William Shaw – “There were two reasons why William South did not want to be on the murder team. The first was that it was October. The migrating birds had begun arriving on the coast.The second was that, though nobody knew, he was a murderer himself.”

Birdwatching is an avocation that instills in its practitioners the virtues of patience, keen observation, and meticulous attention to detail, traits that police sergeant South brings to his work as well. He’s a Local District lead based in Kent and generally works with neighborhood groups, drug busts, traffic accidents. A good, solid copper. Murder, by contrast, is something a person can be driven to in a moment of panic and loss of control. The murder South committed took place when he was only 13 years old, and you soon understand whom he killed—his own father—and eventually you learn why.

South was born in Northern Ireland, son of a brutal enforcer in the Ulster Volunteer Force during the Troubles, and his father’s death was blamed on internecine rivalries within the UVF. To escape the violence all around them and with the intervention of a police sergeant sweet on his mum, mother and son were safely transplanted to Kent. Though he has become a policeman, South avoids any more contact with killing.

However, a new murder case changes all that, and South has been assigned to it, like it or not. The victim is South’s neighbor, retired school teacher Robert Rayner, a nice man living in a quiet place who’s been viciously beaten to death. The two bachelors have spent many hours together birding along the coast where they live. Despite the many hours spent and the friendship South thought they shared, it soon emerges that he actually knew very little about Rayner, and what he knows is faulty.

The rage that would produce a death such as Rayner’s is terrifyingly familiar to South, and in this well constructed plot, you understand it is destined to reverberate in unexpected ways. Overall, Shaw’s writing is clean and unlabored. The banter among members of the police team also are good, and much of it is funny. The characters are ones you come to care about, too.

3 thoughts on “****The Birdwatcher

    • Let me know if I am not exactly answering your question, and I will try again! I thought in terms of characterizations and relationships it’s more in-depth than many crime novels, which makes it more believable, too. I don’t mean that Shaw spends a lot of time talking about those relationships, but what he says reflects a deeper understanding of them. Not like novels in which the author just moves characters around like chess pieces, whether what they’re doing makes any sense or not (psychological or otherwise).

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