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The Conjurer's Bird: A Novel Hardcover – December 27, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400097339
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400097333
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.7 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,596,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. BBC TV producer Davies, the author of mysteries starring Sherlock Holmes's housekeeper, turns his attention to the search for "the rarest bird ever recorded" in this gripping book of literary suspense. In 1774, on Captain Cook's second expedition to the South Pacific, a single specimen of a thrushlike bird was captured. The bird entered the collection of eminent naturalist Sir Joseph Banks—but then it disappeared. Moving adroitly between the 18th and the 21st centuries, Davies indulges in clever speculation about the bird's whereabouts and adds an appealing strain of romance surrounding the identity of Banks's mistress, "Miss B." Alternating chapters chronicle the adventures of Fitz, a present-day London conservationist who's agreed to try to find "the Mysterious Bird of Ulieta" at the urging of a woman he once loved—but it's his spunky female graduate student whose ingenuity and indefatigable research do much to keep the plot spinning past red herrings, dead ends and the machinations of unscrupulous people racing to find the bird first. A third subplot concerns Fitz's grandfather's search for the Congo peacock, and it is to Davies' credit that he renders the novel's botanical and zoological details with an immediacy that helps along the narrative. A few farfetched plot twists aside, this is a captivating novel. (Nov. 22)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

This novel will not disappoint fans of literary mystery and readers who are drawn to naturalist accounts. The focus is the Ulieta bird, a specimen unique to science; both remarkable and romantic, it has a fascinating history. Two protagonists vie for the reader's attention: Joseph Banks, the famous eighteenth-century naturalist, who is given the elusive bird of Ulieta, captured on one of Captain Cook's voyages in the South Seas before its extinction, and Fitz, a present-day conservationist, who joins the competitive race to find the bird's remains, which mysteriously disappeared from Banks' collection many years before. Fitz's journey does not lead where he expects: he was looking for a bird but found a face in a picture--the face of Banks' mistress. What links her to the Ulieta bird? What is her name? Why did she disappear? And why is finding the Ulieta bird important to Fitz? Readers who like Andrea Barrett, Arturo Perez-Reverte, and David Liss will find this a page-turner through and through. Sarah Watstein
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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It took off from page one, and I read the book in two sittings.
sb-lynn
The two stories Davies weaves together are both well told, and the author's solution to the mystery of "Mr. Burnett" seems to me ingenious.
Debra Hamel
Have complained about all this, though, I loved the book, and plan to go read all his other novels.
Katherine A. Dettwyler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By sb-lynn TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Conjurer's Bird is a terrific book, and I had a lot of fun reading it. It took off from page one, and I read the book in two sittings.

Davies takes some true facts, and spins them into a wonderful fictional account of a search for a long missing bird, the "Mysterious Bird of Ulieta"

Summary, no spoilers:

The story starts out with natural history professor John (Fitz) Fitzgerald, working in his cluttered office. He gets a phone call from a woman from his past named Gabby. He meets up with Gabby and her new boyfriend, Karl Anderson, who makes an offer to Fitz of a substantial amount of money for his help in finding the missing "Mysterious Bird of Ulieta".

The bird was seen only once, in 1774 when Captain Cook led an expedition to the island of Ulieta in the South Pacific. The bird was preserved, but then lost. The recovery of this missing specimen had become a holy grail for naturalists and scientists.

Fitz refuses to help Karl, but then decides to search for the bird himself, with the aid of his tenant, Katya.

The story then takes off, with multiple parties searching for this mysterious bird, although we know that there may be motivations that haven't been disclosed.

The story is told in alternating chapters, first taking place in the present, and then going back to the times of Captain Cook, and naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, who was the last person known to have the bird.

Fitz and the others know that Banks is the key to the mystery, along with his mistress, the mysterious "Miss B".

Highly recommended, this book is a real page-turner with a satisfying ending. Well done.
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Format: Hardcover
Combining natural history, a number of exciting mysteries, and several love stories, author Martin Davies tells the story of a modern day search for the Mysterious Bird of Ulieta, a single example of which was discovered during Captain Cook's second expedition, mounted, and then lost. As the novel opens, famed researcher of extinct birds John Fitzgerald is visited by a former lover from Brazil whose current lover is now in London, trying to locate the remains of this bird for the Ark Project, a program to collect rare or extinct DNA. Though Fitzgerald is asked to help in this search, he refuses the $50,000 offer--he wants to search for the bird himself.

(No spoilers.) The attempt to locate the bird draws the reader into the story of Sir Joseph Banks, the (real) lead naturalist on Captain Cook's first voyage in 1768. Scheduled to hold the same position on the second voyage in 1772, Banks decided at the last minute not to go. Johann Forster, the man who replaced him on that voyage, discovered the bird, mounted it, and gave this bird to Banks upon his return. Banks displayed it for four years, until it inexplicably vanished from his collection.

The second expedition was notable for another actual event, however. When Cook's ship stopped in Madeira, a "Mr. Burnett" was waiting to join the ship as part of Banks's party. After hearing that Banks was not aboard, Mr. Burnett hurriedly returned to England, but Capt. Cook found him odd enough to record that "Every part of Mr. Burnett's behaviour and every action tended to prove that he was a Woman." John Fitzgerald, investigating, thinks finding "Burnett" may be the key to finding the remains of the bird of Ulieta.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert Busko VINE VOICE on January 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
On Captain Cook's second voyage a small bird is captured and preserved. Only one of its kind was seen and hence it was immediately recognized as "special" and returned to England. This should scratch on our 21st century sensibilities....a rare bird that is "killed" to preserve it. Hmmm. The bird is dubbed the bird of Ulieta and is given to Sir Joseph Banks and immediately becomes the center of his collection. Then, the bird disappears.

Fast forward to modern day London. A modern day conservationist, John Fitzgerald, is encouraged to search for the lost bird of Ulieta. Some want to add the DNA of the bird to the Ark Gene Project. Fitz quickly realizes that there is more going on than just the search for the lost bird. Several plot lines emerge over the the course of the story and this is where Davies really shines.

The Conjurer's Bird was a pleasant surprise. I stayed up way too late and suffered for it the next day but it was worth it.

Martin Davies' The Conjurer's Bird is a terrific read that will hold the reader spellbound and will not disappoint. Davies' first two novels, Mrs. Hudson and the Malabar Rose and Mrs. Hudson and the Spirits' Curse, have been popular with our library patrons. I anticipate that the Conjurer's Bird will quickly catch on and may even generate a waiting list.

I highly recommend this novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John R. Lindermuth VINE VOICE on July 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Martin Davies has taken a scant few scraps of historical fact and from them woven an intriguing literary mystery that moves smoothly between several subplots and keeps one turning the pages to see what's going to happen next.

Davies builds the central theme of his novel on Joseph Banks, a naturalist who accompanied Captain James Cook on his first voyage of discovery in 1768-71. For reasons that remain a mystery, Banks, who had been preparing to sail with Cook on his second voyage, suddenly declined to participate and broke off his engagement to a woman named Harriet Blosset. At the end of Cook's voyage, Joseph Forster, who replaced him as naturalist, presented Banks with the only known specimen of a thrush-like bird found on the island of Ulieta in the Pacific.

Utilizing speculation from a gossip magazine of the period, Davies develops a mistress with whom Banks falls in love as the reason for his having deserted Cook and for breaking off his engagement.

A second theme of the novel is the quest of John Fitzgerald, a modern-day naturalist, to find the bird of Ulieta before it falls into the hands of several greedy collectors who have more than science on their minds. Adding spice to this mix is the fact one of the collectors is assisted by Fitzgerald's wife while the naturalist is aided by a student-boarder who becomes integral to the chase and his life.

Chapters alternate between the modern and historical events, though the transition is easy in Davies' smooth and lyrical prose.

There is a third theme in the novel involving Fitzgerald's grandfather and his fanatical quest to find the Congo peacock, a bird actually discovered by James Chapin, an American naturalist.

Davies, a BBC producer, previously penned a couple of historical mysteries involving Sherlock Holmes' housekeeper. I haven't read those but plan to now.
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