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The Birdwatcher Hardcover – 2016
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One of "Summer's chilliest thrillers... Shaw's prose still sinks its hooks in."―Entertainment Weekly
"I liked its discreet, thoughtful prose. . . . By its theatrical but moving conclusion, The Birdwatcher has become an excellent read."―Charles Finch, USA Today
"William Shaw's The Birdwatcher is a gem of an addition to the stellar Mulholland line of crime fiction. Shaw's writing is true British procedural; lean and spectacle-free, it nevertheless grabs and doesn't let go. With minimal telling, Shaw paints full characters and relationships with seemingly preternatural ease. Particularly satisfying are South's relationship with Cupidi's daughter Zoe and emotional flashbacks to his childhood in Ireland during the Troubles. A well-plotted mystery with love and loyalty at its core, The Birdwatcher is a gratifying standalone that both satisfies and cries for more."―Shelf Awareness [starred review]
"A gem of an addition to the stellar Mulholland line of crime fiction. Shaw's writing is true British procedural; lean and spectacle-free, it nevertheless grabs and doesn't let go. . . . A well-plotted mystery with love and loyalty at its core, The Birdwatcher is a gratifying standalone that both satisfies and cries for more."―Shelf Awareness (starred review)
"Well told [and] affecting. The writing is beautifully understated, and the characters are vividly drawn and likable in their imperfections. Shaw makes the stony landscape an important element in the work; it becomes, by the end of the story, a place to which readers will feel a curiously strong attachment."―Booklist (starred review)
"A totally satisfying mystery from the first page to the last."―BookRiot
"There is a lot going on in this book which is artfully presented to the intelligent reader. I've read all of William Shaw's novels to date and consider him to be one of the top major talents to emerge in the last five years. Rating: A"―Deadly Pleasures Magazine
"Award-winning author Shaw ("Breen and Tozer" series) delivers an outstanding stand-alone novel; its gritty protagonist, intricate plot, and atmospheric description of the English countryside will please readers of Tana French's 'Dublin Murder Squad' series."―Library Journal
"Shaw crafts a delicious atmosphere."―Mystery Scene
"The Birdwatcher [is] exquisite in every way. A slow-burn book that begins with a violent crime and ends explosively... You won't want to put it down."―BookReporter
"Engaging . . . A fine procedural . . . The action builds to a thrilling ending."―Publishers Weekly
"The Birdwatcher is Shaw's most accomplished book yet, and a demonstration of why so many of his fellow writers have lined up to praise him."―The Independent [UK]
"A brilliantly constructed thriller . . . Utterly compulsive, written in sharp, unsentimental style, and with a wonderfully atmospheric storm-battered setting."―Sunday Mirror [UK]
"William Shaw is, quite simply, an outstanding storyteller. The Birdwatcher is the most gripping book I've read in years."―Peter May, Barry Award-winning author of The Lewis Trilogy
"The Birdwatcher is an astoundingly good crime novel. The characters and setting are brilliantly drawn--the descriptions spare but always telling--and the plot builds to an unforgettable resolution."―Elly Griffiths, author of The Woman in Blue
"A fine, atmospheric, emotionally compelling thriller." Thriller of the Week.―Mail on Sunday [UK]
"A gripping plot, atmospheric setting, highly believable characters, and dialogue you can imagine real people saying, make this a contender for thriller of the year. "―The Sun [UK] --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
William Shaw is an award-winning pop culture journalist, who has written regularly for the UK's Observer and Independent, as well as the New York Times. His previous novels are She's Leaving Home, The Kings of London, and A Song for the Brokenhearted. Shaw lives in Sussex, England. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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"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."
Wow! Doesn't this just make you want to keep reading? Well done William Shaw!
William South lives alone in a tiny coastguard cottage in Dungeness, Kent near the nuclear power station. South has been a policeman for over twenty years. An ordinary copper, he is assigned to support the new Detective Sergeant as she is unfamiliar with the area. DS Alexandra Cupidi has just moved to Kent with her daughter. Her previous job was with the London Metropolitan Police.
"Birding had always been his one safe place."
South, an avid birdwatcher, uses the skills he has learned as a birder in his police work. He writes all his observations down in his notebook, a discipline that all birders work to acquire. Birding has made him patient. Birdwatching has been his passion ever since he was a child. It is an occupation for a solitary boy, and a solitary man.
"Birdwatching was like being a beat copper. You spent your days looking for anomalies. Things that were just a little different."
The first case DS Cupidi is tasked with is a murder. When William South learns that the murder victim is his good friend, fellow birder, and close neighbor, he is deeply troubled. Bob Rayner had been a nice gentle man, a private man, much like South himself. His murder was brutally violent causing South to re-access his love of the place where he lives.
"It wasn't just the threat of violence, the idea that the killer was out there still; something dark had been stirred up".
South lives alone partly because he does not want to inflict his 'baggage' on another person. He grew up in Armagh, Northern Ireland during a time when school children practiced running in a zigzag pattern so as to avoid being shot at. Back then his name was Billy McGowan and his father was in the paramilitaries. His experiences in 1978 during "The Troubles" have indelibly colored his life and he lives with guilt on a daily basis.
DS Cupidi works all the hours God sends. As a result her teenage daughter Zoë is often left to her own devices. Zoë harbours a lot of anger at her mother for taking her out of South London and away from all of her friends. She is not getting along at her new school and fights with her classmates. Cupidi enlists South to take Zoë out birdwatching to keep her out of trouble. Much to South's surprise he finds that Zoë is a natural birder who displays a real interest in the pursuit.
The murder investigation spurs other crimes. Other murders. One of which is connected to South's past in Northern Ireland. DS Cupidi, at first very friendly toward South, turns distant and decidedly cool. Why? Will South's career survive the secrets he carries?
This was a great read! All of the characters were so real that you felt compassion for them and you become invested in their fate. The Dungeness, Kent setting was atmospheric and perfectly suited to the story. Like many novels the action was divided between a past narrative (Billy's boyhood in Northern Ireland), and a present narrative (his adult life as a policeman in Kent). The author skillfully alternated between the two time periods and linked them up in a cohesive manner. The suspense-filled final pages will delight all those who relish crime thrillers and police procedurals. All in all - reading time well spent!
Coming off of a trilogy featuring those characters, Shaw now favors us with what appears to be a stand-alone work (sometimes it’s hard to tell these days) titled THE BIRDWATCHER, and it’s exquisite in every way. It’s a slow burn book that begins with a violent crime and ends explosively, with plenty of character development and all of the elements that we have come to love and expect in a police procedural story.
The birdwatcher of the title is William South, a police officer in a very quiet area of southeast England on the Kent coast. His life is disrupted by two events. The first is the violent murder of his neighbor, friend and fellow birdwatcher Robert Rayner. When Rayner’s brutally beaten body is found in his cottage, everyone, particularly South, is at a loss. Rayner was a quiet type who kept to himself, with few friends and certainly no (apparent) enemies. The second is the arrival of Alexandra Cupidi, South’s new supervising officer. Cupidi is a transfer from London, a single mother with a teenage daughter named Zoe, who is a bit of a bird fancier herself. Due to his friendship with Rayner, South is barred from the investigation, but he can’t help himself from dipping a toe or two (or maybe a whole leg) into the investigation.
Everything proceeds at a slow but steady pace, with the majority of each chapter given over to the investigation and the slowly developing friendship between South and Cupidi, who are kindred souls. Cupidi left the London police force under a bit of a cloud --- one that she seems ready to recreate in her new position --- and South...well, his name really isn’t South, and he’s hiding something as well. As we learn in the early pages of THE BIRDWATCHER, South himself is a murderer, and a bit of the end of each chapter provides some information about his childhood, which is when the events giving rise to his own guilty secret occurred. Indeed, South’s past collides with his present when a grisly discovery appears to resolve the mystery of who murdered Rayner, if not entirely why.
That isn’t the end of the story, though. A revelation near the beginning of the book’s two-third mark increases the pace --- you won’t want to put it down from that point on --- as more secrets are unearthed and revealed, resulting in a violent, shattering conclusion that stands in sharp contrast to what has gone before.
THE BIRDWATCHER ends on a sad but nonetheless upbeat note. I’m not quite sure how Shaw pulls that off, but he does, and I’m glad for it. There may not be a sequel planned, but the book should certainly bring additional attention to Shaw’s superlative work and undoubtedly will create a demand for more.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub.
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I liked this story. It is realistic and employs a chapter in the past and then in the present.Read more