Review: The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

 I’m very excited to receive an early review copy of The Birdwatcher. William Shaw is a great writer, I’ve loved his Breen and Tozer detective series set in 1960s London, and I’ve been looking forward to this new standalone crime novel.

As usual with a good, gripping book, I managed to read it straight through in a couple of days. The Birdwatcher follows police sergeant William South,  a quiet man who’s Kent coast beat usually involves liaising with the local community rather than murder. Things are further complicated by two factors, the arrival of new detective Alexandra Cupidi, and the murder victim is William’s friend and neighbour. Then, in the first lines we discover that William has two more reasons not to want to get involved in the murder: it’s migration season (he’d rather be watching birds) and he is a murderer himself. You’ll see that this book has great potential for a compelling, complex, story, and I’m pleased to say that Shaw delivers and kept me gripped all the way through.

I enjoyed the characterisation. William South is, much like the hero of Shaw’s other books, a quiet man. He likes his life on the wild, barren coast at Dungeness, and his job as Local District lead for the Kent police. He fights against getting involved in the murder even before he finds it is so close to home, and he’s unsure about the new DS who has moved down from London. Against his better judgement, South gets sucked further and further into the case, his local knowledge helping him uncover link after link that tells him the death of his neighbour and fellow birdwatcher wasn’t just a random killing.

The other character who worked well for me was Zoe Cupidi, Alexandra’s teenage daughter who is angry at being dragged away from her friends and school. South finds himself forced to play babysitter and take Zoe birdwatching. I’m not sure how many teenage girls would genuinely manage to become interested in birds, but Shaw writes persuasively!

I also enjoyed the flashbacks to South’s childhood, growing up on a Protestant estate surrounded by Catholic areas in Northern Ireland in the seventies. At first I was a little unsettled by the change of setting, but soon I grew used to this part of the book which gradually showed us how South became the man he is, and raises the question of whether his past is catching up with him.

The final part of the book I want to highlight is Dungeness itself. I love to write in Dungeness, it has a special characteristic of it’s own, a wide expanse of beach overshadowed by the power station, and I guess Shaw has spent quite some time there too. It’s the ideal setting for a murder, and I may not be able to write there in quite the same way again!

The Birdwatcher costs £12.99 in hardback and £6.99 on Kindle and is due out 19th May


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