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Wednesday 13 July 2016

‘The Birdwatcher’ by William Shaw

Published by Quercus Book,
19 May 2016.
ISBN: 9787-1-78429-722-0

Let me say right from the start I absolutely loved this book. I had seen a lot of chatter about it on social media, but wasn’t sure whether it was for me. A contemporary police procedural whose main protagonist was a birdwatcher? Didn’t immediately appeal. But now I am telling everyone about it.

The opening paragraph sets up the novel, and the character of police officer William South:

‘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.’

William South is a quiet man. A patient man. He’s a solid copper who enjoys his life on the wild and barren coast at Dungeness working with neighbourhood watch, and investigating traffic accidents and drug dealers. He enjoys the undemanding companionship of other birdwatchers and has acquired the patience to be still while watching for birds. When a murder is committed close to home, he fights against getting involved, but is soon sucked in and has to work with a new DS Alexandra Cupidi, who is keen to make her mark.

As it becomes clear that the murder of South’s neighbour and fellow birdwatcher was not just a random killing, we learn more about South’s childhood in Northern Ireland and the terrible crime that shaped and still haunts him, now threatening to intrude on his uneventful life.

William Shaw writes with a quiet intensity that draws you in to the story and makes you care about the characters. I very much enjoyed the interplay and shifting of dynamics between William South, DS Cupidi and Cupidi’s teenage daughter, Zoe, who is struggling to adjust to the Kent coast after life in London. At first all three are wary of each other, but gradually a degree of trust grows between them.

The bleakness of the Kent coast, its wild nature and wide expanse of beach in the shadow of a power station is beautifully drawn and acts as a perfect backdrop to violent murder. The novel is atmospheric, thought-provoking and beautifully crafted, and builds the tension, layer upon layer. It stayed with me long after I had finished it.

William Shaw is also the author of the Breen and Tozer trilogy of novels set in the 1960s – I will be visiting those in the very near future.
Reviewer: Mary-Jane Riley 

William Shaw was born in Newton abbot, Devon, and grew up in Nigeria and lived for sixteen years in hackney. Starting out as assistant editor of the post-punk magazine ZigZag, he has been a journalist for The Observer, The New York Times, Wired, Arena and The Face and was Amazon UK Music Journalist of the Year in 2003. He is the author of several non-fiction books including Westsiders: Stories of the Boys in the Hood, about a year spent with the young men of South Central Los Angeles, and A Superhero For Hire, a compilation of columns in the Observer Magazine. A Song from Dead Lips is the first in a trilogy of crime fiction books set in London in 1968 – 1969. He lives in Brighton.

Mary-Jane Riley wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter. She was eight. It was about a gang of children who had adventures on mysterious islands, but she soon realised Enid Blyton had cornered that particular market. So she wrote about the Wild West instead. When she grew up she had to earn a living, and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades.
Then, in true journalistic style, she decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story and got creative. She wrote for women's magazines and small presses. She formed WriteOutLoud with two writer friends to help charities get their message across using their life stories. Now she is writing psychological suspense, drawing on her experiences in journalism.
The Bad Things by Mary-Jane Riley was published by Harper Collins/Killer Reads. Her second book, After She Fell, also published by Killer Reads, is out on April 28th.
In her spare time Mary-Jane likes to walk the dog and eat a lot. Good job she likes walking.

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