5 August 2015

Review: A SIEGE OF BITTERNS, Steve Burrows

  • format: Amazon (Kindle)
  • File Size: 1025 KB
  • Print Length: 353 pages
  • Publisher: Dundurn (March 31, 2014)
  • Publication Date: March 31, 2014
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Globe and Mail 100: Best Books of 2014 
  • 2015 Arthur Ellis Award — Winner, Best First Novel 
  • 2015 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize — Shortlisted, Best Mystery
Synopsis  (Kindle)

Newly appointed police inspector Domenic Jejeune doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers to flush out suspects in the brutal murder of a renowned ecological activist.

Inspector Domenic Jejeune’s success has made him a poster boy for the U.K. police service. The problem is Jejeune doesn’t really want to be a detective at all; he much prefers watching birds.

Recently reassigned to the small Norfolk town of Saltmarsh, located in the heart of Britain’s premier birding country, Jejeune’s two worlds collide when he investigates the grisly murder of a prominent ecological activist. His ambitious police superintendent foresees a blaze of welcome publicity, but she begins to have her doubts when Jejeune’s most promising theory involves a feud over birdwatching lists. A second murder only complicates matters.

To unravel this mystery, Jejeune must deal with unwelcome public acclaim, the mistrust of colleagues, and his own insecurities. In the case of the Saltmarsh birder murders, the victims may not be the only casualties.

My Take

Many thanks to the blog reader who recommended this title, the winner of the 2015 Arthur Ellis award for best first novel.

Although this is the debut novel in a series, it tries to give the impression that it isn't: there is some history about why Domenic Jejeune has accepted this appointment in the marshlands of North Norfolk. The story is hinted at, never fully revealed in one place.

And the reader's curiosity is piqued on two levels: Jejeune is Canadian, so what is he doing in the British police force? And the author is Canadian - what is he doing setting his novel in England?

And then there is the character of Jejeune himself. We are told he has risen rapidly through the ranks, that he is a clever detective. But we are also told by Jejeune himself that it is case of what he is good at rather than a case of what he enjoys doing. He hates the need to be meticulous, to dot the i's and cross the t's. He would much rather be bird watching. 

And then that brings us to the plot and the setting: the heart of bird watching in Britain, the competition between bird watchers to be the best there is, to record the biggest personal totals. Can any of this possibly be related to the hanging of an outspoken ecological activist or is the perpetrator much closer to home?

I have concluded that this is certainly an author worth following. The plot of A SIEGE OF BITTERNS was satisfyingly complex, full of twists and turns, as well as red herrings. 

My rating: 4.7

About the Author (see website)

Steve Burrows has pursued his birdwatching hobby on five continents. He is a former editor of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society Magazine and a contributing field editor for Asian Geographic. Steve now lives in Oshawa, Ontario.

Burrows has three titles in the Birder series, not all published yet
1. A Siege of Bitterns (2014)
2. A Pitying of Doves (2015)
3. A Cast of Falcons (2016)


Margot Kinberg said...

What an interesting context, Kerrie. And it does sound interesting. Glad you enjoyed it .

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Hi Kerrie, I would have thought the hushed setting of the world of bird watchers too gentle to lend itself to crime fiction, but after reading your review, i see I am clearly mistaken. I had no idea it was so competitive! I'm now more than a little intrigued. Thanks :)


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