The Birdwatcher by William Shaw is a brilliant crime novel with some really impressive writing. It is set on the Kent coast and the main character, William South, is a police sergeant who enjoys living in a small community and his hobby of bird watching. South is a loner because of his occupation but also because of his past and a terrible secret he is keeping – he, himself is a murderer. This is not a spoiler because it is in the blurb for the book and it determines virtually everything that South does and says.
When a neighbour is found dead South becomes involved with the investigation together with a new female detective who finds herself adrift in the area. He helps her out and begins to become attached to her teenaged daughter, Zoe, who is lonely and starts to birdwatch herself.
As things progress it becomes more and more apparent that the death is connected to South personally and to his childhood in Belfast during “The Troubles”. The book includes flashbacks to explain the situation and these contrast South’s life now with the volatile situation in Northern Ireland at the time. There are a number of things happening at the same time and the author draws these all together and delivers a satisfying, if sad, ending.
The author obviously knows this area of the country well and the landscape is important to the book. The wide, open spaces of the coast echo the loneliness of several of the characters and the birdwatching is very much part of South’s life as he has to be always observant in case his past catches up with him.
This book is well written and cleverly constructed. All the characters are a little bit odd but completely believable. It reminds me a lot of the writing of Val McDermid. I highly recommend it.