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  • Barbara Copperthwaite

Review: THE BIRDWATCHER, William Shaw

The Birdwatcher, by William Shaw. Review by Barbara Copperthwaite

“Brooding, atmospheric, and full of subtleties”


Police Sergeant William South has a reason for not wanting to be on the murder investigation.

He is a murderer himself.

But the victim was his only friend; like him, a passionate birdwatcher. South is warily partnered with the strong-willed Detective Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, newly recruited to the Kent coast from London. Together they find the body, violently beaten, forced inside a wooden chest. Only rage could kill a man like this. South knows it.

But soon - too soon - they find a suspect: Donnie Fraser, a drifter from Northern Ireland. His presence in Kent disturbs William - because he knew him as a boy. If the past is catching up with him, South wants to meet it head on. For even as he desperately investigates the connections, he knows there is no crime, however duplicitous or cruel, that can compare to the great lie of his childhood.

Moving from the storm-lashed, bird-wheeling skies of the Kent Coast to the wordless war of the Troubles, The Birdwatcher is a crime novel of suspense, intelligence and powerful humanity about fathers and sons, grief and guilt and facing the darkness within.


The Birdwatcher is brooding, atmospheric, and full of subtleties, rather like the Kent marshland in which it is set. From the start we know that police sergeant William South is a murderer – but what exactly is his story?

Slowly, we discover more about the close-mouthed cop, as his past finally catches up with him. He is a wonderful character, of real depth; everything is going on behind the wall he has learned to build between himself and others because of his secret. He is one of these people who you may not warm to immediately, but who is worth persevering with. He is not a hero, he is someone who wants to live a steady life as flat as the landscape surrounding him, and spend as much time as possible watching birds, as they make more sense to him than people. But that is not meant to be.

This is not a story that figuratively bashes you over the head then drags you along, gasping, as you try to keep up with the twists and turns. Instead, it drip-feeds information, building up slowly, adding layers of tension that build and build. The more you find out, the more questions you have, and the more your sense of unease grows; each turned page is the turning of a screw that ratchets up the tension.

I found myself lost in the world William Shaw had created, and I absolutely loved it. The Birdwatcher is my stand out read of 2016, so far.

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