A Bird In The Hand by Ann Cleeves

A Bird In The HandTom French is one of the most well-known birdwatchers amongst the twitcher community. Sorry, I meant that he was one of the most well-known – as somebody smashed his head in and left him in the marsh near the town of Rushby, Norfolk. But Tom didn’t have an enemy in the world – well, not that anybody was aware of.

George Palmer-Jones, a retired civil servant and active birdwatcher, is asked to look into the murder by a concerned parent and soon finds that there are some dark undercurrents in the community. But was Tom killed for love? For hate? For revenge? Or for an even darker reason… Aided by his wife Molly, George is determined to unmask a murderer before they strike again.

As I’ve mentioned before, before Vera Stanhope and the Shetland books, Ann Cleeves wrote two other series. I visited the Inspector Ramsay series recently with the rather splendid A Day In The Death Of Dorothea Cassidy and now it’s time for the other series – the George and Molly birdwatching mysteries. Sounds like one of those US cozy mysteries, but it’s not, I assure you.

This is Ann’s first book, from 1986, and it holds up pretty well. Her style is evident from page one as we get to know each character as the book progresses by giving us a snapshot of each of their points of view. It’s an effective method that embeds the characters into the reader’s memory quickly, a trick that other writers with large casts could do with adopting.

The mystery contains hints, rather than actual clues, to the identity of the murderer but I was completely wrong-footed by the end. George’s frustration at his (early) inability to make any progress is a different tack than you often see, but it gives a sense of realism to it.

Unfortunately, unlike other books from Ann that I’ve read, there are some problems. It drags in the central section a bit, Molly seems rather peripheral for a George & Molly mystery (and she’s a bit more interesting than George), and the motivation is disappointingly straightforward at the end.

But it’s an interesting read, especially for someone with a tangential interest in birds, and, as I said, I was completely caught out by the killer’s identity, which always helps. Not perfect, but Well Worth A Look.

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5 comments

  1. Thanks for the review. 🙂 Was there a reason why you picked this particular title from the George and Molly series? From the little I’ve read on the web, the George and Molly series is the weakest of Ann Cleeve’s output; not many seem to speak that highly of the Ramsay series too. But I read ‘Dorothea Cassidy’ off the back of your review, and enjoyed it – and as such proceeded to purchase ‘Murder at My Backyard’. The Ramsay series seems to fit the ‘classic mystery’ mould more obviously than the Vera series.

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    • Probably completeness more than anything else. It’s not the strongest of the books of Ann’s that I’ve read – probably the weakest in fact but all things are relative. There are problems with it – the non-existence of a police investigation is very strange for example – but it’s still a lot better than a lot of mystery fiction out there.

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