A Bird to Die For

by Digby Maclaughlin.

The birders are all a twitch again in the tiny Norfolk village of Chesley-Next-The-Sea. This time, one of their own, Nigel Fielding, has been bludgeoned while birding down near the beach hut.

A routine mugging perhaps? After all, his wallet and his binoculars were missing. And his Land Rover parked nearby was pretty well ransacked. But, this is Chesley-Next-The-Sea. Most of the people living there are birders. Not taking any chances, Detective Inspector Wells decides to call on the assistance of retired Cleveland cop Patrick McCluskey. Patrick is no fool. He realizes that what the inspector really wants is to tap into the knowledge of his girlfriend Judith. She is an illustrator of bird books and knows all the local birders.

(You may remember from my review of Waiting for Godwits that Judith and Patrick had met in Florida, fell for each other and decided to move in together. Now they spend their time divided between Patrick’s Florida condo and Judith’s house in Chesley-Next-The Sea.)

McCluskey finds it odd that the supposed mugger left behind the murder victim’s mobile phone. Even more strange is the message left on it that reads “poscitwgtlimm bchht”. It only takes Judith a few seconds to decipher it as “possible immature citrine wagtail near the beach hut”. Was Nigel lured to his death by a bird?

While a citrine wagtail was not a common bird in the area, all of the local birders had seen one. Except Nigel. It was what is referred to as his “bogie” bird. All of the other birders knew that, so one of them must have been the killer.

It doesn’t take long for Inspector Wells and Patrick to zero in on the members of the Millennium Club. This was a group of birders brought together by Nigel Fielding with the intent of breaking the existing record for number of British birds seen in a single year. It was supposed to be a team effort, however, it had soon become obvious that Nigel wanted to use the club to ensure that he was the one who broke the record. After some fiery words one night at The Black Horse (the local pub), the club disbanded.

Members (and now suspects) include:

  • Alice Weatherhead – She organized everything and seemed to be sweet on Nigel.
  • Peter Atkins – He was the local birding expert who not only disliked Nigel, but did not have much nice to say about anyone else for that matter.
  • Menzies Alexander – He pretty much bankrolled the club and was frequently slipping off to London where he partied quite a bit
  • Gerhardt Vanrooyen – A South African with a murky past. He owned a private plane which the club was to use to fly to rare bird sightings across England.
  • Old Jim – A much loved birder who provided some local color for the project.
  • Mark Halton – A filmmaker retained to document the club’s quest.
  • Millicent Murphy – Halton’s assistant and girlfriend.

The more investigating the detectives do, the more it becomes obvious that Nigel Fielding was not a nice person. There is a hint of blackmail about the man. Then, there is the matter of the other deaths. But, you will have to discover those for yourself along with the detectives.

A Bird to Die For is a great read, especially for birders. Patrick’s birding skills have obviously improved since the previous book. He now finds his mind wandering during the investigation whenever an interesting species flies by. Judith is as sexy (and as smart) as ever, but doesn’t seem to do quite as much cooking this time. I do think I would enjoy one of her Cornish pies though.

As in Waiting for Godwits, the detectives tend to spend a good bit of their time in The Black Horse where Alfred is always topping off Patrick’s Boddingtons. Readers themselves may want to stock up on some ale before starting this book. It can make you thirsty. When I finished it, I was definitely thirsty for more mysteries by Digby Maclaughlin.

A Bird to Die For is available from Amazon as a Kindle book.

Carroll County Chapter of Maryland Ornithological Society

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