Thursday, 10 December 2015

2 fiction reviews and a few extra bits

By chance I happened to grab a couple of fiction books from the local (OK, its 35km away in Kingston) library that both involved matters relating to birds.

"The Conjurer's Bird" by Martin Davies.  From the get-go this had a brownie point due to the author's excellent choice of given name!  There are basically 2 story lines, which alternate wihin each chapter:

  • A current time story about tracking down a bird collected (ie shot and stuffed) on James Cook's second voyage but the specimen being lost for many years; and
  • A story about the personal life of Joseph Banks, who had possession of the corpse for some period.

There is also some material about a search for an African peacock, but I found that of lesser weight and more or less background to the current time story.

Reading through the book I was intrigued about the level of historical fact underpinning the material about Banks - and indeed the bird in question.  This is sorted out in an Author's note at the end and what he has done in offering one explanation of some otherwise unexplained facts is quite entertaining.  (Coincidentally, as I was reading this book my friend Ian Fraser posted about the genus Banksia!)

I found the book a good read with the modern story a quite good mystery and the historical story an interesting view of a little known aspect of a very well figure, in Banks.  The one question I had was the identity of the conjurer which is not, as far as I can see, overtly stated but is justified in chapter 2.

"The Puffin of Death" by Betty Webb.  A story, told in the first person, featuring a young female zoo keeper from California going to Iceland to transfer a polar bear cub to her base.  The list of characters includes sundry Icelanders and a group of birders from Arizona.  Without spoiling the story there are less birders at the end of the book than there were at the beginning!

The material about birds is sufficient to justify its inclusion in this post (and there is certainly mention of Puffins)!  There is a lot about the natural history of Iceland which is based on the author's travels there and was very interesting.

This is not War and Peace, either in length or quality of prose, but it was a pretty good read.  Certainly a good prospect for a plane flight.

My remaining question is, noting the author has written 12 books (8 in 1 series and 4 about this character), whether these are writing by numbers - essentially the same plot with names and details changed.  As we were sufficiently interested to get a second book in the series, I will soon know.

Now I do know.  Her writing may not be like Tolstoy but after reading the earlier Llama of Death I opine to the view that she is at least in the Agatha Christie class.  My reason for this is that she has done enough work to build in a lot of detail about the behaviour of the animals that form significant parts of the plot to make each book different and interesting.  People interested in this might like to read the first few paragraphs of Chapter 4, containing, inter alia, details of the body parts of Argentine ducks!

She also has a good turn of phrase: what is not to admire about a sentence such as:
"By the time I arrived at the zoo I was covered in tear, snot and primrose pollen."

1 comment:

Ian Fraser said...

Excellent thanks Martin - I shall follow these up!