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A Siege of Bitterns | Book Recommendation

August 29, 2021

[Posted by Chuck Almdale]

There are dozens* of sub-genres of murder mysteries. If you haven’t yet heard of birding murder mysteries, add that to your list, although so far Steve Burrows is the only writer I know of in that genre. His credentials on birds and birding are excellent: birded on six continents, former editor of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society magazine, contributing field editor for Asian Geographic. At the time he wrote his first book, A Siege of Bitterns, he lived with his wife Resa in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. He apparently enjoys collective nouns of the venery.

A Siege of Bitterns is a good mystery and a good novel. The title is critically important. Characters are numerous, interesting and well-drawn; the environs are described in detail. I didn’t figure it out before the “big reveal.” It’s certainly not “noir” or “hardboiled;” “cozy” would work as the sub-genre, as the tone is light throughout. It’s fun to read, especially if you’re already a birder, and Burrows is not afraid to make appropriate fun of birder peculiarities.

If you’ve never been to the setting—Norfolk, England—it’s one of the top birding spots in the world and certainly at or near the top in Great Britain. There are probably more birders per square meter living there than anywhere else in the world. If you’ve never birded in Norfolk…well, now you can do it from your armchair.

A Siege of Bitterns is the first in a series of birder murder mysteries. It won the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel, presented annually by the Crime Writers of Canada for the best Canadian crime and mystery writing published in the previous year.

Other books in the series:

A Pitying of Doves – June 2015
A Cast of Falcons – May 2016
A Shimmer of Hummingbirds – Mar 2017
A Tiding of Magpies – Nov 2018
A Dance of Cranes – Aug 2019

A Siege of Bitterns: A birder murder mystery featuring DCI Domenic Jejeune.
Steve Burrows | Pub. Point Blank | Dist. Simon & Schuster | 2014 | 344 pages

Publisher’s Description:

In this first Birder Murder mystery newly appointed police inspector Domenic Jejeune doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers to flush out suspects in the brutal murder of a renowned ecological activist.

Newly appointed police inspector Domenic Jejeune doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers. Indeed his success has elevated him into a poster boy for the police. The problem is Jejeune doesn’t really want to be a detective at all; he much prefers watching birds.

Recently reassigned to the small Norfolk town of Saltmarsh, located in the heart of Britain’s premier birding country, Jejeune’s two worlds collide with the grisly murder of a prominent ecological activist. His ambitious police superintendent foresees a blaze of welcome publicity, although doubts soon emerge when Jejeune’s best theory involves a feud over birdwatching lists. A second murder does little to bolster confidence.

Jejeune must call on all his birding know-how to solve the mystery and deal with unwelcome public acclaim, the mistrust of colleagues and his own insecurities. For, in the case of the Saltmarsh birder murders, the victims may not be the only casualties…

*It’s been decades since murder mysteries morphed and became a collection of genres. Here’s a quick list: caper, cozy, domestic, drawing room, forest ranger, hardboiled, investigator (sub-sub genres: male, female, black, teen male, teen female), noir (sub-sub genres by location: Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco), procedural, race track, religious orders, science fiction, southern, supernatural, suspense, thriller, travel, true crime, western, young adult. There are a lot more potential genres: specific sports, fishing, jungle exploration, pets, and every nation in the world, to name a few.

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