on 7 September 2009
A novel about the supposed suicide of a poet about to publish a damaging and revealing poem in her new book of poetry. The poet's daughter, Sam, is convinced the death was no accident, and sets out to try and prove this is the case.
The moving backwards then forwards in time had me completely befuddled near the start of the book, and it wasn't until the novel caught up with itself about a quarter of the way in that I gained full sense of what was going on. From that moment, I was reading a fairly gripping and interesting thriller concerned with Sam's search for the 'proof' that will explain her mother's death, and both the killer's and other people's desires for the verdict of suicide to remain.
Having read a few substandard thrillers recently, this was a pleasant surprise. There are plenty of characters who could be the murderer, and I was kept guessing until fairly late in the book as to which one it was. The way the author kept the tension high as Sam visits various suspects was very well done and, despite there being a bit of a favourite, it is not a done deal that this person is definitely the 'murder bird'.
The writing was good, the characterisations were very real and there was never a moment of unbelievability in the narrative, everything flowed seamlessly. Having read books where actions or plot points have jumped out at me and I've been able to see the author wondering how to deal with a situation, and the very obvious and clunky way things have been resolved, it is refreshing to read such a well-crafted book.
THE MURDER BIRD is a compelling little psychological thriller of dark family secrets. At first, I thought it was going to be a story of a woman who stabs her sleeping husband to death, and the effects on her and her young children. But although the book begins and ends with this story, the main action soon shifts to Raph Howes, a barrister who may, or may not, take the defence. Raph, it turns out, lost his own wife, Kirsten Waller, in a sad case of "self murder". Kirsten was a renowned American poet, and although she had split with Raph, the couple still got on well. It is Kirsten's daughter, cellist Sam Boswin (short for Samphire) who alone refuses to accept that her mother took her own life, and is determined to discover who killed her.
Raph's family is initially somewhat confusing to sort out: he gets on well with his brother-in-law Johnny but Johnny's wife Miriam (Raph's sister) is repressed, childless and prone to debilitating migraine headaches. Raph and Miriam's mother, Diana, is a rather vague woman for whom everything has to be "nice" or she can't function. Added to the mix are Raph's new trophy girlfriend Lola, his pupil Mick Brady, Sam's natural father Davy Boswin and his second family, as well as Judy, the owner of the Cornish cottage where Kirsten died, who had been Kirsten's friend but had cooled towards her when Kirsten's creative reputation eclipsed Judy's.
Sam, being young, is uncompromising about her determination to solve the mystery of her mother's death, putting everyone's backs up. Early in the book, she breaks into Raph's house, where she is convinced she will find her mother's missing journal containing the poems she was working on when she died, and therein a clue to her death. Instead of finding the journal, she encounters Mick and Lola in a drunken post-party flirtation, and has to beat a retreat.
Later, Mick finds himself drawn to Sam despite himself, and begins to believe her story that her mother could not have committed suicide. We then see in flashback the genesis of Kirsten's poem "The Murder Bird", written during a disastrous family weekend some time previously, and which Sam is convinced will hold the key to her mother's death, if she can but find where Raph has hidden it.
The book is clever in that the seasoned crime-fiction reader will guess early on the most likely identity of the murderer - but will the reader be right? Another neat touch is the existence of a ruined tower in the house that Johnny and Miriam have managed to own despite the opposition of Johnny's elder brother, who inherited it and wants to sell. As soon as we learn that the floor of the tower has rotten wood, we know that someone is likely to fall through it.
Joanna Hines is aware of these genre cliches and takes the reader beyond them into a haunting mystery involving all the characters in this disjointed family. Sam is not a conventional, likeable heroine, but she is all the more attractive as a character because of that. Through her, we get to know her talented, unconventional mother and to understand her life and what led to her death.
on 26 July 2009
The Murder Bird is about Kirsten, a poet who commits suicide. Her daughter doesn't think she did kill herself, she is sure that it was murder. She thinks the link is the poem her mother was writing, The Murder Bird. Could this be the clue to solve her mother's murder?
This book reminded me of the Golden Age of crime writers. There were real elements of Agatha Christie and co running though this book. There was the Cornwall setting, the posh house, the priveleged cast, the family with dark secrets. This really ensures this book is a classy, sophisticated crime novel.
I found the initial chapters very engaging too. The first chapters played around with time sequences and who the chapter focused on. The inventiveness of Hines kept me reading, enjoying the winding path she was leading me down.
This initial enthralement sadly came to an end however. The ingenuity of the start returned to a traditional crime structure and it seemed to me that it took Hines an awful lot of words to get to something. For me her writing wasn't succinct enough. Other's won't have that opinion but hey, this is my review! It may have the essence of an Agatha Christie but it doesn't have the tightness of her writing, the fact that scenes are only there if they are of vital importance.
I did enjoy this book. The plot is well written and thought out, there are plenty of twists but I didn't have the feeling of wishing the book would never end. I just wasn't hooked by the plot or the voice of the author.