Lately I've been having trouble finding fiction that I want to read. After spending several days skimming the first few chapters of book after book and then casting it aside, I gave myself a project: to find works of fiction that mention birds in the title, read them whether they're good or bad...and then tell everyone about it. It's a bonus if birds are actually relevant to the story.
This is the second book which I have tackled since starting my new project. Before I talk about the book, I should mention that I tend to be a very picky reader. The whole impetus behind this project was to find a fun way of getting out of my book rut. I do love to read a wide variety of books, and every now and again, I'll surprise myself by loving a book in a genre I don't normally care for.
Still, I am picky, which is why I am going to try to be fair as well as honest, looking at these random books with birds in the title from three angles:
1. Did I like it?
2. Is it well-written, well-plotted or otherwise technically proficient?
3. Regardless of my opinion, do I think that other people would have valid reasons for liking it?
You have probably deduced that I did not really care for Death of a Kingfisher by M. C. Beaton (2012, Grand Central Publishing).
This title is #28 of a mystery series about a Scottish detective named Hamish McBeth. (I gave the book some slack as I have not read any of the previous 27 volumes.) The story revolves around nefarious doings in a small town in the highlands, where a comely woman on the tourist board named Mary has raised some hackles by making a local grotto a tourist attraction. Renamed "The Fairy Glen," this pool in the woods is now bringing folks in by the busload, and not everyone his happy about it.
The story begins with some bird-murder and vandalism, and Hamish is called on to interview a wide cast of off-beat or surly characters. Before long, there is a murder. Actually, a lot of murders; by the end, I couldn't keep track of the body count.
We are reminded of the Scottish setting by lots of dialogue in brogue, talk about fairies or the second sight, imbibing of whiskey and references to the highlands. Despite this, I felt that the true setting was your generic Wacky Town filled with kooky characters.
The writing itself was clunky but competent. There were a lot of abrupt POV changes and jarring transitions, but I was OK with it until the last fifty pages or so, when it got really bad.
What I liked:
1. The cover art is pretty.
2. It wasn't offensive or mean-spirited in any way.
3. The chapter where Hamish travels to the island was actually pretty good. It evoked a somewhat creepy sense of place, had some interesting people, and even a bit of humor and suspense.
4. This passage:
As Hamish climbed into the driver's seat, Dick held out the paper folded back to page three where there was a photo of a girl with simply enormous breasts wearing a smile and a G-string. "Would ye look at that!" said Dick.
"Oh, put it away," snapped Hamish. "Do you never think what an awful time that lassie must have running for a bus?"
What I had problems with:
1. The story was just too wacky. Certain scenes, like the funeral of the kingfisher, were clearly meant to be funny. Others, like the method of the first murder (death by rocket chair), were just...dumb. But to be fair, that's probably a matter of taste. Someone else might get a real kick out of it.
2. Too many characters, and none of them fleshed out. Granted, some of them are probably recurring characters in the series, and if I'd read the other books, I'd know who they were. Even taking that into account, I felt there were way too many people cluttering up this story. It's not a long book, so most of them only got a sentence or two to establish their personality, or they never went beyond a cliche.
3. They plot was way too busy, and relied on too many coincidences. It was non-stop improbable twists, new murders, new characters tossed in seemingly at random, then-whoops!--they're murdered. I really wish the author would have slowed down now and then, fleshed out the characters, allowed a little suspense to build up.
4. The ending was awful. Up until the last forty pages or so, I was giving Kingfisher the benefit of a doubt. But then it took a nose-dive. The "bad guy" was too obvious, the writing went from competent to horrible, and the hurried pace, awkward transitions and glut of random new characters got so bad I could barely finish. It felt more like a rough draft.
I don't want to be mean about it. Probably 75% of my problems with this book are simply because this particular story was not to my taste. For one thing, it's a cozy mystery, and that's a genre I've never warmed up to. I'm sure that skipping the first 27 books in the series also contributed to my reaction. Fans of the cozy might very well enjoy this. (At least until the ending. I'm trying to be nice, but really, it was bad.)
Finally, the bird tie-in:
When I checked this book out, I guess I expected that the "kingfisher" in the title was a symbol for a character. Actually, that's how the story starts, with a murder of a family of kingfishers. Here's a description of one while still alive:
"My, it's rare bonnie," said Dick.
"Shh!" said Hamish. "Look at that!"
A kingfisher dived into the pool and rose again, a fish in its beak, its sapphire-blue wings flashing. It flew under the trailing branches of a weeping willow and disappeared.
After the first couple of chapters, human death and mayhem take over, and kingfishers aren't much heard from again.
So, has anyone else read this book? Did you like the ending?
Or cozy mysteries in general?