When reading Steve Burrows A Pitying of Doves: A Birder Murder Mystery, I became convinced he was using writer’s software like Scrivener or Dramatica Pro. What drilled it home to me that somewhere in this creation an artificial intelligence was prompting some of the narrative was the repetitive nature of some of the character development. Danny Maik, the closest thing to a partner our lead detective Domenic JeJeune has, likes Motown. How do we know, because it is referenced over and over and over, sometimes incongruously as in when it is brought up at a work meeting. I imagine a popup window that jumps into place when Maik’s name comes up in a new chapter with a reminder to deepen the character by mentioning his love of Motown. Did we mention he loves Motown? How about some Stevie Wonder lyrics? Frankly, it drove me nuts.
Other character development is just plain weird. Holland is made of the flimsiest cardboard—why does he exist? It is already clear that JeJeune is not in sync with his colleagues, we don’t need an insubordinate thuggish officer to reinforce that. The academic Dr. Nyce is a walking talking stereotype as imagined by resentful non-academics, predatory, vain, and an intellectual snob. Of course he is!
JeJeune’s love interest and live-in love Lindy is a reporter and not interested in birding. Yet she makes bird puns such as “sorts the wheatears from the chaffinches?” Really? Lindy also gets inexplicably angry. You know who else does? All the women in the book. Subordinate Lauren Salter, Carrie Pritchard, and supervisor DCS Shepherd, Margaret Wylde and Luisa Obregón, not one of them avoid losing their cool or falling apart. So many overly emotional women. Lucky for Phoebe Hunter, she is dead before the narrative begins, so we don’t see her becoming hysterical. I am using the word deliberately to highlight the presumption of female emotional instability in Burrows’ writing.
So what about the main character, this birder/detective Domenic JeJeune? Quiet, secretive, a soloist forced to work in an ensemble. He’s leading a group of detective while emotional incompetent for leadership or group collaboration. He dislikes his job and has no compunction about letting his dissatisfaction and ennui infect everyone else. I think the author is trying to make him enigmatic and reserved like Holmes, but the effect comes across more like petulance combined with social disability.
Burrows is skilled at writing about place – about the sky, the land, the sea and the soaring birds. But that is not enough to sustain a novel.
As to the mystery, it is so slow and dragging I had to fight the temptation to skip to the end just to get it over with. There was also far too much tedious and gratuitous foreshadowing for what I presume will be the focus of the third book in this series, some story involving JeJeune’s brother. Eve fantasy trilogies which are often conceived as a full set do not market the next in the series with such a heavy hand.
I have not read the first book in this series and have no desire to read it or the third, mainly because although a case can be made for this detective as an interesting character on which to base a series, everything else is mediocre. The mystery itself is plodding, the characters are flat and fit into stereotypes, and it is just all totally unworthy. Not terrible, nothing terribly offensive or awful, just completely ordinary and dull. A book that I disliked in the end, and as I thought about it came to dislike even more.
And that is what this is, a mediocre mystery of interest to twitchers and fans of birding and you know, there are many, many better choices. I would recommend Ann Cleves’ George & Molly series as a start.