A Shimmer of Hummingbirds

Written by Steve Burrows

Review written by Judith Sullivan

Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.

A Shimmer of Hummingbirds
Point Blank
RRP: £8.99
Released: April 5 2018
PBK & eBook

This latest instalment in the Birder series of novels is set in two countries with different time zones, languages and climate. The main murder mystery aspect plays out in Norfolk, where hero Domenic Jejeune is a Chief Inspector. The second strand proceeds in Colombia where Jejeune has treated himself to a birdwatching cum investigatory trip.

In Saltmarsh, Norfolk; Jejeune’s colleagues confront the death by suffocation of 38-year-old local Erin Dawes. In Bogota, Jejeune is both seeking out the titular hummingbirds and others, making strides towards absolving his own brother of guilt over an ill-fated foray that left several people dead.

The action slip-slides easily between the two locations and sequences of events. Jejeune monitors the Dawes investigation from South America.

In his absence, the man running the show in Saltmarsh PD is one Marvin Laraby. The two mens’ dislike for each other has history and breadth. Anybody who has been on “out of the office” settings for a period of time can relate to Domenic’s efforts to avoid relegation. Thankfully, his on-off girlfriend Lindy Hey is a journalist and very much in tune to her partner’s concerns. She snoops with tact and diligence and keeps an eye on any of Laraby’s efforts to elbow Jejeune out of job or position.

The Dawes murder in her cottage at first blush seems right out of a Golden-Age cosy (one officer at the scene quips about the surreal homicide in “quaint” Saltmarsh). But as the Norfolk team digs into Dawes’ story, Hummingbirds grounds itself in 2017-18. Financial shenanigans, environmental activism and drone technology all figure in the backdrop to Dawes tense interaction with her fellow investors in the marvellously named IV League. A group of four (IV, get it?) investors. The League came to being to purchase stock in the Picaflor project developing local environmental assessments via drone technology.

Sex might have played a part in Dawes’ downfall but money was also a likely factor, the cops realize as they probe IV’s past and present and abide by the “follow of the money” adage.  Domenic returns to the UK having gained some closure on his brother’s actions and ready to question Laraby and Co.

All this to the virtually constant soundtrack provided by Motown. Jejeune’s colleague Danny Maik is obsessed with the harmonies from Motor City and “those old Motown records” accompany several scenes.

Hummingbirds took some time for me to get into. Several scenes were interrupted by the mundane (discussing Christmas gifts, commenting on the quality of coffee, that kind of thing) which I found jarring initially. As I kept reading, though, I fell into the groove. Burrows, a birdwatching expert, reminds the reader that cops are people, too. They have families and mortgages and Christmas lists (the story takes place primarily in December).  The pauses for ‘the everyday’, add a specific pace. They contrast neatly with the urgency of the crime-solving and the super laid-back pace of waiting for and admiring our feathered friends.

The final act plays out at speed, as these things should. Not only do we get more twists and bends on the Dawes’ murder but the book closes with a brutal punchline inevitably a springboard to events in the next book, A Tiding of Magpies.

Burrows didn’t sell me on the joys of birdwatching. He did introduce me to a believably flawed and motley group of coppers and friends – he does especially well with women, pleasantly present and tuned in characters. Hummingbirds is a well-constructed examination of the ties that bind and unbind us, at work and within families. Burrows is fascinated by office politics and dissects these cleverly so they support the plot rather than get in the way.

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