The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

13th May 2021.

All books should have an emotional impact on the reader. Some books entertain or inform. Others leave a deeper impression that lives longer in the mind and soul. This novel belongs in this category for its portrayal of William South, an ordinary neighbourhood police officer with a troubled past and a dark secret.

He lives alone in Dungeness, Kent, on a shingle headland with few neighbours. When his closest neighbour, and fellow birdwatcher, is found battered to death, William is drawn into the investigation against his will and wish. It brings back painful memories of his childhood in Northern Ireland before the peace agreement.

The two sides of the story run side by side. As the murder investigation progresses, the story of his childhood is replayed. William wants to find his neighbour’s killer, but he may have to reveal his own hidden truth in the process.

This conflict adds another dimension to the characters, relationships and stories, which are beautifully delivered, building the suspense into an emotionally charged climax that’s both life-threatening and tragic in equal amounts.

The aftermath is even more gripping and my emotions were torn in different directions as the consequences played out, leaving me drained and sad. Not many books can manage that.

This is a story about people and how events in the past shape the future and the consequences of suppressing secrets. Whether you enjoy crime fiction or not, you cannot fail to be moved by this story.


Sergeant William South has always avoided investigating murder. A passionate birdwatcher and quiet man, he has few relationships and prefers it that way.

But when his only friend is found brutally beaten, South’s detachment is tested. Not only is he bereft – it seems that there’s a connection between the suspect and himself.

For South has a secret. He knows the kind of rage that killed his friend. He knows the kind of man who could do it. He knows, because Sergeant William South himself is a murderer.

Moving from the storm-lashed, bird-wheeling skies of the Kent Coast to the wordless war of the Troubles, The Birdwatcher is a crime novel of suspense, intelligence and powerful humanity about fathers and sons, grief and guilt and facing the darkness within.

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

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