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Sometimes, the wrong choice is the only choice you have.
Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune is hoping a South American birding trip might hold some answers in his fugitive brother’s manslaughter case. But there are people on the tour who seem keen to keep their secrets, and the rainforest can be a dangerous place for those who ask too many questions.
Back in the U.K., in Jejeune’s absence, Marvin Laraby, his former boss and longtime nemesis has been brought in to investigate the murder of an accountant. He is proving so effective that Superintendent Colleen Shepherd is considering making his replacement of Jejeune a permanent arrangement.
With the manslaughter case poised to claim another victim, Jejeune learns that an accident back home involving his girlfriend, Lindy Hey, is much more than it seems. Lindy is in imminent danger. And only Jejeune can help her. But to do so, he must sacrifice his working relationship with Shepherd, opening the door for Laraby’s appointment as the new DCI.
When Jejeune discovers the truth about Laraby’s current case, he is faced with a dilemma. He can speak up, knowing it will cost him his job on the north Norfolk coast he loves. Or he can stay silent, and let a killer escape justice.
As he weighs his alternatives, Domenic Jejeune begins to realize that, sometimes, the wrong choice is the only choice you have.
About the author
Steve Burrows has pursued his birdwatching hobby on five continents, while researching articles on a wide range of environmental issues. He is a past editor of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society Magazine, and his first book in the Birder Murder series, A Siege of Bitterns, was released in 2014. After travelling the world together, Steve and his family now live in Oshawa, Ontario.
- Commended, Loan Stars Top Pick
- Commended, Dewey Divas and the Dudes Winter 2017 pick
Excerpt: A Shimmer of Hummingbirds: A Birder Murder Mystery (by (author) Steve Burrows)
The cold lay across the land like a punishment. Along the lane, the grassy verges bowed with their burdens of frost, and lacy collars of ice fringed the edges of the puddles. On the far side of the lane, beyond the hedgerow, the skeleton shapes of bare trees lined the boundaries of the fields. Stands of pale grass moved uneasily beneath metallic skies. Winter was stretching its fingers over the landscape, and if it had not yet drawn them in, to clasp the land fully in its grip, the time was surely near.
The street lamps along the lane were already on, shining through the grey light of the fading afternoon like tiny suns. Suspended in their light, ice crystals spiralled like shards of shattered glass. From the window of a small cottage, a man watched a girl’s progress along the lane. The lace curtain hung from his fingertip like a veil. “Prospect, Erin,” he said without turning. The man’s shoulders were hunched slightly, as if he might be expecting a strike from the tension that seemed to hang in the room like a presence. “This could be the one.”
From the armchair behind the man, Erin offered no opinion. A kitten mewled around the legs of the chair, looking for an affectionate pat that wasn’t forthcoming. At the window, the man’s eyes tracked the girl’s approach carefully. She was perhaps eighteen, a youngish eighteen, though, slightly-built, with hardly an ounce of adult bulk on her delicate frame. He wondered if she was a runner. But there was no sign of well-developed muscle tone, no athletic spring in her step. Besides, it hardly mattered. Those boots she was wearing, all pointy toes and high heels, would not be much good for running over the uneven cobblestone surface of this laneway. Not that he intended to give her the chance.
“Yes,” said the man, nodding softly to himself, his eyes flickering slightly as he watched her. He could feel the pressure building in his chest. The hair at his collar was damp with sweat and the dryness in his mouth made it hard to swallow. Stage fright. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. He was surprised to find it affecting him like this. He had been over the scenario many times in his head. He should be calmer than this. But the heart holds surprises for even the most disciplined minds, and now the moment of truth was drawing close, the doubts were starting to flood in.
The girl was closer now, and he could see the wispy trail of her breath as she chatted on her phone. Distracted. Not ideal. He wanted her to know what was happening, to take it all in, to be aware of everything. His eyes moved to the greying sky beyond her, and then switched anxiously back and forth along the lane. No one. He turned his attention back to the girl, perhaps twenty metres away now, no more. If it was going to be this one, he had only a few seconds. Cap, jacket, open the door and run. Her head would spin around at the sound of his approach, just in time to see him bearing down on her. A momentary look of confusion on her face? Panic? Terror? And then. Over. It would be done. He could feel his pulse throbbing in his temples. This has to be done. His heart was racing. You have to do it. He clenched his fingers into his palm, feeling their wetness. But still he hesitated.
“I don’t know, Erin. This one? Or not?”
He let out a pent up breath and withdrew his finger, letting the curtains fall back into place with a delicate shimmer. From behind his lace screen, he watched the girl pass beneath the street lamp outside, still chatting on her phone. Her breath spiralled up in the cold air, seeming to him like whispered prayers, drifting up to heaven. She would never know how close she had come.
It was the light. It was important, perhaps the most important thing of all. It needed to be right, and it wasn’t. Not yet. The man saw the mug on the window ledge in front of him and a bolt of alarm speared his chest. What if he had left it here, in his rush to get outside? He picked up the mug and carried it wordlessly into the kitchen. As he walked past the armchair, the kitten let out a small bleat. It looked for a moment as if it might follow the man into the kitchen, but in the end it jumped up onto Erin’s lap and curled itself inside its tiny tail to go to sleep.
In the kitchen, the man set the empty, unwashed cup carefully in the sink. He peered out the kitchen window, checking the narrow garden as it ran down to the boat dock. He could feel the cold winter air coming in through the neat hole in the glass panel of the door. On the far bank of the river that ran behind the cottages, a pair of Mallards was hunkered down, blending in to the pale, brittle reed stems. Nothing else moved.
The man sat for a long time at the kitchen table, watching as the day retreated into the half-light of dusk. There was a large part of him that didn’t want to do this. But something else had taken over. His actions were no longer his to control. His breathing had begun to quicken again. He steadied it. He felt tiny droplets of moisture running down his temples. Sweat. DNA. Bad thing.
He stood up quickly and walked back into the tiny, neat living room, now sheltering pockets of darkness in its corners. “We’ll leave the lights off for now, Erin,” he announced. He approached the bay window and peered through the curtains again. All the other cottages had lights on now. From outside, this one would look like a missing stone in the necklace of lighted windows that ran along the lane.
The man checked his reflection in the window glass; the brown leather jacket with its soft corduroy collar; the cap, tilted far enough forward to hide the plastic lining. And the greying goatee, with the little horns on the moustache. He gave the beard a downward stroke with his thumb and forefinger, as if to ensure it was in place. From the corner of his eye, he caught a flicker of movement, and he turned quickly to see a woman walking slowly down the lane, carefully picking her way between the puddles. Not up from the village as he had always envisioned it, but coming from the other direction. Panic started to rise within him. This was wrong. Why hadn’t he ever considered this? Pull yourself together. What did it matter? She was taller than the other one and slightly older; a year or two. More woman than girl, this one. His mouth felt dry, and he dragged the back of his wrist across his lips. His breathing was shallow and rapid. A whisper of doubt flickered across his mind. Would she put up a fight? Try to grab him? No, he thought, the twilight, the shock; they would do their work. It would all happen the way he had planned it.
The woman was getting closer. Another fifty metres and she would be directly beneath the street lamp outside. Darkness all around and just that tiny pool of yellow light spilling onto the cobblestone lane like a spotlight on a stage. He watched her approaching. She had picked up her pace slightly and was hunched against the evening, as if something in her subconscious might be whispering about the dangers a quiet lane like this could hold. He wondered where she was going. Home after a hard day’s work? To the pub to meet her friends? Or her boyfriend? It didn’t matter.
Seated at the window, his right knee was bobbing up and down like a piston, resisting all his efforts to control it. His heart felt like it might explode from his chest. He was finding it hard to breathe. The mantra built in his mind, like the roar of an oncoming train. This has to be done. You have to do it. “Here’s where I have to leave you, Erin,” said the man over his shoulder, not taking his eyes off the woman outside. His mouth was dry again and he licked his lips to moisten them. As the woman approached the pool of light beneath the street lamp, the man stood up. He ran to the front door and snatched it open. The door banged back against the wall of the cottage, but the woman was already looking in his direction — that primeval mechanism, perhaps, alerting her to danger? It was already too late. The man sprinted toward her. She stared, frozen in terror, as he closed the gap. Less than five metres now, with no signs of slowing. The woman raised her hands defensively, bracing for the impact. The man exploded into her, lowering his head and smashing his cap into her face. The impact lifted the woman off her feet and sent her flailing back against the street lamp, snapping her head back hard against the post. Lying on the cold round. Stunned. She heard rapid footfalls; the sound of running. She raised her head and managed to focus in time to see the man sprinting away down the centre of the narrow lane. His escape rang off the cobblestones until, like the assailant himself, the sound finally disappeared into the night. From behind the screen of the net curtains, the sightlines from Erin’s armchair to the street lamp were unobstructed. The woman was still on the ground, sobbing softly now, reeling from her injuries. She was beginning to shiver, too, as shock began to seep into the places where her fear had been. But Erin didn’t go to her, or call out to check if she needed help. Nor did Erin reach for a telephone to call for an ambulance, or a police officer. Erin Dawes did not respond at all. The dead never do.
? Skillfully written, full of moral ambiguities and artful puzzles, with a spine-tingling final sentence.
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Burrows’ writing improves with every novel, and Jejeune continues to be an exciting, multidimensional, thoroughly engaging series lead. A splendid installment in a fine series.
A real page-turner
London Free Press
Burrows keeps the tension high all the way to the chilling climax. Bird lovers will enjoy the avian lore.
Steve Burrows once again does an excellent job of writing a suspenseful murder mystery while exploring the lives of his characters.
If you are interested in birding, this series is a must. If you don't know an owl from a canary nor care to, but are keen on police procedurals, I would still recommend this series. It is just that good.
Reviewing the Evidence
You don’t have to be a birder to enjoy this mystery series.
The Sun Times
The best book so far.
Globe and Mail
A Shimmer of Hummingbirds left me intrigued and spellbound right up to the last page.
OFO News Magazine
Other titles by Steve Burrows
Birder Murder Mysteries 6-Book Bundle
A Dance of Cranes / A Tiding of Magpies / A Shimmer of Hummingbirds / and 3 more
A Dance of Cranes
A Birder Murder Mystery
A Tiding of Magpies
A Birder Murder Mystery
Birder Murder Mysteries 4-Book Bundle
A Shimmer of Hummingbirds / A Cast of Falcons / A Pitying of Doves / and 1 more
Birder Murder Mysteries 3-Book Bundle
A Cast of Falcons / A Pitying of Doves / A Siege of Bitterns
A Cast of Falcons
A Birder Murder Mystery
A Pitying of Doves
A Birder Murder Mystery
Birder Murder Mysteries 2-Book Bundle
A Siege of Bitterns / A Pitying of Doves
A Siege of Bitterns
A Birder Murder Mystery