The Bottom Line
Bob White, rare birds and dead bodies – all the ingredients for another fantastic Bob White Birder Murder Mystery are present in A Murder of Crows, the fifth book in Jan Dunlap's unique series. This time, the semi-sleuth high school counselor is trying to solve one innocent mystery – the celebrity identity of a new faculty member – but finds himself once more involved in an ill-fated murder investigation, one where everyone seems to be a prime suspect and even the deceased isn't innocent.
- Incorporates not only environmental issues involving birds, but also bird news stories and other issues of current concern to birders, but in a way that is useful at any date.
- Text is richly detailed about birds at many levels, from backyard feeders to listing to bird behavior and more.
- Multiple subplots help develop characters and add depth to the plot without diluting the central mystery or birding theme.
- The protagonist's stream of consciousness perspective leads briefly to unrelated tangents that can be distracting, but the flow remains easy to read.
- Title: A Murder of Crows
- Author: Jan Dunlap
- Publisher: North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.
- Publication Date: September 2012
- Format: Softcover
- Page Count: 234
- ISBN: 978-0-87839-616-0
- Price: $14.95
Review - A Murder of Crows
The fifth book in the Bob White Birder Murder Mystery series, A Murder of Crows has the perfect autumn setting for a mystery. Likeable protagonist Bob White is now married and a doting uncle introducing his niece to birding and adding rarities to his various lists, but there's one new list he's contemplating keeping: he's "the one birder in the state of Minnesota who could start a list of the birds [he's] found near dead bodies." In this book, that list would start with murder – not of the birder lying as dead as a scarecrow, but as in the flock of crows that Bob first noticed before he realized that the scarecrow they were perched near wasn't a scarecrow at all.
As with all of author Jan Dunlap's birding-oriented mysteries, the plot isn't as simple as solving one crime, and in the course of tracking down a murderer, multiple characters are implicated and all have reasons they could be involved and secrets they'd rather keep hidden. According to Bob's deductions, "it seemed like everyone who could possibly be a suspect would have had the opportunity" for this murder, but which one used that opportunity? The storyline is as full of misdirections and red herrings as the autumn sky is full of migrating birds.
Of course, as all birders know, there is a life outside birding, and readers are treated to more of Bob White's humorous episodes as a high school counselor, including how a meeting of two unlikely kindred spirits helps him motivate one of his worst delinquents. Light humor and occasional witty sarcasm keep the tone of the book enjoyable, while the underlying sinister nature of the murder and the reasons behind it develop to the revealing climax.
A key feature of the Birder Murder series is Dunlap's insightful incorporation of environmental issues into the motives behind her murders, and A Murder of Crows is no exception. Wind farms are the biggest topic of this book's environmental message, and readers are treated to Dunlap's thorough research of the issue and writing that presents multiple sides of the debate. Other issues, such as bird-baiting and species discrimination, are also touched on very briefly, and Bob White himself describes the environmental issues and how they affect birds very acutely when he says "Humans need to consider the intricate relationships that make up nature and try to figure out where they should, or shouldn't, intervene."
Of course, Bob himself has difficulty deciding when he should, or shouldn't, intervene in murder investigations, but without his desire to seek put together clues to identify a killer just as any birder would examine field marks to identify a new life bird, where would the mystery be?
Readers unfamiliar with Dunlap's writing style might find the stream of consciousness point of view initially confusing, but the reading is easy enough that adjustment is simple. By the end of A Murder of Crows, not only do we know who the murderer is, but we – and Bob – have added great birds and fun birding to our life lists, and because of that, this book belongs on the bookshelf of every birder who enjoys a good mystery.
Learn more about the other books in the Bob White Birder Murder mystery series: