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Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

The Case of the Hook-Billed Kites (Sarah Deane Mystery, #1)

The Case of the Hook-Billed Kites  - J.S. Borthwick

This book is a perfect example of why I re-read.  I've read this book at least twice before but it turns out that the ending I remembered did not happen.  It didn't even come close.  I had this whole confrontation-of-the-killer scene in my head that just flat-out didn't happen. 


The Case of the Hook-Billed Kites introduces Sarah Deane and Alex McKenzie, the future detecting couple of many mysteries to come but at this point in time they are mere acquaintances.  Alex is a friend of Phillip, the man Sarah is half-heartedly dating before the story begins.  It's opening chapter finds Sarah flying into Texas to meet Phillip for a week of bird-watching and Alex picks her up from the Texas airport as a favour, dropping her off at the hotel to meet with Phillip for dinner.  


Phillip never shows and his body is later found in the nature preserve surrounded by his birding equipment.  Suspects are many: Phillip was combining his trip with Sarah with a school trip; the other teacher overseeing the students is his ex.  A bird-tour group staying at the hotel was at the preserve when the body was found and few could be accurately accounted for.  Two teachers Phillip forced out and into retirement are on the scene too, working with the students as tour guides.  There might also be a drug ring running out of the preserve.


I'm a fan of this whole series, but if I had read this book first, as much as I like it, I might not have read the rest.  As it was, I accidentally read the second book first, so I missed out on Sarah being almost completely unlikeable for the first 2/3's of this book.  She's not excited about bird watching, she's rather lukewarm about Phillip and she has some emotional baggage that makes Phillip's murder that much harder to take gracefully.  As a result, she's not a sympathetic character in the strictest sense of the word.  I like her because I knew her future self first, and I admire her pluck and her ability to be honest with herself in this book.  Eventually.


Alex is pragmatic and very interested in Sarah.  No romance in this book other than his admiration - and awareness that she belongs to someone else.  He's a doctor by profession, studying the effects of the drug that's being smuggled in - a "miracle" drug purported to be a cure for cancer.


The setting is Texas country-side and is vividly drawn for the reader.  Birds play a part in the story and mystery, but not so much that someone ambivalent about birds will find it tedious.


The murder plot is inventive.  Or it was at the time it was written (1982); I'd argue it still is, although the downside to re-reads is the ending isn't a surprise (usually) so it's hard to say if the mystery was an easy one or not.


This book, and this series overall, is a cozy mystery that isn't caught up in being cozy - I'd say it straddles the line of cozy and traditional.  It doesn't fall over itself avoiding language but it's neither graphic or dark.  The humour is more subtle; the characters are New England WASP's (their own description) and the book's tone reflects this mindset.  The writing is superb and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a mystery.