The Scarlet Kingfisher
May 5, 2022
When I was a youngster I went through a period when I read some of my father’s whodunnits. One series he particularly loved was by Dick Francis, a one-time British jockey turned mystery writer. Frances must have written forty books set within the world of horse racing and I probably read ten before I went on to something else. Each one featured a different angle on horse racing, from the points of view of a jockey, trainer, bookie, owner, or the like. With each one I felt I had been given an inside glance by an expert into an interesting field I’d never have known about otherwise. To this day I’ve never seen a horse race live, nor bet on one, but I’m still happy to know a little about an area of our society that, until then, I knew nothing about. A mystery is a mystery, but if you can learn something while being entertained, how could that not be good?
In The Scarlet Kingfisher, a young professor looking to achieve promotion and tenure learns of a possible new species of bird in South Texas, something that is not impossible but extremely rare and noteworthy. Such a discovery would practically guarantee instant fame and a successful academic career. Complications ensue, of course: a dead body, bizarre behavior by the department head, a mysterious Asian billionnaire, being arrested and jailed by a small town sheriff, and more. There will be no spoilers here. It’s a mystery.
All this is by way of saying that The Scarlet Kingfisher is an entertaining thriller per se, but perhaps even more interesting as a look at the life of a wildlife scientist, professor, and bird lover. We not only see the severe South Texas ranchland and wildlife through the mind of an expert far more observant than we are, we also get to watch him practice his craft using skills and techniques that are unknown and undreamed of by the general public. The story may change the way you think about “bird watchers.”
The book reads cleanly. There are no major editing issues.