The Bottom Line: A cozy, gripping whodunit driven by a deliciously flamboyant hero. Anyone searching for the new Agatha Christie should look no further than GP Field.
Professor Israel Wren is a birdwatcher of the highest order. After protecting an egg-filled nest from predatory Myna Birds, he’s able to recognize – among a chorus of multi-species bird chatter – the mating call of a lilac-breasted roller, a species that hails from Africa, not Australia.
So when his friend Gary, an ex-lifeguard, calls the Professor to tell him that he found a dead girl on the beach, we have a strong inclination that Wren’s powers of observations are going to come in handy.
Before the police can arrive, professor Wren wastes no time in examining the body of the dead girl. Apart from noting the girl’s heavy makeup, tattoos and piercings, he notices that’s something’s very off about the situation.
Much like the relationship between Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Inspector Jaffe, Professor Wren irritates local law enforcement by questioning what appears to be a foregone conclusion: that the dead girl died of a snakebite.
We soon learn that the half Zulu, half English Professor Wren isn’t merely a birder. In fact, he’s not even a professor of ornithology. Rather, he’s a professor of English literature who, having co-authored a textbook still used to train detectives in Australia, built up a reputation as a master solver by volunteering his time to help the real police solve cases. Although he thinks of himself as a former “criminologist,” it’s clear from the get-go that his powers of observations haven’t diminished in the least.
We know from the start that the professor will no doubt solve the murder, and that Gary – who is far from his equal – will no doubt play a part. But as in any great mystery, the pleasure is in the journey, and that is something that Death on Dangar Island has in spades.
I’ve established that Field is adept at creating character and plot, but I should also mention that he’s a first-rate wordsmith. Apart from transporting us to a very believable location in Australia, he also uses his considerable powers to employ Professor Wren with a palpable voice: “It’s true that many people use Twitter as a megaphone for inconsequential thoughts, my friend. They tweet without thinking, without due consideration. As you know, I simply use it to collect information and occasionally ask a question or two. Not everyone uses Twitter to broadcast what they had for breakfast. “
Like his character, GP Field’s writing is anything but inconsequential. Let’s hope this is the first of many Professor Wren books.