A Bird in Winter by Louise Doughty
|A Bird in Winter by Louise Doughty|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A slow-burn start builds to a nail-biting climax. Beautifully written and a compulsive read. Highly recommended.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 368/10h45m||Date: August 2023|
|Publisher: Faber & Faber|
|External links: Author's website|
Killers come in all shapes and sizes after all. Sometimes they wear uniforms. Sometimes they wear soft white shirts.
When we first meet Heather Berriman she's in Alaska. That's not 'Alaska' as in most northern state of America but a particularly cold part of an office building in Birmingham. It will be from here that she flees when she finds herself under threat. But I'm getting ahead of myself, Heather - known since childhood as 'Bird' - is deputy head of the Department of Standards a shadowy part of the security services tasked with investigating what might broadly be termed as spies who have gone rogue. Now Heather isn't bent: she made one or two unwise financial decisions and what started out as a manageable debt has got out of hand.
She allowed herself to become involved with her boss, Kieran Blythe, who is bent. Bird's effectively colluding with Kieran in hiding financial assets whilst his divorce is going through. She knows that she could be at risk of dismissal and when she hears that the Department of Standards is to be investigated, she runs. Most of A Bird in Winter is the story of how Bird came to be in this position. We work our way through her childhood (the daughter of a spy - if she did but know it) to joining the army (the WRAC - courses in flower arranging a speciality) and leaving the service when she hit a senior officer. Yes - he did deserve it. He'd had an affair with Bird's best friend, Flavia, and when she found that she was pregnant, told her to get an abortion.
We find out what's behind Bird's flight in easy stages. It is slow burn but it's brilliantly done and totally compelling. We learn a great deal about the tradecraft of a spy by seeing it applied practically and it's fascinating not least because you sense that this is only the surface of what Bird knows. The pace really picks up when Bird heads north and then abroad. I was particularly struck by the descriptions of the loneliness of someone on the run. Brilliant stuff.
As well as reading the copy sent to me by the publishers I listened to an audio download, which I bought myself. The narration is done by Clare Corbett and is excellent. The range of voices is well done and I was never in any doubt as to which character I was listening to. The pacing is equally good and I would happily listen to anything else narrated by Corbett.
You might also enjoy The Blind Spy by Alex Dryden.
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