THE MURDER BIRD is the story of a young woman who refuses to believe that her mother's death was a suicide. Sam is the young girl, her mother, Kirsten Waller is a famous poet who was working on a major new poem when she is found electrocuted in her bath in a remote Cornish cottage. Sam refusal is strengthened by Kirsten's estranged third husband, Raph Howes, being one of the first on the scene at the cottage and Kirsten's current poem "The Murder Bird" and her journal are missing.
Sam is stranded somewhere between two families - her own father Davy Boswin and his new wife Linda now have children of their own and Linda and Sam have a rocky relationship. Raph now lives with the voluptuous Lola, who also does not want Sam around. Sam is welcomed by Raph's brother-in-law Johnny, who is married to Miriam Howes, and Raph's mother Diana is also part of the complicated family scene. Sam is increasingly convinced that Raph has Kirsten's journal and he is hiding it for a reason, but a first attempt to get the journal nearly results in disaster as she combats vertigo and scales creepers to gain access to the upstairs of Raph's locked up house. A chance encounter with Raph's Barrister pupil Mick Brady provides her with her final chance that she has to get hold of the journal.
THE MURDER BIRD is a psychological thriller woven around this convoluted family and, co-incidentally the case of a woman accused of murdering her husband that Raph and Mick are working on. It is certainly a fast paced thriller, but there are also an enormous number of different threads and complications in everybody's lives. The whole of the Howe family have axes to grind, pasts to hide and dire circumstances that have happened to each and every one of them. Sam herself is prickly, stand-offish and obsessed, both with finding the truth about her mother's death and with her music - Sam is a talented cellist.
To be frank, most of these people are very hard to warm to - Lola and Mick are possibly the only characters in this entire book who are s not guilty / uptight / angst ridden or just plain moody. There's a lot of complication to each person's back story (other than Lola and Mick) and things get dangerously close to being a little tedious as you wade through this field of misery and perfidy.
There's also a horrible sinking feeling when Mick is introduced - he finds Sam attractive, but too complicated - he likes his friends to be fun and light-hearted but somehow, against his better instincts, he finds himself attracted to Sam. For a while it's starting to feel horribly like we're heading for one of those happy go lucky hero saves the day for the tortured, beautiful but sad girl type endings. Luckily that's not quite what happens, but there's still a strong streak of romantic intrigue towards the end.
Ultimately I think the biggest problem with THE MURDER BIRD is that Sam's not necessarily an instantly sympathetic character - or at least she didn't trigger that response for this reader. Add that to the frenetic backgrounds for all the characters, the sub-plot of the domestic murder which just seemed to be there to serve as a filler to occupy Mick when he wasn't saving the day, and there was a real sense of disconnection from everybody. It's saving grace is definitely characters like Lola and the pace of the story.