Book Review: Macaws of Death by Karen Dudley

This will be the first in a series of reviews of books I picked up this year at a nearby elementary school’s annual used book sale. Most, but not all, of the books are mysteries and I expect I will review some other books in between as well.

Macaws of Death is the third book in a series by Karen Dudley and starring field biologist Robyn Devara. (I have not read the first two.) In this installment, Robyn is approached by a CITES enforcement officer from Environment Canada about a dead macaw found in a shipment of smuggled birds. The dead bird appears to be a previously unknown species and Robyn is roped into traveling to Costa Rica to see if she can locate others of the same species at a newly reopened field station.

Robyn gradually meets up with the team traveling to the field station and they comprise the usual cast of diverse characters that one expects in a mystery. (As an aside, this is the type of mystery that I particularly enjoy — one that falls between cozy and hard-boiled — an amateur detective, yes, but serious subjects, some explicit violence and a bit of sex.) The team leader is the sexy, interesting Andres. Then there is the inexplicably angry Liz. The distant, but ultimately friendly Viviana. Marco, the former bird trafficker. (There are more, but that should give you an idea.) The character types are well chosen, and they are diverse. There are also some American students and more locals. As with most mysteries of the non-psychological suspense type, the book is far more plot- than character-driven. And that is by no means a criticism. In fact, the characters are compelling and well differentiated.

The story moves along at a good pace, although there is a lot of set up before the first murder (although there is a missing person). This works fine in the context of the story and is a good example of a situation where rules are meant to be broken. There is so much going on at the field station — looking for the macaws, acclimatizing themselves to the situation, fears about poachers, a growing sense of tension that is the result of disturbing events — that a death isn’t necessary too early on.

The plot progresses at a nice clip and suspicion falls on different individuals as things move on. The deaths begin to pile up, until a climatic resolution with a nice example of pathetic fallacy. (I did think that there were some elements of the resolution that were a bit hard to swallow, but they were not really that important and I was willing to give them a pass. Nothing about the resolution was actually a logical problem with what had come previously.)

The story wrapped up neatly with Robyn’s return to Canada. I look forward to finding the other books in the series (there are four in total). From the author’s website, it appears that she has moved on to writing fantasy (which is, unfortunately, not really my thing).


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