Author: Martin Davies, 2005.
Genre: Historical Mystery. Contemporary Mystery.
Other Details: Paperback. 320 pages.
This novel was inspired by one of the great puzzles of natural history: that of the Mysterious Bird of Ulieta. Seen only once, in 1774, by Captain Cook's second expedition to the South Seas, a single specimen was captured, preserved, and brought back to England. The bird was given to famed naturalist Joseph Banks, who displayed it proudly in his collection until its sudden, unexplained disappearance. - from Goodreads.
The novel fictionalises the early life of botanist Joseph Banks and combines it with a modern day search for the Mysterious Bird of Ulieta. In the modern day story-line conservationist John (Fitz) Fitzgerald is approached by Gabriella, a woman from his past. She talks him into helping her current companion, scientist Karl Anderson, to trace the whereabouts of this lost specimen. They are also offering a quite substantial finder's fee. Fitz is assisted in his quest by his lodger, a Swedish graduate student named Katya. There are also competitors who are quite unscrupulous in their determination to find the bird first. Central to the mystery is the identity of Joseph Bank's mistress, only known as "Miss B".
The narrative moves seamlessly between the 18th century and the modern day. Davies has done a splendid job in speculating on certain aspects of Joseph Bank's life as well as incorporating fascinating zoological and botanical details throughout. I found it an intelligent and satisfying mystery that was more remarkable for having no body count. It had thrills enough in the intellectual mysteries and crosses and double crosses.
It was a novel given to me ages ago that rather languished on a high shelf. Therefore, I was rather pleased when it came up as a library reading group selection. It was very well received by the group.