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Fiction

Bird Brain

Guy Kennaway Jonathan Cape, £14.99, *£12.99)

Funny, poignant and original, this country-house whodunnit made me laugh out loud, and nod in recognition at its acerbic observations. Banger Peyton-Crumbe has fallen out with most of his family, neighbours, friends and anyone from Defra, the Inland Revenue and the National Trust. His wife ‘was little more than a stranger when they married, and over the next thirty years they had steadily grown apart’. His only real passion is shooting on his estate in the Welsh borders. It was inherited from his father, a man who coined the phrase ‘a Passchendaele’ after getting a left and right at a snipe and
a Hun in the First World War.

The gundogs can all speak to each other, and the canines bring an honest quality to the merits of flatulence, blood and mud; when Banger is shot dead in a shooting incident, his spaniel has an overwhelming desire to lick the gory wound. The story hots up when Banger realises he has been reincarnated as a pheasant. Ridiculous as this may sound, author Guy Kennaway manages to pull it off.

Banger names his fellow avians after people or things that were doing very well before being struck by catastrophic disaster. Thus the pheasant pen is populated by beautiful bird-brained and naïve creatures with names such as Jack Kennedy, Titanic and Flight 93. Once he’s on the ‘other side’, Banger helps his new friends avoid death by using techniques such as getting them all to fly over the one gun that can’t shoot. In a nice twist, he even employs the assistance of an animal-rights activist to solve a riddle of his own.

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