Birnam Wood ~ by Eleanor Catton

Unless something really incredible comes along, this is my pick for best crime/mytery novel of the year. The author, Eleanor Catton, won the Mann Booker Prize back in 2013 for The Luminaries which is historical fiction with a crime (or several)  at the center. Both are complex and intricately plotted with sharply drawn characters. Both take place in New Zealand, where Catton is from. 

Birnam Wood ~ 
by Eleanor Catton
2023 –  424 p
Read by Saskia Maarleveld 12h 47m
Rating:  9.5 /A++ /mystery-thrille

But the differences include that The Luminaries is 846 pages in length, whereas Birnam Wood is only 432 pages (both hardcovers).  The Luminaries is filled with puzzles to figure out en route to the denouement.  Birnam Wood has a lot of chase scenes.  If I have to categorize (which, being a librarian type of person, I like to do), you might say that The Luminaries is a puzzler while Birnam Wood is more of a suspense-thriller. 

The title, Birnam Wood, is from of a prophesy made in Macbeth (Shakespeare) but in the novel it’s the name of an activist environmentalist group based somewhere on the South Island (Wellington?). The group apparently has an extremist streak. And it has some difficulties with morality and economics – a couple themes, plus the differences between the member.

The group basically does gardening on scattered bits of vacant land whether public or privately owned. They sell the produce and other organic products to make money for group purposes. Mira Bunting, one of the group leaders and a major character, gets word of a large and rather remote plot of land owned by a pest control entrepreneur and sets about trying to get permissions to plant larger scale. But the land is being purchased by an American manufacturer of drones, a billionaire who tells Mira he’s creating a survivalist camp there but he’d be willing to let the group do their thing while supporting them financially – an ongoing problem for them.  

The fictional mall town of Thorndike was cut off from the rest of the South Island by an earthquake and the prosperous Owen and Jill Davish, the owners of a large piece of property near there, are concerned and have received an offer to buy. The isolation is an attraction for Robert Lemoine, a billionaire American whose main company makes drones. But his plans for the property and Mira’s ideas don’t mesh at all. Lemoine wants to build a bunker there to hide his extensive illegal mining operations.

This is definitely a murder mystery with spy-type techie devices so it’s great fun but as told by a master wordsmith who is also superbly skillful at tension-building.

See The Conversation for a great review which compares Birnam Wood and Eleanor Catton to Lee Childs and Mick Herron’s Slough House series. I may have a new favorite author.



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3 Responses to Birnam Wood ~ by Eleanor Catton

  1. MI6 says:

    Do you love Mick Herron’s Slow Horses and Jackson Lamb? Interested in real spies like Kim Philby, John le Carré, Alan Pemberton or Bill Fairclough and how they got on with the SAS? Then read Beyond Enkription in The Burlington Files espionage series about the real scoundrels in MI6 aka Pemberton’s People. See a brief and intriguing News Article dated 31 October 2022 in TheBurlingtonFiles website and get ready to call your local film producer! Of course, being non-fiction and autobiographical, Beyond Enkription is not written by a Le Carré lookalike in delicate diction and sophisticated syntax. Nevertheless, for espionage illuminati and cognoscenti, it’s a must and intriguing read.


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