Pheasants are everywhere at the moment - in the fields, on the high street, and finally in paperback. I like pheasants, I even like them enough to risk a book about talking animals if there are pheasants in it. It was pheasants and the desire to read something quite different from anything else I've picked up recently that led me to 'Bird Brain'.
It fitted the bill admirably. It starts with a shooting incident, Basil 'Banger' Peyton-Crumbe is found dead at his peg half way through a shoot - it looks like an accident, but is it? The dogs know it isn't, Jam the Springer Spaniel was in the back of the Landrover when Banger's gun was taken out and fiddled with, he didn't see the culprit but he smelt them. Even if Jam could talk though he wouldn't that be that inclined to do much about it - he didn't like Banger very much. In fact nobody really liked Banger and the feeling was mutual it seems like his death, foully done or otherwise, won't be much regretted by anyone, especially not by his brother William who scoops the family estates complete with a premier shoot which should be the envy of his banking pals.
That this leaves Banger's daughter and grandson literally out in the cold is no concern of William's who doesn't hesitate to behave like a banker under these trying family circumstances, but William doesn't seem entirely at ease with the new situation - why could this be?
Banger himself isn't as dead as you might expect for a man who quite literally lost his head - he's been reincarnated as a pheasant and finally has a chance to put things right. It's still a bit of a problem that people can't understand animals, and that the other pheasants just aren't that bright, so can't really help Banger all that much in his quest. They're not impressed when they find that he was a notable shot in his day either, bagging some 40,000 of their fallen comrades.
What I liked about 'Bird Brain' is that underneath a mildly amusing who dunnit narrated by dogs and pheasants there are a few other things going on. Banger is slowly revealed to be more than an unpleasant old man. He loves the country and understands it's stewardship, he might be out of step with the world around him but it turns out to be a fairly questionable world. There is also a lot of stuff about pheasants and shooting.
How the countryside is managed is an interesting and always relevant topic. Kennaway makes it clear that the countryside we know, however wild it appears is definitely man made. Big shoots which provide huge numbers of slow, low flying birds which have to be pretty much kicked out of the trees come in for a gentle but definite drubbing. It's an emotive issue which Kennaway handles well. The argument here isn't about whether you should shoot or not, but how. Pheasants are low in the food chain, if someone isn't taking pot shots at them then there are plenty of other predators waiting to eat them. For the pheasant the end result is all the same, it doesn't help that they've been bred to be targets.
It's an entertaining book with far more substance behind it than I expected. It's not everybody who manages to be funny and thought provoking at the same time but I think Kennaway pulls it off nicely.