Summary and book reviews of The Conjurer's Bird by Martin Davies

The Conjurer's Bird

by Martin Davies

The Conjurer's Bird
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2005, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2006, 320 pages

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Book Summary

Seamlessly spanning two time periods, The Conjurer's Bird is at once the story of the romance between the 18th century naturalist Joseph Banks and the enigmatic 'Miss B', and of a present-day conservationist named Fitz, who is drawn into a thrilling and near-impossible race to find the elusive bird's only known remains.

The Conjurer's Bird is a beautiful story in the spirit of Possession that is as exciting as The Club Dumas, 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.

Two hundred years later, naturalists continue to wonder if the world will ever get another glimpse of the elusive bird. Were it not for a colored drawing done by the ship's artist, there would be nothing to say that the bird had ever existed.

The Conjurer's Bird is a gripping literary mystery and passionate love story that tackles the intrigue surrounding the celebrated Banks, his secret affair with an enigmatic woman known only as "Miss B," and the legendary bird that becomes a touchstone for their love.

Seamlessly spanning two time periods, The Conjurer's Bird is at once the story of this romance and of a present-day conservationist named Fitz, who is drawn into a thrilling and near-impossible race to find the elusive bird's only known remains.

1
Thursday Night at the Taxidermist's

That Thursday evening I was working late, removing the skull of a dead owl. It was December outside, but at my workbench the heat from the lamp was making my fingers sweat. I was at the hardest part of the whole operation, the bit where you have to ease the skull very gently down the neck without damaging the skin, and as I began to work it loose, I found my eyes were blinking with the concentration. But I could sense it was working, that I was doing it well, and when I heard the telephone grumbling at the back of the shop I decided to let it ring. It was too late for a summons to the pub and even though I'd taken down the sign and removed myself from the Yellow Pages, the five-pint pranksters ("I've got this chicken that needs stuffing . . .") would still occasionally get through. This was their time to call but tonight I wasn't in the mood. Until I remembered Katya and changed my mind.

Katya was the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What stylistic differences separate the sections of the novel set in the 1700s and those set in the present?
  2. Is this a particularly English story, or could the novel be just as naturally set in the United States? Why or why not?
  3. Each major character in the novel experiences the intersection of discovery, science, and "the vagaries of chance" (p. 374). Joseph Banks "came to realize later that discovery was not a science" (p. 16). Mary Burnett "did not expect to be noticed. Discovery is not a science; there is too much chance in it" (p. 17). And Fitz believes that "the discovery of most things comes down to luck. People often feel uncomfortable about that. They want discovery...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The 'mysterious bird of Ulieta' refers to a rare bird that was caught during Captain Cook's second voyage to the South Pacific in 1774. It ended up in the collection of famed naturalist Joseph Banks (who accompanied Cook on his first voyage) and, according to this book, was then given by Banks to his mistress, Mary Burnett a naturalist and gifted botanical artist (who the book jacket bills as the enigmatic "Miss B")... If you enjoy intelligent historical mysteries you should take a close look at The Conjurer's Bird.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (357 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

A good-natured combination of hammy modern and more sensitive historical mysteries, amounting to something rather less fabulous than The Maltese Falcon.

Booklist - Sarah Watstein

This novel will not disappoint fans of literary mystery and readers who are drawn to naturalist accounts.....Readers who like Andrea Barrett, Arturo Perez-Reverte, and David Liss will find this a page-turner through and through.

Library Journal - Lisa Rohrbaugh

Suspenseful, intriguing, and romantic, this is great entertainment and an excellent choice for book discussion groups; highly recommended for all libraries.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A few farfetched plot twists aside, this is a captivating novel.

Author Blurb India Edghill, author of Queenmakerand Wisdom's Daughter
Elegantly written and exquisitely researched, The Conjurer's Bird is an engrossing read, a true page-turner as its story twines through past and present. I hated to put it down until the final revelation. Anyone who loved such books as Possession or Girl with a Pearl Earring should be delighted by The Conjurer's Bird.

Author Blurb Andrew Taylor, author of An Unpardonable Crime
Like all the best novels, The Conjurer's Bird left me with the sense of having learned something. . . . Poignant and beguiling.

Reader Reviews

Anno

The Conjurer's Bird
Loved this book. As an Aussie I learned in history about Cook and Banks but this book brought them alive and had me going to the internet to find out more of Banks and Miss B. and the lost bird.

Frances Tate

The Conjurer's Bird
Not too often are we favored with a spellbinding page turner such as this one written by Martin Davies. For anyone who leans towards history and mystery, it is a wonderful find. Some people are fortunate enough to have the blend of history and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Where is Ulieta? The island of Ulieta, or Ulietea, is too small to appear in our atlas but if you were to travel roughly North-West of Tahiti you'd likely come across it.  We "Google Earthed" it (16° 49' 60, 151° 25' 0 W) and it looks like a very nice place to spend a few days - green island surrounded by blue seas and a barrier reef (if you haven't yet discovered Google Earth you should give it a go - it's a lot of fun!) 

Captain Cook visited Ulietea on his ...

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