Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Dance of the Scarecrows (A Jonathan Wilder Mystery #1)

Author:  Ray Sipherd
Genre:   Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback;
ISBN #:  9780312143060; 9780373262878
Worldwide Mystery
252 Pages
Various Prices Amazon
September 1, 1998


It's a scene straight from Hitchcock.  Renowned ornithologist and bird artist Jonathan Wilder finds the body of local politician Rod Ramsey dressed in a scarecrow costume and propped up in the middle of a cornfield in the company of crows.

Unfortunately, Jon is also the prime suspect.  He's had a very public argument with Ramsey, but worse, the murder weapon has Jon's fingerprints on it.  In fact, the knife was taken from Jon's house.  Is the killer nursing some grudge against Jon?  Is he about to become prey to a murderer who's struck once and could do so again?

Now Jon is hunting for a killer as if his life depends on it.  It just might.


Jonathan Wilder is a bird artist and a birder - someone who spends time watching birds and noting where they found them - and one morning he's teaching a group of people how to draw them.  But while they're watching the ducks feeding, they hear two shots ring out and two young females are dead.  Jon recognizes the hunter as Rod Ramsey - the town's first selectman (akin to mayor), who's hunting illegally.

Angered, he goes to Rod's business and confronts him, calling him a murderer.  But he can't prove it was Rod, so he leaves.  At a Halloween event where several men are dressed as scarecrows (Ramsey among them) entertain the crowd dancing a funny bit, Jon and everyone leave once it is over.  The next morning Jon is out hunting a bird rare to the area when he comes across a scarecrow in someone's field.  The scarecrow turns out to be the body of Rod, still wearing his outfit from the night before.

He reports the crime and wonders who hated him enough to kill him.  Ramsey had plenty of enemies, from spurned lovers to angry clients and everyone in between, but someone wanted him dead.  When Jon learns that his prints were found on the murder weapon, he has a personal stake in finding the killer, even though several people tell him to leave it be.  Now Jon, usually a mild-mannered person, finds himself in the cross hairs and if he's not careful he'll be next to die...

I wanted to read this book because I was intrigued by the title and the fact that it takes place at Halloween, and I love to 'read the season,' as it were.  Unfortunately, it began extremely slow and I almost gave up on it at several points.  While the murder occurs almost immediately, we don't discover Jon's involvement until at least a third of the book is past, and the conversations before that are rather mundane.  They involve thinking and talking about bird (if you're an avid bird watcher you will probably love this book) and general conversations and thoughts about the town and its businesses and people.  Nothing much to keep one interested.

But once Jon realizes that he's the only suspect and begins to ask questions, then it picks up a little.  Not much, but a little.  This book wasn't one I couldn't put down.  In fact, I put it down several times to do other things, which tells me that it's a bit of a ho-hum read.  The possibilities are there, but they just aren't followed through.

What does follow is another death, and Jon begins to start connecting the two into something that he thinks is bigger.  He looks for a connection between the deaths, all the while keeping it to himself because, as he thinks, he brought information to the police once and was wrong.  Knowing he could put himself in danger, he continues to look for the clues.

All in all, the mystery wasn't bad, but it wasn't great, either.  It was a book to pass the time although I was disappointed that it wasn't really a book about the two holidays it encompasses.  When the killer is revealed the reasons for the murders seemed rather odd, nothing worth killing for.  As I stated, it wasn't a bad book, but I don't think I'll read this author again.


More on Ray Sipherd's Books:

1 comment:

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