The Conjuror’s Bird

ISBN: 0340896167
ISBN 13: 9780340896167
By: Martin Davies

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2006 Currently Reading Default Favorites Fiction Historical Historical Fiction Mystery Romance To Read

About this book

In 1774, an unusual bird was spotted on Captain Cook's second expedition to the South Seas. This single specimen was captured, preserved, and brought back to England and no other bird of its kind was ever seen again. The bird was given to naturalist Joseph Banks, who displayed it proudly in his collection until it too disappeared. Were it not for a colored drawing created by the ship's artist, it would seem that the Mysterious Bird of Ulieta had never existed.Two hundred years later, naturalist John Fitzgerald gets a call from an old friend asking him to join the search for the bird's remains. He traces the bird's history, uncovering surprising details about the role of a woman known only as Miss B in Joseph Banks's life and career. Could she be the key to solving the mystery to finally finding the lost Bird of Ulieta? Seamlessly leaping between two time periods,The Conjurer's Bird is at once the story of Joseph Banks's secret life and of Fitz's thrilling and near-impossible race to find the elusive bird

Reader's Thoughts


What a lovely book - I suspect it will stimulate much discussion at book club at the end of the week. It took me just over 24 hours to read its 307 pages, not bad going, and not rushed, just pleasurable. There is romance, but in the background. There is mystery, deception and detection, corruption and greed, consideration of social status and mores, natural history and art, history and the seeking of information from public records, the necessity of knowing what you are looking for, be it fact or inspiration. Indeed, there is travel, through time and internationally, withh beautiful descriptions. There is sensuality, betrayal and honesty. If I begin to describe or to precis the story, it will spoil the pleasure of the reading for others, and this book deserves to be read. I really enjoyed my day between its pages, and it is a book I might well want to re-read in the future.


I loved this book. Was a bit skeptical at first, as I hate to jump on the Richard and Judy bandwagon! I also, on the whole, dislike male narrators (I know, totally subjective).Well, this novel is full of surprising twists and turns, it keeps you guessing until the final few pages as to what happened to the mysterious bird and Banks' mistress (don't worry, they aren't the same thing!).In addition the dual narrative, one set in the past and one in the present, worked effectively. It didn't just fill the plot or eek out the story line. Each narrative thread enriched and reflected the other; so that you could make the obvious connections and enabled the reader to make connections between the characters' traits. That's what I think great literature is all about: reflecting human nature back at the reader. I could quote Wilde at this point, but I'll refrain.Read it. You won't regret it. I've already leant my copy to a friend and can't wait to chat to them about it.


Closer to 2.5..a decent historical novel which dives back and forth from present time to the 1700s to tell the tale of the non-fictional naturalist Joseph Banks and his expedition with Cook to the Pacific islands and his love affair with an unsuitable woman who shared his passion for nature.The modern thread of the story is an attempt by a naturalist,still healing from familial sorrow,who is intrigued by the legend of a rare bird found by Banks on the voyage which may still exist somewhere in England.There's not much plot tension or in depth characterization of the players, but it's a decent read(fairly intelligent writing,some good atmospheric renditions of life in the 1700s,a not-too sappy romance,a strong female character who reminds us of the few options for women in earlier times), tho ultimately I suspect you are not likely to remember this story for long after you've closed the book.

Julie Hulten

I enjoyed reading this book - intertwining stories past and present. It was recommended to me by a friend who "couldn't put it down". That was not my experience so I didn't rate it higher than 'liked' it. I very much wanted to know more about Miss B___n. The search for the illusive facts regarding this woman was the kind of 'ride' I enjoy ... following the bits of information to flesh out a person - the 'bird' was secondary to the hunt for the details of her life.


I enjoyed this book; it's in a similar vein to Andrea Barrett's wonderful novels, in that it combines 18th-century science and real historical characters with fiction. It's essentially two parallel tales -- the story of naturalist Joseph Banks and his mysterious lover Miss B, and modern-day taxidermist Fitz and his lodger Katya -- linked by a mysterious missing stuffed bird. [return][return]The problem I had with it was that the 18th-century parts were much more compelling than the 20th century ones; I loved the way he'd used real historical evidence to construct a plausible story about Banks and his nameless lover, and the development of their story was touching. The modern characters never really came alive in the same way -- they were all a bit wooden -- and the "mystery" of the bird and the various people looking for it never really built up enough suspense to be thrilling; it was pretty obvious that eventually Fitz would find it, and I guessed the "twist" in the d


I've read books of a similar vein where the narratives take place in the present and the past but seemingly tie in and I find these styles of writing a mixed bag. This one combined botany, taxidermy and a mysterious bird. I found it difficult to engage with the characters and the storyline and didn't get as engrossed as I expected to. Not a terrible book, just not that exciting for me.


I really liked this book and the switching bewteeen the two different timelines each chapter. I loved both era's but probably enjoyed the historical pieces the best - the way of life, the stigma associated with a young woman not being a virgin and its implications for the rest of her life. The adventures overseas to draw wildlife (no cameras), and the inability to communicate quickly with people on the other side of the world (no phones or even telegrams) made me focus on how very much has changed in the world and how we are both richer and poorer for it.


The Bay Thrush. If you know about birds, even a lot about birds, you probably never heard of this one. But it's real. "The Conjurer’s Bird," a historic novel/mystery is about a little-known, long-extinct bird. The novel toggles together two story lines: one centered on the famous eighteenth-century English naturalist Joseph Banks, while the second follows a fictitious modern-day lecturer, taxidermist and extinct bird expert named Fitzgerald. The mystery at the crux of the story is the disappearance of a specimen of the Bay Thrush, a.k.a. "Mysterious Bird of Ulieta," once in Banks’ possession. The specimen was real, having been obtained on the island of Ulieta (200 miles from Tahiti) on Captain Cook’s second expedition to the South Seas in 1774. Yet sadly, it was the only specimen ever collected and the species was never seen again despite repeated efforts to find it. After being in Banks’ collection for only a few years, the specimen itself disappeared without a trace, written record or explanation. (This is all true.) At the time, one illustration was also done of the "dusky brown bird." That drawing, housed in a British museum, is the only record of the species that survives today. What happened to the specimen? Author Martin Davies uses all that is known about Banks, Cook and the fabled "rarest bird in the world" to create an imaginative whodunit filled with personal intrigue and betrayal. Unfortunately, the book is disappointingly short of the natural history minutiae I expected considering that two of its central characters are naturalists: one true-to-life, the other make-believe. Still, The Conjurer’s Bird is a well-constructed mystery that will keep you up late at night as the story of the Bay Thrush unfolds.


This was a complete chore to read. Boring first person narrator finds himself immersed in a boring mystery/wild goose chase (the wild goose being the mysterious Bird of Ulieta), paralleled with the story of a boring 18th century circumnavigator's boring relationship with his boring mistress.


Just found this on a second-hand shelf (right after I expounded upon my virtuous ability to resist buying any more books, riiiiiight). It's an "uncorrected proof" so I hope that doesn't mean it's full of crazy mistakes, although if it is that might be encouraging to this aspiring author. It's getting lukewarm reviews here, but I'm not going to let that discourage me. The design, chapter titles, premise and first paragraph are all so lovely that I'm just going to ASSUME that the content is also enchanting. Puzzles, stuffed birds, mystery, 18th century naturalists, extinct creatures, a bit of danger? Yes please. ***Ok, it wasn't quite as edge-of-your seat exciting as I thought it might be, but it set a lovely atmosphere (lots of sitting in English pubs, by the fire, while the rain pelted at the windows, pondering the mysterious bird) and I was definitely engaged. There was one loose end that I didn't quite think was tied up, or at least I missed it (maybe it was nothing, just something I thought was leading somewhere). I liked the historical details and it's easy to see how this could be what happened, though there's no reason to think it did. At the start I was sure that the relationships between the men ("tortured" academics/adventurers) and the women (it would be nice if the descriptions of them didn't include so many diminutive adjectives) would irritate me, but thankfully there wasn't as much focus on that as I thought there might be. I will definitely read his other stuff, just got The Unicorn Road in at the library so that's probably next.


You know when teachers tell you you are smart and talented but lazy? I've heard it many times. I am sure many of you heard it as well and I am absolutely positive Martin Davies heard it more than once.He is a talented guy. He managed to create a mystery story that revolves around a stuffed bird. And not even a colourful, exotic one, just a plain grey bird. To be fair, the bird is now extinct and the stuffed specimen is the only specimen in the world. And it is missing. In fact, it has been missing for 200 years or so. Using primary sources Davies creates two stories, one is a 19th century romance and the other is a contemporary mystery. I am not a big fan of two intervening narratives because I have OCD that stops me from reading more than one book at a time. I am always tempted to read one story, and then go back and read the other story. Alas, my OCD doesn't allow me to read pages in any other than numerological order either. Sigh.On the top of that Davies added a story of the narrator's grandfather search for African peacocks. Therefore we have three stories and 305 pages. You do the math."That Thursday evening I was working late, removing the skull of a dead owl."This is the first line and it shows a lot of promise but after that there just rah, rah, rah, bam, bam, bam and off we go. Davies just didn't take his time. The man can write, and he had a good story but everything was barely touched. He did a real disservice to his characters, the poor things looked all like cardboard cut-outs of themselves. The 19th century England was not brought to life either. I had to rely on the vision of the period I had in my head thanks to more hard-working authors. All in all, a decent beach read for times when you feel lazy and can only associate with like-minded authors.

Louise Wilson

This book beautifully combines all the genres so dear to my heart as a family history writer - history, mystery and romance. Keen family history researchers will identify strongly with Davies’ account of turning up at Archives offices at opening time and sitting there all day searching for the identity of the mysterious 'Miss B'. Davies perfectly depicts the excitement in the search for the identity of an elusive forebear.On Goodreads there are plenty of descriptions of the premise of this book, with plenty of four star reviews by a reading audience based in the northern hemisphere and largely ignorant of the work of Sir Joseph Banks (those outside UK botanical circles, I mean). I think this book resonates even better with an Australian audience, especially readers in Sydney, where Banks is very ‘big’.I much preferred the Banks chapters in the book, which alternated with chapters set in modern times. The hypothetical romance for Joseph Banks was quite moving and even convincing, given society’s rules of the day. Banks had plenty of affairs but never married, and it makes sense that a female of serious demeanour and purpose, and equally scientifically-minded as he, had spoilt his taste for the frivolous women of his own class as wifely candidates. Davies’ version of events changed my mind about Banks – hitherto I did not think much of him as a person, because of the drama he created over his personal cabin space aboard the Resolution, resulting in his last-minute withdrawal in 1772 from Cook’s second expedition to the South Seas. Now I can see that there could have been another side to the Banks story.In the alternate chapters, I found the narrative about an academic named Fitzgerald (Fitz) a bit disjointed and sometimes hard to follow, and the characters not always convincing. The bits about Fitz’s grandfather seemed to hang in space a bit, and Fitz’s connection to the young graduate student Katya seemed very shadowy.The history of the later eighteenth century intrigues me. So much changed in the world – the ascent of scientific enquiry (eg the Longitude story), the age of cultural enlightenment, the start of the industrial revolution, the growth of democratic government (independence of USA, French Revolution). My early convict forebears who came on First and Second Fleet add a personal connection to this period, as do forebears who helped establish the mail coach system in England in the 1780s and 1790s. That particular communications revolution underpinned the rapid growth of the British economy. Another direct forebear, Dr George Young, established the first Botanic Garden in the western hemisphere, on the Island of St Vincent in the Caribbean in the 1760s. Young was present when the breadfruit tree arrived from the Pacific, so I have personal, albeit remote, connections to William Bligh and Joseph Banks.For me this book was a page-turner. It was very clever of novelist Martin Davies to think of weaving the different strands of his story together in the way he did. And very clever of him to piece together the missing links in the life of Sir Joseph Banks and come up with the imaginative narrative he produced in the book. Oh to be so creative with my own historical research – but I fear that the lifelong habits of a non-fiction writer run deep.As an author, the title of a book always attracts my attention, but I’m still not quite sure why the book was entitled The Conjuror’s Bird. Who was the conjuror? Did the title of the book refer to its final twist in the tale? I don't want to spoil the ending of the book for readers - so I won't speculate here!


The "Richard and Judy book club" sticker on the front made me quite dubious about this book. The £1 price tag, on the other hand, tempted me, along the promise of mystery and adventure.The Conjuror's Bird is a novel set in two times: the present and the late 1700s. The narratives unfold in parallel, with a piece of present always followed by a piece of past. In the present, our hero is a taxidermist / specialist in extinct birds / academic / former conservationist, Fitz. In the past, our heroes are Joseph Banks and Mary Burton. At the centre of the story is the Mysterious Bird of Ulieta - a bird that was discovered by explorers, shot, drawn, stuffed, and taken home to Britain to be classified. It would have been less mysterious if another bird of that species had ever been encountered again, but this was not to be. The stuffed bird disappeared from the historic record after making a brief appearance in Joseph Banks' collection.The story of Fitz is a detective story. He and his allies and competing factions are trying to find the bird, against the odds. The story of Joseph Banks is a romance story. He has been mesmerised by a woman that he cannot ever marry because of her different status.At first, the book starts out being exactly what I feared it might be. Easy reading, competently written but without anything really interesting going on. A slight sprinkling of mystery in an otherwise bland piece of writing by the numbers - exactly the sort of thing that Richard and Judy seemingly adore. The story in the present flows easily and is full of small cliffhangers. The story in the past is written in a different tone, but not a beautiful one. Instead, longer sentences and a slightly changed vocabulary produce a vaguely authentic period effect, but without energy in the writing.As the story progressed, it became engrossing. The narrative of the past started being less predictable. The revelations of the present infused the past with tension, as certain mysteries in the present seemed to hint at threats in the past. By the end of the book, I could not put it down.It's not a deep book, or a very literary one. It is, however, an enjoyable read, building up momentum gradually and creating memorable, likeable characters in the process. It never insults the intelligence of the reader, though, which is more than can be said for some of the other Richard and Judy book club selections. I would definitely recommend it for a light read.

Mary Lowe

Engaging story. Love the tale between two periods of time and the historic links.


12/09/07TITLE/AUTHOR: THE CONJUROR'S BIRD by Martin DaviesRATING: 4/BGENRE/PUB DATE/# OF PGS: Fiction/2005/306 pgs SERIES/STAND ALONE: Stand AloneTIME/PLACE: 1770's/South Seas & present, UKCHARACTERS: James Banks/Naturalist;John Fitzgerald/Natural History Professor.FIRST LINES:That Thursday evening I was working late, removing the skull ofa dead owlCOMMENTS:11/24/07 rec via bookcrossing ring/ray. Alternate stories between past 1770's & present. The Ulieta bird was an ordinary thrush type bird found in the South Seas and now extinct. Supposedly there is one preserved bird left and a collector hires Fitz to find the Conjuror's bird. A mix of history, mystery & romance.

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