In the wake of his excellent first book Wildlife Detective
, Alan Stewart — Scotland's foremost wildlife crime investigator — returns with another instalment that explores more incidents that blight Britain's reputation as a wildlife-loving nation. To most people, the prospect of hare coursing, deer poaching and badger baiting is abhorrent but, for a bloodthirsty minority, the thrill of an illegal hunt, chase or kill is too much to resist. But it isn't just blood sports that Stewart has been tackling for more than 45 years: illegal trapping (and releasing!), poisoning and fighting organised gangs all form part of a typical day's work.
While descriptions of some of the rawer exploits encountered might not necessarily attract a reader to engage with Stewart's narrative, the reality is that he has explored and recounted each case (split into chapters) with great intricacy. Stewart's writing style takes the reader on an emotive journey spanning despair and disgust through to jubilation and satisfaction in a reflection of his own thoughts and moods. Some of the crimes committed left me gut-wrenchingly frustrated at the evil that fellow human beings can display. But they are recounted with such detail and efficiency that, as a reader, it is easy to picture the surroundings and weather conditions of each 'crime scene' as well as the narrator's own personal thoughts and opinions, which tend to be developed and revealed chronologically as he builds up his own impression of each case. This is testament to Stewart's wealth of experience as a detective; many times I found myself thinking "my goodness, I wouldn't have thought of that..!"
Stewart's memoir-like writing style is particularly enjoyable. Despite the frustrations of many cases lacking sufficient evidence to reach a guilty verdict, he remains optimistic and dedicated to the cause. His true professionalism is reflected in his upbeat and often humorous writing, presented dynamically and engagingly. Very occasionally, I found that I felt the author had gone off on a tangent a little too far but, in the context of the book, I would hardly call it a criticism. On the contrary, it further illustrates his acute eye for the tiniest of details — crucial when building a case for a creature unable to give its own evidence…
Indeed, one can only admire Stewart's dedication to our Isles' flora and fauna. Proving an individual guilty of crimes against wildlife is intensely difficult, not least for the reason above. Stewart shares his frustration well with the reader, explaining how many offenders get away with their actions due simply to an apparent 'lack of evidence': even if the culprit's identity is overwhelmingly obvious, proving it in the eyes of the law is often a completely different matter. (Such is the case of hare-coursing obsessive 'Double D' in the very first chapter.) The use of several plates of colour images, which illustrate both the traps and the trapped, help illustrate just how appalling (and disconcertingly well planned) such crimes can be. Although often graphic, they act as the perfect emotive stimulus for the reader — if any further was needed.
A Lone Furrow is a fantastic and uplifting read that guarantees to grip the reader, despite the obvious traumas highlighted within. Despite the frustrations of wildlife crime — elusive offenders, upsetting cases and difficult prosecutions — Alan Stewart maintains a consistently positive attitude towards fighting this sector of law-breakers, setting an example to us all. Much as the first instalment was described in a BirdGuides review three years ago, Stewart's second offering is an inspiring narrative that is more than deserving of a read. Therefore, like its predecessor, it comes highly recommended.
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