Bird's Eye View

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Maverick risk-taker and onetime star professor Fritz Tullis has been exiled from academia after a passionate affair with the wrong man’s wife. When he retreats to his family’s estate in southern Maryland, he refurbishes a run-down sharecropper’s shack on the edge of a swamp and spend his time musing, fishing, and photographing the area’s abundant bird life. Most important, he vows to never again get involved with events he can’t control. While photographing birds at dawn, he sights a plane with his telephoto lens as it touches down on an airstrip across the bay. It’s an open secret that this area, with its multitude of hidden waterways. Is becoming a hub for illegal arms and drug trafficking. Three people emerge from the plane. As Fritz watches, two of them start arguing. Suddenly, without warning, one shoots the other. The killer and his accomplice then throw the body into the plane and take off. Fritz learns that the airstrip belongs to a wealthy and elusive man, an assistant secretary of state with a long history of connections to the CIA. A few days later, he discovers that the victim, whose body turns up a hundred miles from the murder site, was a high-ranking foreign diplomat. Before he knows it, and against his better judgement, Fritz is digging for the truth. Complicating his life even further, he becomes romantically entangled with an attractive Harvard ornithologist who’s discovered his private sanctuary. Fritz is about to lean how dangerous “being involved” can be. For as his quiet life gets more complex, people – including some who are near and dear – start to die. And as he adds these possible murders tot the one her personally witnessed, Fritz senses that he himself is being scrutinized through a telescopic lens, and that someone, somewhere, is plotting his death.


Penzler Pick, August 2001: J.F. Freedman is a wonderful storyteller whose six previous novels have been nothing less than compulsive page-turners. This, his latest, is no different.

Meet Fritz Tullis, lovable failure. He should be on top of the world. He comes from one of the most prestigious families in Maryland and, until recently, taught at the University of Texas. That all ended when he was discovered having an affair with the wife of one of the university’s most generous donors. Now he’s back on his mother’s land living in a little shack, drinking too much, and indulging in the local women.

But Fritz is also an enthusiastic photographer who spends his early morning hours trying to get rid of a hangover. He takes a small boat to the marshy areas near Chesapeake Bay where he has been watching migrating birds, especially Ollie, a whooping crane (an endangered species) who seems to have lost his way and ended up with a group of sandhill cranes in the marshes of Maryland. Fritz knows that he should be informing a wildlife preservation group about this lost bird, but then the place would be overrun by activists, and there would go his privacy.

One morning as Fritz is watching Ollie he hears a small plane approaching the runway just across the creek. The land belongs to his mother, so Fritz turns his zoom lens towards the plane—and witnesses a murder. That night at his mother’s house, Fritz is introduced to the new owner of that piece of property, James Roach, assistant secretary of state. From the moment he meets Roach, Fritz’s life is in turmoil. He also meets Maureen O’Hara, the ornithologist from Harvard with the seductive name who just complicates his life further as he tries to keep Ollie’s presence a secret. But in Bird’s-Eye View nobody is quite who they seem to be, and the reader is kept in suspense until the very last page.

Bird-watching is the clever hook for Freedman’s compulsively readable thriller about a troubled former college professor who witnesses a murder of international consequences while he’s hidden in a swamp watching for his beloved whooping crane. Banished from academia for having an affair with a dean’s wife, Fritz Tullis is trying to regroup on his family’s sprawling estate in southern Maryland. While photographing the rare and exotic bird, Tullis sees a plane touch down on a neighbor’s airstrip. Three men get out. As Tullis surreptitiously photographs the action more as a nosy neighbor than anything else one of the men is shot to death, and his body is loaded back on the plane. Frightened, Tullis agonizes for several days about what to do, until the body of the dead man turns up in a dumpster in Baltimore and is identified as that of a Russian diplomat. Then Tullis starts poking around. The owner of the airstrip is James Roach, an assistant secretary of state with a long past in arms sales. Despite warnings that Roach is not a man to mess with, Tullis blunders forth, risking not only his own life but that of his patrician mother. Others involved in Tullis’s quest are a gorgeous Harvard ornithologist with a surprising secret; Tullis’s former Yale roommate, a D.C. attorney; and a local detective. It’s encouraging to see Freedman (Above the Law) move out of his legal thriller comfort zone. Powered by a strong first-person point of view, his latest is not only a first-rate suspense drama but also an affecting portrait of a man in personal and professional crisis. Tullis, who eventually finds a perverse sort of solace in his pursuit, is self-absorbed, directionless and a bit selfish, but Freedman makes him engaging.
Publishers Weekly