The Seafarers

Stephen Rutt

Elliott & Thompson, £9.99

In 2016, a depressed and anxious Stephen Rutt left London to go and live on Ronaldsay for seven months. He volunteered for the bird observatory, tracking the populations of seabirds on the island, an experience which inspired him to go on similar forays around Britain’s coastlines. This memoir, which won the Saltire First Book of the Year award in 2019, lyrically describes how his soul was soothed by encounters with terns, petrels, kittiwakes, fulmars and skuas. While it’s a personal book, evoking the uplifting sense of freedom the birds represented for him, it’s also highly informative nature writing about seabirds and their habitats. When not observing birds, he retreats into books, forging bonds with great ornithologists of the past. Warning of the harm environmental damage, particularly plastic pollution, is doing to the seabird population, it’s an evocative, absorbing book that opens a window on to nature and the unexpected joys of being buffeted by wind and rain on lonely promontories.

Thirty One Bones

Morgan Cry

Polygon, £8.99

Euphemia Coulston is running a property development scam in Spain when she drops dead of a heart attack. Her estranged daughter, Daniella, comes over from Glasgow for the funeral to be met by Effie’s furious lawyer, George. It appears that Effie has cheated her village syndicate of ex-pats out of their ill-gotten gains, and they’re not going to let her daughter off the hook if she can recover their money. Threatened with being implicated in their scam, Daniella is forced to try to track down their €1.3m while sorting out her mother’s affairs, running a pub and dealing with a protection racket, none of which she’d anticipated when she stepped off the plane. Having worked in insurance, Daniella proves to be an assertive protagonist who can push back against those who are trying to manipulate her. A character-driven crime caper that steers clear of grit and sadism without ever feeling too lightweight.

A Savage Dreamland

David Eimer

Bloomsbury, £10.99

That Myanmar’s transition to liberal democracy was not going well became apparent to outsiders when the persecution of the Royhinga Muslims became worldwide news. By then, David Eimer knew the country well, having first visited in 2010 and moving there to live five years later. Its legacy of autocratic kings followed by British rule and then a harsh military dictatorship has left Myanmar fractured, and Eimer (who insists on calling it Burma, disliking the fact that it was renamed by a military junta) travels around the country examining its fault lines. Talking to ordinary people everywhere he goes, Eimer visits shanty towns where children work for poverty wages, finds communities that subsist on illegal trades and beds down with guerrillas to highlight ethnic and religious divides. It’s a sobering, though illuminating, portrait of a country in crisis with no respite in sight.