"The Pheasant Plucker" by Bill Daly is the sort of book that reminds you just how much fun reading can be. Frank McClure hails from Kilbirnie in North Ayrshire, which, we read on page one, "rates right up there alongside Milton Keynes as a place people come from, but no one in their right mind ever goes to." Frank never fitted in as a child. His ageing father ran a local pub, "The Plucked Pheasant" and his mother, who was four and a half decades younger, had come to Kilbirnie to work as an au pair and improve her English. After two years behind the bar in The Plucked Pheasant "she was disappointed to discover the accent she'd acquired didn't travel - not even as far as Glasgow."
Frank's father died early and he was brought up by his mother, taking over the pub when she left for a new life in Peking with the owner of the Chinese take-away in the next street. Frank's search for something more meaningful to do with his life than running The Plucked Pheasant and providing a unusually wide range of services for Sadie Mason, the wife of the local undertaker, takes him to London. Here he sees an advert placed in the Evening Standard by MI6 for fluent French speakers, and applies.
We then follow Frank on his bizarre assignment to Montpellier in southern France, where he works undercover in an English bookshop by day and spies on the local ex-pat British community by night, looking for subversives to report back to his masters. Only it soon becomes clear that nothing is quite what it seems, and Frank is caught up in an increasingly dangerous web of intrigue and deception that finds him suspected of murder and on the run from the French Secret Service.
Bill Daly is a Scot who lives in Montpellier and you get the feeling he had as much fun writing this book as his readers have following its highly enjoyable plot through to an extremely satisfying conclusion. You do wonder whether the members of the ex-pat community in Montpellier are really as awful as their fictional counterparts here. Hopefully not, because having burned his bridges back to Kilbirnie on the opening page, the author can hardly afford to upset his current friends and neighbours too much!