The discovery of the near-mythical night parrot lures smugglers to the heart of the Australian outback. It falls to lone wildlife officer Ric Butler to investigate but when a malevolent boss repeatedly undermines his efforts Butler proves he isn’t the kind of guy to let a thing drop because he’s told to. Falsely accused of murdering an infamous naturalist Butler’s world gets turned upside down forcing him to go on the run with Jake Varoy a laid-back but cynical co-worker with the hard-won wisdom only experience can bring.

In a daring game of cat-and-mouse the pair track an unseen adversary as Jake reveals clues about Butler’s own hidden origins. The investigation turns deadly up in the steamy croc-infested waters of remote Torres Strait when Butler is pushed to overcome personal demons and intercept the smugglers to save the night parrot, even if it means endangering the lives of those he most loves.

Advance Praise

‘Anything Night Parrot can hardly fail to be intriguing. Inspired by real events, Grant’s suspenseful novel of protective passions for the natural world, ruthless traffickers and corrupt cops, takes the reader on a wild adventure.’

—Penny Olsen, Night Parrot: Australia’s Most Elusive Bird

‘Spinifex: The Curse of the Night Parrot is a rousing meld of history and imagination that unites country, ornithology and smuggling in north Queensland story, with the iconic Night Parrot as the centrepiece.’

—Walter E. Boles, Senior Fellow, Ornithology Section, Australian Museum.

‘A gripping and astonishing tale of just how far some will go to smuggle our precious wildlife, this is a tour-de-force of the less traversed boundary between natural history and crime noir. The chase is on as our flawed hero navigates a harsh physical and emotional landscape in pursuit of a wily villain and to stop corruption in its tracks. A page-turner with a bitter-sweet ending!’

—Professor Rob Heinsohn, Australian National University Ecologist and Conservation Biologist Head of the Difficult Birds Research Group

‘A great yarn with characters that you feel you already know and, sadly, a storyline that rings true.’

—L Fisher, Birdlife Northern Queensland.

A ‘gripping yarn.’ Outstandingly well-written story. Gripping, uncompromising narrative. I particularly liked the two main characters and their complex relationship, tied up in aboriginality issues.  This was a courageous slant by the author, which worked well and smacked of personal experience.

— Graham Harrington, Birdlife Australia North Qld. Group.


Title: Spinifex: The Curse of the Night Parrot
Author: Grant, J.
Published: 2022
ISBNs: 9781925856439 (hbk), 9781925856422 (pbk), 9781925856446 (ebk)
Page count: 234


Foreword Clarion Review

Clarion Rating: 4 out of 5

In the mystery novel Spinifex, a naturalist is murdered in the vibrant Australian Outback, leading a government worker into tough inquiries.

In John Grant’s engrossing mystery novel Spinifex, a naturalist searching for an elusive parrot is murdered in the Australian Outback.

Butler is a beleaguered senior field officer for the wildlife service who is constrained by a bureaucratic boss. He is tempted to go rogue in his efforts to stop traffickers. Then Elder, a controversial adventurer, photographs a night parrot—a bird thought to be near extinction, and which Butler is fascinated by. The photograph leads to arguments about how best to protect the species. When Elder is killed, and Butler is revealed to have been the last person to see him alive, Butler is forced to work with a coworker, Jake, to learn the truth. The men’s rapport is based on a mutual tendency to resist the rules, leading them to undertake their independent inquiries. Their conversations are forthright, if at first reserved; they come to respect one another in time.

Queensland and its surroundings are made fascinating through rich details about their flora, fauna, weather, and atmospheres, all of which Butler and other characters feel tied to. And the issues related to the night parrot’s rediscovery illustrate tensions between state agencies, private conservationists, and academic researchers, whose different approaches lead to brewing problems. They combat issues like lucrative illegal trades and are suspicious of those who engage in sideline deals; this extends to those who ostensibly work on behalf of local wildlife.

Against this background, the motivations behind Elder’s murder are familiar. Still, the investigation proffers surprises as it extends its focus to local aviculture circles, and because of the red herrings used to obscure the culprit’s identity. When Butler and Jake become suspects themselves, the suspense increases.

The narrative moves between action scenes and the development of the book’s background themes, including about Australia’s complicated treatment of Indigenous people. There are both adventures here and insights into life in the Australian bush, with hazy questions about Butler’s family origins arising to generate additional interest, as when he meets Jake’s relatives, and his own memories of his mother resurface. Sections from an astute woman constable’s perspective lead to new clues that advance the case; its developments are often reliant on human connections.

Reviewed by Karen Rigby, February 4, 2022


John Grant

Field research scientist, ornithologist, author, artist, community-based nature conservationist