Did John James Audubon ever travel far enough west to paint feathered friends on the other side of the Rockies? Audubon scholars have always thought not. But now, before a packed gallery audience, Brian Ravener, self-made millionaire, hardhead, and aggressive collector if ever there was one, produces documentation to prove otherwise. And, as part of the package, he's got four invaluable Audubon watercolors that he says have been authenticated by experts. At least one expert, however, begs to differ. Like the misanthropic witch of folk and fairy tale, Abel Lasher steps forward to put a curse on the Ravener watercolors. ""They're fake,"" he snarls. Bogus. Wrong as red-breasted swallows. In the ensuing uproar, he flings Lasher from the platform-and so when Lasher is found strangled to death later that evening, Ravener is the leading suspect. Fortunately, though, he has a friend in Jonathan Wilder (Dance of the Scarecrows, 1996), ornithologist and bird-painter of note, whom Ravener calls on for sleuthing help. Wilder tapped, Wilder responds, and soon enough the bird-fancying world is restored to equanimity. Everything is either overfamiliar or underimagined, including the lackluster hero and his girlfriend, and the featureless cast of glitterati-suspects. Exception: the birds.