Iris Oakley, pregnant and still recovering from her husband’s murder, wants only to carry on as a keeper at Finley Memorial Zoo in Vancouver, Washington. But she is confronted with a terrifying situation: alone and with no elephant expertise, she must rescue her boss, Kevin Wallace, from being mauled by a zoo elephant. Though she gets him to safety, he dies of his injuries.
No one understands why reliable old Damrey attacked the foreman, and as the zoo staff descends into anxiety and animosity, the welfare of the animals is threatened. Rattled coworkers nominate Iris to find out what’s going on. Despite the distraction of trying to construct her new life as a single mother, Iris investigates. She finds a surprising number of motives to kill the foreman, but Damrey, the elephant, doesn’t have one. Iris discovers that the elephant keepers are locked in a bitter feud, the new veterinarian is keeping secrets, and an old flame still hates Wallace.
Meanwhile, animal-rights activists are picketing to have the zoo elephants sent to a sanctuary, a better option for them than even the improved exhibit that is on the drawing board. And why isn’t that exhibit under construction as planned? A new foreman shows up with alarming ideas, the police keep dropping by, and now animals are disappearing into thin air....
©2010 Ann Littlewood (P)2010 Made for Success, Inc.
This was a switch from the usual whodunit, and as a "zoo mystery" it held my interest all the way through. Reading this book added to my knowledge of, and love for, the non-human inhabitants of our planet.
The workplace politics play large in the story as well, and I am sure the friction will remind many of their own experiences working in any office, zoo-related or not.
The author is gifted with description and especially adept with dialogue - I never expected to be hooked on a book with a lot of dialogue - but there it was, hip and humorous.
However, two aspects of this novel rendered my score a "4" instead of a "5". First of all there are too many incidental characters, making it difficult to keep track. Additionally the writer uses little imagination in naming these ancillary characters, thus making it even more difficult to keep in mind, as one reads, their respective story arcs and roles in the narrative.
Secondly, the events towards the end are a bit over the top in believability, even though one feels a ton of empathy towards the plucky protagonist.
But I do look forward to further "zoo stories" by this author. This book reminded me of the Nevada Barr books which take up residence in various national parks. I hope to read more escapades of Iris Oakley, just like Anna Pigeon of the national park mysteries. "Did Not Survive" has a similar dynamic - individual employee vs. large bureaucratic institution, dependent in part on public funding. And then there is the archetypal search for the evildoer amongst the staff. I hope Ann Littleton will continue with Iris Oakley and the "Zoo Mysteries".
Having enjoyed the first of this series (Night Kill), I wanted to read more about Iris and the Finley Zoo. The details of zoo life are interesting, the characters likeable and the mystery well-written. I will be reading more of this series! Cassandra Campbell does an excellent job of narrating these stories!
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