By: Ann Littlewood
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: August 2010
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: December 2010
Iris Oakley is six months pregnant and trying to get her life together after her husband’s recent murder. She works as a bird keeper at Finley Memorial Zoo in Vancouver, Washington. Early one morning, after completing a volunteer night shift and waiting for her regular shift to start, the sleepy Iris hears a disturbance coming from the elephant exhibit. With nobody else around so early in the morning, Iris takes it upon herself to see what is going on.
When Iris arrives at the elephant exhibit, she is horrified to see Damry, one of the zoo’s two elephants, fondling the unresponsive body of Kevin Wallace, Iris’ boss. Is Damry trying to kill Kevin, or did something (or somebody?) get to Kevin first and the elephant is simply trying to get the man to move? What happened is unclear to Iris. What is clear is that she must get Kevin out of the elephant pen immediately.
Iris eventually gets Kevin to safety but not fast enough to save his life. While the police step in to investigate what first appears to be an elephant attack, Iris begins her own investigation. As she digs deeper, the young woman is dismayed to learn of the many people who had a reason to kill Kevin. As she says (the book is told in the first person by Iris), “I was finding way too many people with reason and opportunity to do away with Kevin Wallace.” (pg. 151) Will Iris be able to solve the murder before the murderer gets to her?
I was thoroughly captivated by this zoo mystery from the get-go. The action gets underway quickly and it only took a few pages to draw me in. Iris, a woman devoted to the animals under her care, is thoroughly likeable and I found myself rooting for her. The other characters who worked in, and around, the zoo, were interesting although, because I didn’t read the first book in this series, Night Kill, it took me a few chapters to distinguish them and learn each one’s personality. With so many suspects in this tale, the author did a splendid job of keeping the reader guessing as to just who the culprit was. Dr. Reynolds, the zoo vet, has a few secrets up her sleeve, there’s Ian, the junior elephant keeper who is fighting with his boss, Sam Bates, and what about Thor Thorson, an activist who wants the elephants freed from their small enclosure? As an added bonus, the author inserts much of the wisdom gained from her years working as a zookeeper so you’re bound to learn a few things about caring for zoo animals along the way.
Quill says: A thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery, perfect for both mystery fans and animal lovers.