by Cynthia Chow
At the end of this review is a chance to win a copy of the book & a video interview with Ann from Left Coast Crime.
A major drug bust in Vancouver, Washington has law enforcement and Animal Control calling zookeeper Iris Oakley in for help removing the collection of animals being housed on the confiscated property. However, instead of pets Iris and her coworker Denny discover a massive collection of smuggled wildlife, including several parrots and numerous endangered tortoises. The various government agencies are less interested in the animal situation than they are in the marijuana farm and meth lab though, so it’s up to Iris to track down the smugglers and their sources that critically harm the wildlife she loves.
Unfortunately, matters become much more complicated and dangerous when Iris stumbles across the daughter’s body of the drug smuggling family and manages to hear the last dying words of the patriarch when he collapses following a violent confrontation with the zookeepers. Iris just can’t seem to separate herself from the events on the farm, as once released on bail the polite although completely paranoid Tipper family sons break into Iris’s home demanding to know their father’s last words. These events have Iris reluctantly fleeing with her young son to the home of her parents, who provide safety and love but at the cost of Iris’s sense of independence and self-esteem as a good mother.
What makes this third in the Zoo Mystery series so compelling is how the author balances Iris’s investigation into the fascinating animal smuggling business with her personal and professional life. Details about the Finley Zoo and the problems it faces, from a mandrill mother’s reluctance to nurse her baby to cleaning the penguin pool are explained with a perfect balance that is descriptive without being overwhelming. Most challenging to Iris is how to blend her passion for protecting the animals into her personal life. Not only is a new career path and challenge opening up in the zoo for her, but two possible suitors appear for the recent widow, forcing Iris to open up a part of the life she closed with the recent murder of her husband. Complicating matters is the guilt Iris feels every moment she doesn’t spend with her two year old son Robby, who although is being happily cared for by her parents is only another sign to Iris that she is failing as a mother.
Littlewood has created such a uniquely real, vulnerable, and likable character in Iris Oakley that readers will feel compelled to follow her adventures as both an investigator and as a single mother. The author thankfully balances Iris’s compulsive need to save animals with a sense of self-preservation that has her keeping the police informed throughout her investigation. A situation with a close friend who is bordering on a sociopathic and obsessive relationship with an ex-boyfriend serves as a harbinger for future troubles, but this only serves as one additional tease for future installments in this series. For a fascinating glimpse into the world of zoos with an equally engaging heroine, these mysteries can’t be beat.
Interview With Ann Littlewood:
To enter to win a copy of Endangered, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Zoo”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 25, 2012. U.S. residents only.