In this wonderful debut novel, Ann Littlewood  offers readers an engaging character in Iris Oakley, a young feline zookeeper at the Finley Memorial Zoo in Vancouver, Washington. As the story opens, she is contemplating reconciliation with her husband, Rick. They separated because of his excessive drinking, but after a passionate night during which he convinces her he is sober for good, she is thinking about giving the marriage another shot.

That decision becomes a moot point, however, when Rick is found dead in the lion exhibit early the next morning, and there are empty whiskey bottles nearby.  Iris is devastated, and her anger at his betrayal almost blinds her to some inconsistencies in the evidence that Rick got drunk and fell into the exhibit. Once she realizes that she needs to find out what really happened that night, she follows a convoluted path of false clues that makes her suspicious of everyone.

Just when Iris is ready to give up the investigation, she experiences a series of accidents that she soon realizes are not accidents at all. Now she has even more reason to find out the truth.

This novel is satisfying on many levels. The mystery is well crafted with enough suspense to keep a reader turning the pages. It abounds with false leads, red herrings, dramatic moments, and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. The sub-plot involves the realities of grief and loss and lets the reader experience how paralyzing that can be.

The reader also learns a lot of what goes on behind the cages and moats at a zoo and meets a fine array of supporting cast members.  One of whom, the foreman, would like to see Iris out of his zoo and working elsewhere.

All this is told in a style that is crisp, original, and vivid. “Hot breath from the lioness touched my cheek. Round dark irises in gold eyes, nostrils flaring and relaxing, a complex pattern faint on the black nose pad, the harsh breath of a meat eater. She stood as tall as I, reared up with her big front feet at my shoulder height. She was all about power: massive jaws, thick forelegs, heavy shoulder muscles. Power she’d never used, never run down and throttled her unwilling dinner, never torn it into fragments she could eat. The familiar fact that she was on one side of the wire and I was safe on the other seemed profoundly odd, a peculiar twist in the ancient relationship between our species.”

It is always a pleasure to read a book in which the author has taken such great care with each word.

Night Kill
Ann Littlewood
Poisoned Pen Press 
EAN/ISBN: 9781590585047
Hardcover – $24.95
Sept, 2008

Maryann Miller — Maryann’s Web site

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