When the Killing’s Done, by T. C. Boyle
This one was another under-the-gun reading experience for me: I got a recall notice a few days after I checked it out. The truth is that I really enjoy reading this way: creeping through a book in 15 minute chunks dilutes its effect, but charging through it at full speed immerses me in its world. So thank you, whoever gets it next!
T.C. Boyle is a prolific author who lives in Montecito. He sometimes writes fiction about historical figures (his last novel in this genre was The Women, about Frank Lloyd Wright and his succession of wives and lovers), but has won numerous prizes for his short stories. And he often writes novels with environmental themes, set in California. When the Killing’s Done is the best one yet, in my opinion. It’s set in Santa Barbara and on two of the Channel Islands, Anacapa and Santa Cruz, and centers around the issue of eradicating non-native species. Sounds dry, I know, but Boyle is a brilliant satirist, so the two antagonists are a Prius-driving wildlife biologist with a generations-long connection to the islands, and a PETA-inspired animal rights activist with anger issues. Though both characters start out with good intentions, to say that each of them loses sight of the big picture is putting it mildly. It becomes a clash of wills between two purists, with no one a winner, least of all the native and non-native species involved.
There are some gory passages in this book — I didn’t enjoy revisiting the troubled relationship between sheep and crows that put me off David Sedaris’ Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, for example — but Boyle has clearly done his research on the wildlife biology of the islands, and I did learn a lot. And the plot and characters of this novel kept me turning pages, even when I had a very bad feeling about what was going to happen next. In addition to the two main characters central to the story, there are quite a few more related to them, with episodes going back to the 1940s. And the familiar Santa Barbara setting made me enjoy it more, too.
Here’s a video book trailer from Viking, directed by Jamieson Fry, that captures the drama, but not the satire of the book:
author photo from genre-x.com blog