Not your average family day out.

Not your average family day out.

“Located in Griffith Park, a four-thousand-acre stretch of land featuring two eighteen-hole gold courses, the Autry National Center, and the HOLLYWOOD sign, the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is more of a run-down tourist attraction than a wildlife conservation facility.”

Do anything for long enough and you’ll find your words come back to bite your behind. Last year I read Witch & Wizard by James Patterson and detested it. I all but vowed to abandon Patterson and never try reading him again. You can see already how well that went down. I actually bought this book a few weeks after reading the last one, for which I blame the late arrival of my train at London Bridge that led me to wander into W H Smiths, and figured that if his writing for children didn’t appeal to me, his adult novels might.

Zoo seemed a simple enough premise, but that should’ve been all I needed to know. This is one of those thriller books churned out for the summer market; thin characterisation, short chapters and constant bursts of unlikely action. However, I’m not doing the book down entirely. It has flaws, but it’s not bad. First up, a summary of the plot.

This is the story of Jackson Oz, a biologist who has become concerned with the increasing number of animal attacks on humans over the last few years. Calling it HAC (Human-Animal Conflict), he has tried for years to convince politicians and mainstream scientists that something wrong is happening, but since he’s a college drop out who lives in New York with chimpanzee called Attila, people aren’t that fond of taking him seriously. He hears from a contact in Botswana who reports lions behaving in an odd manner, so he drops everything to head out to Africa in search of proof.

Out there, he gets the proof he’s after. Male lions are hunting in packs, something never before seen or even heard of before. And while Oz is dealing with the problems out there, back in America, Attila is going mental and more and more attacks, even from domesticated dogs, are happening. All mammals are turning against humans and it is only a matter of time before everyone feels like they’re at the end of days, with people only starting to listen to Oz after it might be too late.

OK, so the plot is simple enough – animals turn on humans, humans are unprepared – and the descriptions of the killings are pretty good and graphic. Animals tend to be gathering in swarms, and the images Patterson produces about great swirling mounds of dogs or rats are intense and disgusting, but oddly compelling. Patterson also does have a rather smart way with language, with some great descriptions, metaphors and the like that I’m jealous of. I actually am rather fond of the ending as well, which shows humans for what they really are and leads to the suggestion that, as I’ve always assumed, we’ll end up destroying ourselves.

It’s a quick read, very fast-paced, but sometimes so fast that the characters are left behind. Oz has a girlfriend at the start of the novel and, alright, she leaves him and is then killed, but after that happens, the novel skips ahead five years and we don’t get to see his mourning period, possibly because he’s just returned from Africa with a Frenchwoman he’s falling for. In the missing interim, they get married and have a son. Oz’s first girlfriend, Natalie, is never again mentioned, despite her gory death surely not being something he’s going to forget in a hurry.

Oz is supposed to be a genius, but he hits on his main idea due to a slightly contrived coincidence, and even I (someone with no scientific backing whatsoever but who does understand fairly well how stories work) hit on the cause of the problem about a hundred pages before any of the scientists did. Also, I remain stunned and bemused by the fact that, even though Oz knows animals are becoming more aggressive, he still insists on keeping a sodding chimpanzee in his apartment. There’s a couple of throwaway lines about how he’s attached to him, and he will eventually send him off somewhere he can be safe, but generally I think that if Oz was any sort of scientist, he would’ve got rid of that ape long before and saved himself a lot of trouble.

My other minor gripe is simply that we get to see lots of aggression and murdering from such animals as dogs, cats, rats, lions, leopards, bears, gorillas, rhinos, chimps, dolphins and wolves, but was it too much to ask for a frankly hilarious scene in which a family picnic is raided by a bloodthirsty pack of squirrels? I mean, the dolphins are a very nice touch, and even bats turn up at the end briefly, but come on, give me a murdering hamster or a rabbit with ideas of death and destruction.

It’s not necessarily a bad book, but some scenes are too forced, the characters are weak and Patterson seems to be phoning it in occasionally, like mentioning that the situation has been given the name ZOO, which is an acronym but apparently no one can remember what it stands for. Hmmm.

No promises, but I think this could be the end of my attempts with Patterson.

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