Friday, December 24, 2010

"Did Not Survive"

Ann Littlewood was a zoo keeper in Portland, Oregon for twelve years. She raised lions and cougars, an orangutan; and native mammals, as well as parrots, penguins, and a multitude of owls. The financial realities of raising primates (two boys of her own) led Littlewood to exchange a hose and rubber boots for a briefcase and pantsuit in the healthcare industry. She has maintained her membership in the American Association of Zookeepers and has kept in touch with the zoo world by visiting zoos and through friendships with zoo staffers.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Did Not Survive, her latest “zoo-dunnit,”and reported the following:
Page 69:
[We agreed it] was best to keep it [Wallace and Dr. Reynold’s relationship] undercover. I liked him, but I suspect he was more optimistic about us than I was. Who knows…”

“He was … cheerful the last few months. He seemed happy. And … it sounds like he didn’t suffer. At the end.”

“Yes. I think that is true.”

We sat in silence for a moment. I said, “I should have visited him in the hospital. I should have thanked him for not firing me when I was screwing up after Rick died. He was cranky and fussy, but he was fair. I think he was good at his job.”

She turned back to me and shook her head. “The hospital wouldn’t let anyone but family in.” She looked out the window again. “I don’t know a soul here except Kayla, and I’m coming off a bad divorce. As if there ever was a good one. He was fun to be with.” A wry smile.

She’d known a different Wallace than I had. “He had a few failed relationships of his own. Not entirely his fault.” Impulsively, I added, “I hope you stay.”

She smiled. “I’d like to. The salary here is dismal. I’d buy a house if I could.”

I understood that one. Rick’s life insurance was all that made my home ownership possible.

“Iris, I hope you and Kayla get along. She doesn’t know anyone here either. I seem to feel responsible since I recruited her to come work here. Of course, she’s very social.”

Another request? “She seems good at her job. And fun. People like her. I wouldn’t worry.”

The vet nodded and fell into silence, staring out the window again. After a moment, still looking away, “Kevin liked you. You were tough to manage, but a good zoo keeper. That’s what he said. He felt that your husband’s death was the worst thing that had happened in all his years at the zoo.”

I was blind-sided and unable to speak.

Dr. Reynolds turned her chair back to face me. The narrow, serious face was transformed, predatory. “A killer broke into our zoo. We don’t know who it is or whether it will happen again. Let’s figure this out. Let’s get whoever did this to Kevin.”
Page 69 finds the protagonist, Iris Oakley of Finley Memorial Zoo, in an emotional conversation with the zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Jean Reynolds. The story is told in Iris’ first-person voice. She did her best a few days ago to rescue the zoo’s foreman, Kevin Wallace, from what she thought was an elephant attack. He died anyway, the day before this scene. Iris is commiserating with Dr. Reynolds. The vet talks about her relationship with Wallace. Iris, an animal keeper and much farther down the totem pole, describes her own complicated feelings about him.

The vet asks Iris to help her find out who was responsible for his death. Later, she’ll tell Iris to back off and stop investigating. Later, Iris will find out that the vet she admires so much is keeping secrets. Later, Iris will encounter the circumstances that led to Wallace’s death. Only Wallace was hale and hearty. Iris is six months pregnant.

This “zoo-dunnit” features a twisty plot, unusual characters both human and animal, and a unique behind-the-scenes perspective on modern zoos. Intertwined through the mystery are the real-world issues around managing elephants in captivity.
Read an excerpt from Did Not Survive and watch the video trailer.

Learn more about the book and author at Ann Littlewood's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue