At Sydney's Royal Prince Albert Zoo, fear is mounting. First a curator is found dead in a giraffe enclosure, then three endangered animals - part of a controversial shipment from Burma - are brutally slaughtered.
TV Producer Nikiya Adams arrives at the zoo to research a new British series and is instantly plunged into a web of danger. Ten years ago she fell in love with the zoo's director, Dr James Rivers - but now the pair must put their feelings aside to face deadly intrigue and an unknown killer.
CITY OF ANIMALS is set in Sydney, in and around the Royal Prince Albert Zoo, which actually doesn't exist but bears a striking resemblance physically to the real Taronga Zoo. Let's hope that the resemblance ends there.
New zoo director, Dr James Rivers is struggling with his board of Governors and the competing priorities of zoos to be financially successful and maintain their primary objective of care of the animals within the zoo, alongside the increasing push for research, breeding programs and protection for endangered species. BBC TV Producer Nikiya Adams is universally well-known for a dramatic picture protecting baby harp seals from hunters from many years ago. Rivers and Adams knew each other many years ago and their mutual (unfulfilled) attraction is rekindled when Adams arrives at the zoo to research a new production for the BBC. Rivers is distracted - the death of a curator in the giraffe enclosure and the tricky negotiations (and ultimately arrival) of some rare and highly endangered animals from Burma are generating fear and concern at all levels. Adams has problems of her own with a violent and possessive ex-boyfriend stalking her around the world. Both Rivers and Adams seem to be the targets of threats and intimidation.
Part of the shipment of rare animals is brutally slaughtered and there is something or somebody stalking the zoo of a night, intent on murder.
CITY OF ANIMALS is an extremely confrontational book, there is just no way of getting around that. Starting with the death of the curator, through the startling graphic death of a number of animals in the Burmese shipment, the real threat and motivation become murkier and murkier with more and more complications being revealed about the situation within the zoo and the circumstances of the animal shipment itself. In a desperate final conclusion Rivers and Adams must save themselves and the zoo in a physical and brutal fight against enemies coming from all directions.
CITY OF ANIMALS is definitely not a book for the reader who likes their crime fiction on the cozier side. It's a searing and extremely uncomfortable tale about human cruelty and ruthlessness that had me reading frequently with one eye closed. The author's notes at the end of the book about the context of the events and the treatment of animals is extremely sobering.
THE LAST TESTAMENT - Sam Bourne
The blurb for THE LAST TESTAMENT reads along the lines of "The Biggest Challenger to Dan Brown's Crown" and "A brilliant new high-concept religious conspiracy theory thriller", which might put some readers off, or at the very least set you up with some pre-conceived conceptions about the book. Ignore all of that and you'll be getting a fast paced, believable thriller which sets itself within a current day conflict in a very realistic manner.
In the dying days of the regime in Iraq, the Baghdad Museum of Antiquities is looted. A young boy takes an ancient clay tablet, hidden away in a forgotten vault.
At a rally for the signing of an historical peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Israeli security forces shoot dead a Jewish man, pushing his way through the crowd towards the Israeli Prime Minister. Instead of a gun, the man they thought was an assassin held a blood-stained note, addressed to his old friend the Prime Minister.
The peace negotiations falter as a series of tit for tat killings start up in both the Palestinian and Jewish territories. Washington takes the rather unusual step of calling in once star negotiator Maggie Costello, despite the fact that her last involvement in official negotiation ended in semi-disgrace. Costello arrives in Jerusalem and is instantly plunged into a mystery rooted in the last unsolved riddle of the Bible, with extremists on both sides not afraid to kill and menace to push the negotiations in the direction that they want.
THE LAST TESTAMENT is a thriller with a certain level of suspension of disbelief required from the start. Early on the reader is really wondering why on earth Maggie would be called back to work as a negotiator - her personal life and her previous entanglements in other negotiations would seem to make her a bit of a liability! On the other hand, when she arrives in Jerusalem and basically heads off out of the negotiation arena, on her own private quest to solve a riddle, you're really wondering what on earth is going on for a while. But, ultimately, if the test of a good thriller is whether or not you're more than happy to let some of the niggling inconsistencies roll whilst the story drags you along, then THE LAST TESTAMENT delivers in spades.
Sure there's a premise at the base of THE LAST TESTAMENT that has the potential to cause religious debate and maybe even controversy, making it another potential entrant in the "stirring up religious debate" category of thrillers that have been doing the rounds recently. Whether or not that's a category of book that suits you will be very dependent on each individual reader.
Maggie's not a bad character - she's a bit flawed, a bit insecure, a bit useless when it comes to sorting out her own life - but she knows it and she's not self-pitying about it. The other main character, Uri - son of the murdered suspected assassin is a bit ethereal in the book - there's a little of his background, enough to flesh him out a bit, but not enough to ever really let the reader inside his head too far and that's a bit tantalising. There are some other secondary characters that are interesting, some that are perhaps a little too predictable, but they fit within the general persona of the novel and the location it is set in.
Where THE LAST TESTAMENT appealed was in the realistic feel of the location of the story, and the way that the events moved rapidly. There are some twists and turns at the end, some of which were predictable and some were not. Even the more predictable elements weren't bland though, there were some nice gotcha moments that gave them some spark and interest.
THE CLEANER - Paul Cleave
The Cleaner is Christchurch, New Zealand based Paul Cleave's debut novel. Set in Christchurch where at one point Joe, the central character, muses that the biggest crime in Christchurch City - apart from the fashion and the Old English Architecture, glue-sniffing, too much greenery, bad driving, bad parking, lack of parking, wandering pedestrians, expensive shops, the winter smog, the summer smog, kids riding skateboards on footpaths, kids riding bikes on footpaths, old guys yelling Bible passages at anybody passing by, stupid policemen, stupid laws, too many drunks, too few shops, barking dogs, loud music, puddles of vomit in the gutters and the grey decor, among several other things - is burglary. And, thanks mainly to Joe - serial killings.
Joe works as a cleaner for the Christchurch Police. They think he's mentally handicapped - a bit slow. Joe knows he's not and he knows fully well that he's actually a very intelligent, busy, serial killer. He also knows that of the 7 murders they currently have chalked up to the Christchurch Carver - one of them wasn't him. And he's just ever so slightly miffed by this.
Early on in this book, I'll be perfectly honest, I was thinking that the world could really do without another self-impressed, self-involved, self-narrating serial killer and about the time I was ready to throw this out the nearest window, bang, Cleave suddenly turned THE CLEANER on its head and Joe finds himself in a very very strange place. From then on the book takes you on a bit of a wild ride whilst Joe ramps up the killing spree, and tries to find the perpetrator of the one murder that he didn't do. Professional Pride? More likely a handy scapegoat.
Although set within the Police Station, this is not a police procedural, so there is little concentration on the actual investigation, with most of the Police investigators taking a very low profile. Aside from the police, there are some unusual and well fleshed supporting characters. All in all, a very promising debut book with some good twists and turns.