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.