14 January 2018

The Beastly

by Leigh Lundin

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips
A major problem with SleuthSayers is that so many good books are mentioned, it’s impossible to read them all. But recommendations count, they’re listened to. At least three months in a row, John Floyd mentioned Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips. That’s worth paying attention.

The story’s venue appealed to me. Initially as a volunteer at the Minnesota Zoo and winding up as a consultant for Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I’ve spent time in and around zoos. In between came animal businesses and odd little assignments such as rounding up African geese to be shipped to Sacramento and prairie dogs for Jack Hanna.

Animals also feature in my writing… alligators, venomous snakes, a scorpion… Okay, okay, I don’t do cat cosies. I consider a zoo at night a brilliant setting for a thriller. Fierce Kingdom isn’t a mystery, but it’s definitely a crime story.

One little aspect of Fierce Kingdom especially amused me. The protagonists, Joan and her 4-year-old Lincoln, hole up in the porcupine enclosure, sans porcupine.

Likely they would have been safe with a porcupine in residence. I’ve held the Minnesota Zoo’s porcupine on my lap, petted him… carefully. In size and weight, picture a medium size dog like a sheltie, and you’re in the ballpark… or zoological park. The biggest problem was that Porky fell giddily in love with one of the female volunteers to the point worried zoo officials forbade her seeing him. Ah, young, cross-species love thwarted.

The New York Times wrote an excellent review of Fierce Kingdom, so I won’t attempt a reprise. Their review mentions clichés avoided and a couple of times I had found myself praying, Please don’t let this devolve into yet another husband-as-betraying-bastard-bad-guy. Whew, the author dodged that meme.

The bad guys are intriguing. My one complaint is I would like to know more about the primary baddie who engineered the massacre. Destin remains a shadowy, virtually unknown figure of uncertain motivation.

Worth mentioning are two other well-drawn heroines. Young Kailynn touched me. Although she saved lives of strangers, she had to be aware Joan, while helping her, would sacrifice Kailynn in an instant to save her son.

The other heroine is Mrs Powell, Margaret, a seasoned school teacher. If you’re going up against bad guys, you’d want Mrs Powell on your side.

The book is paced so you can read it in real time, assuming you don’t speed-read, In other words, the action spans about three hours, approximately average reading speed.

Fierce Kingdom strikes me as particularly cinematic. I could picture this as a film, a thriller for adults or a more moderate version for children and porcupines.

Scarecrow and Mrs King
You’re bound to enjoy next week’s article.
Scarecrow

The protagonist makes several references to a mid-1980s television spy series, Scarecrow and Mrs King. I’ve spent decades without a television, so the program was unknown to me. Gin Phillips so managed to generate sufficient interest, I streamed the first (out of four) seasons.

For those unfamiliar with the series, next Sunday I offer my own condensed version. It will be fun, I promise.

3 comments:

janice law said...

I've made a note to ask our library for Fierce Kingdom!

John Floyd said...

Glad you liked the novel, Leigh. It was definitely different from what I usually read, but--like you--the premise and setting appealed to me. Thanks for posting this.

Leigh Lundin said...

Janice, I read one commentary that described Fierce Kingdom as about motherhood and mothering. It is, but also interesting are the practical choices the mother has to make.

I found myself wondering what I would do and the porcupine enclosure was a pretty good choice to hide in. It would be easier than most to get in and out of and its occupant wouldn't be threatening.

Zoos use illusion for the benefit of visitors and animals. Backs of trees or boulders might contain food, water, or a heat source for basking. A stream that runs through enclosures isn't a streams at all, but a series of enclosed water systems isolated within each display to prevent disease or animals themselves escaping to adjoining habitats. Thus Joan couldn't hope to use an indoor 'stream' to further their escape.

John, thanks for the tip. By the way, I was a guest of the Jackson Zoo and remember it well.