Did Not Survive
Review: A very pregnant Iris Oakley must assume additional responsibilities — not the least of which to play amateur sleuth — at the zoo where she's a bird keeper when her boss is found seriously injured in an elephant enclosure in Did Not Survive, the second mystery in this series by Ann Littlewood.
Iris is alone at the zoo, doing an early morning shift when she hears trumpeting from the elephants. Curious as to what may be going on, she wanders over only to discover animal keeper supervisor Kevin Wallace unconscious, apparently as the result of an attack by the elderly cow Damrey. Calling for help, Wallace is taken to a local hospital where he later dies. The police investigation initially focuses on Damrey, even after the cause of death is determined to be a blow to the head with an ankusa, a hook-like tool used to control the animal. But none of the zoo keepers believe Damrey capable of wielding the tool, especially since she's nearly blind. A number of other curious incidents at the zoo lead Iris to believe one of her co-workers may be responsible for Wallace's death.
There's a lot to like about Did Not Survive, from the characters and their interpersonal relationships to the setting, a small zoo in southern Washington, where most of the action takes place. The background information on the animal handling techniques, and what seems to be a balanced debate on the purpose and value of zoos and captive breeding programs adds depth. What's missing, however, is an engaging murder mystery plot. It takes far too long, for example, to get past the point to where Wallace's death becomes a homicide investigation. Even then, the pace never picks up much. In addition, the author's frequent use of the word "maul" may be unintentionally misleading. While simply meaning to rough up or to bruise, it is used correctly in the context of the story here, but most readers probably visually associate the word with a lion ripping apart its prey or a shark attacking a swimmer. Even from the beginning, it's clear Damrey didn't "maul" the victim in this manner, so Iris's near hysteria in reporting that she did seems overly histrionic, trying to add tension or suspense when, in fact, there is none.
Iris admonishes her co-workers that being pregnant is not the same as being helpless, so presumably there will be more to follow in the series in which being a new mother is not the same as being an invalid either. The characters and locale are strongly developed in this series; what's needed in the next book is a mystery worthy of both.
Acknowledgment: Ann Littlewood provided an ARC of Did Not Survive for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover), September 2008
ISBN-13: 9781590585047; ISBN-10: 1590585046
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover), July 2012
ISBN-13: 9781590586211; ISBN-10: 1590586212
Location(s) referenced in Did Not Survive: Washington State
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Did Not Survive by Ann Littlewood — An Iris Oakley Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: August 2010
List Price: $24.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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