Review: Zookeeper Iris Oakley is assigned to take possession of a collection of exotic animals found at an isolated farm in Washington during a drug raid by government officials, only to also accidentally discover the body of a woman found on the property in Endangered, the third mystery in this series by Ann Littlewood.
The dead woman turns out to be a 17-year-old runaway, who was living on the farm after being picked up by Jerome Tipton, the patriarch of the family running the drug operation. It's not clear who killed her or why, but Iris's more immediate concern is the health of animals, a collection of tropical birds and rare tortoises, most of which are barely clinging to life. She and her partner Denny manage to get a few back to the zoo that day, but have to return the next for the rest. In the meantime, the Tipton family has made bail and has returned to the farm. Iris has a job to do and confronts the father and his two sons, but before it gets ugly — and she's sure it will — Jerome Tipton keels over, clutching his chest. She applies CPR but it's not enough. Just as he's dying, he whispers in her ear, "Look after Stridder."
Endangered opens with atmospheric, tension-filled chapters set at the crime scene, and ends in a cleverly devised, most unexpected manner, but much of what lies between these strong bookends is relatively weak. Part of the issue here is that the murder is fairly low on Iris's priority list … and isn't even mentioned for long stretches. She is primarily interested in the treatment and care of the animals and their origin, and would prefer more resources be dedicated to finding — and stopping — the source. A worthwhile goal, to be sure, but for a whodunit-style murder mystery, this approach to plotting seems backwards. In addition, there is far too much going on elsewhere. The crime elements include the murder of a young girl, illicit drug manufacturing and distribution, illegal trafficking in exotic animals, and the search for a cache of hidden gold. Then there are Iris's friends, family and co-workers — the professional and personal life subplots — that help define and round out her character but excessively intrude on the already minimal murder mystery storyline.
Iris Oakley is a terrific series character, and a zoo — or even more generally, an animal-centric environment of some sort — is a great setting for a murder mystery. And while Endangered has a creative plot, it is not a particularly focused one and — opening and closing chapters excepted — doesn't really take advantage of either of this series' strengths.
Acknowledgment: Maryglenn McCombs Book Publicity provided an ARC of Endangered for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Did Not Survive
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover), August 2010
ISBN-13: 9781590587454; ISBN-10: 1590587456
Location(s) referenced in Endangered: Washington State
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Endangered by Ann Littlewood — An Iris Oakley Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: July 2012
List Price: $24.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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