Review: Ann Littlewood introduces zookeeper Iris Oakley in Night Kill, a well-crafted mystery in which the small community zoo across the river from Portland (Oregon) in Vancouver (Washington) has already claimed one victim and she may be next.
The victim is Iris' husband, Rick, who also worked at the zoo. Just a week earlier they had split over his drinking. He had moved out of their home and was staying with a friend when the two meet up at a party held by one of the zoo's staff, Rick drinking nothing stronger than root beer. Rick is adamant about remaining sober and the they agree to a reconciliation, one day at a time. Iris returns home alone only to return to work the next day to discover that Rick had been found in the lion's cage, mauled and drunk. Iris is outraged, both at Rick's duplicity and that he was stupid enough to wander into a dangerous area while drinking. The authorities rule his death an accident, but Iris can't understand what could have possibly happened after their reconciliation meeting that would have caused him to start drinking again and then inexplicably return to the zoo in the middle of the night. As she starts asking questions, accidents — potentially deadly accidents — begin to occur that put her life in danger. It isn't until by chance she comes across a piece of evidence that suggests Rick's death wasn't an accident, but murder.
Night Kill is a terrific whodunit in that the identity of the killer remains a surprise to the reader until the very end. False leads and red herrings abound — even Iris is presented as a credible suspect by Rick's friend Denny — but the clues to the killer's identity are readily available to those readers looking for them. The book is well written and has an intricately constructed plot involving relatively few characters. The setting is atmospherically wonderful; zoos have all sorts of hidden passages and alcoves and back rooms off-limits to visitors. It's all very mysterious, as it were. If there is a weakness it's in the characters themselves who aren't as fully realized as they might have been. Iris, as the widow, suspect, and potential victim, is the most well-rounded but even she comes across flat at times. The supporting characters are largely interchangeable; that may add to the ability of the author to keep the killer hidden in plain sight as long as possible, but ultimately makes for a less interesting book overall. Though presumably the first of a series, and an interesting series it would be, the conclusion of Night Kill casts that conjecture somewhat in doubt.
Acknowledgment: Poisoned Pen Press provided an ARC of Night Kill for this review.
Review Copyright © 2008 — 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 Night Kill: Portland, Oregon, Washington State
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Night Kill by Ann Littlewood — An Iris Oakley Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: September 2008
List Price: $24.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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