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by Robert F. Armstrong
iUniverse, December 2000
268 pages
ISBN: 0595147038

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Dr. Duncan MacDonnell is a retired military man who is now running the animal branch of the Health Department in Houston, Texas. The challenges he faces are many. His department is underfunded, and his staff find the work demoralizing. In spite of their best efforts, hundreds of animals are euthanized every day. It's not a job that many want to do for the long term. In spite of the negatives, though, there are a few people who give it their best.

It's never easy, even in the best of times. The populace is often irate about the department's policies, and the press not sympathetic. They are even less so when it appears that a serial killer is on the loose. This is a serial killer of a different stripe, with four legs rather than two. The victims are homeless men who are devoured by the beast. MacDonnell hypothesizes that it is a huge hybrid wolf which has been bred to be sold to counter-revolutionaries in places like Colombia.

MacDonnell puts together a team to help figure out what's going on. Even his wife is an active participant in trying to determine who is behind the killings and how the beast manages to elude its pursuers. The plot comes to a suspenseful resolution, one which is unexpected. However, the motivation of the villain was never credibly explained.

A warning for the weak of heart: you will want to skip the prologue to the book and the sections which talk about euthanization of animals. The book does not focus on these topics, but they are part of the job that is done by the Health Department. I found it hard to read about. But I wouldn't want you to not read the book for fear of these element--they are by no means the main focus.

I applaud Armstrong's originality in a genre where the same themes and devices are used ad nauseum. First of all, he has created a totally unique protagonist. I believe that this is the first mystery book I have ever read that featured a veterinarian as the lead character. On top of that, MacDonnell is not young, edgy or alcoholic. He's 60, rotund and definitely not a sex object. He's dedicated to his job but also becomes thoroughly discouraged with its negative aspects. My only real complaint about the book is that there's a long period when the narrative concentrates on the daily minutiae of running the department. This took the reader out of the building suspense of the main plot thread and could have been trimmed substantially.

Best of all, Armstrong is a skilled writer. He has a facile way with words. All of the characters are well delineated, and the setting is perfectly created. I hope this book signals the start of a long writing career. It's rare to find a book that's so original and so well written at the same time.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, September 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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