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Review: Did Not Survive by Ann Littlewood

[ 9 ] April 10, 2011 |

Reviewed by Joanne Lakomski

Did Not Survive is the second of author Ann Littlewood’s mysteries set in Finley Memorial Zoo, a fictional zoo north of Portland, Oregon.

Having a concern for the world and its fauna and flora, I am both attracted and repelled by zoos. I chose to read this book to see how Littlewood, a former zoo keeper, would paint zoo life. Iris, the main character, pregnant and widowed, became my guide into the world of ‘zoo’.

Iris’ internal dialogue during a clouded leopard birth-watch addressed her own struggle with the value of zoos around captive animal breeding: “I knew the cubs wouldn’t stay forever. The whole point of breeding Losa and Yuri was to help create a self-sustaining captive population and that meant coordinating with other zoos.”

Iris, a bird keeper, worked with penguins and hung out in a Penguinarium – I enjoyed learning about that word! I also got a kick out of her description of the monthly weighing of the penguins:

I set the electronic bathroom scale down on their island. The birds gathered at a safe distance and regarded it as if aliens had dropped off a portal to an unknown planet….The birds were now clustered around the scale pecking at it and braying about their courage….Mrs. Green, ever the opportunist, hopped on the scale and collected her smelt. I put the bucket down, fastened the lid, and wrote down her weight using the clipboard.”

I learned about zoos from Littlewood’s Iris, yet I did not find her or her fictional colleagues very interesting as characters. They felt flat and stereotypical. Denny, Iris’s coworker was the new-age stoner-type. Dr. Reynolds, the zoo vet, was the cold, damaged-female type, and Iris’ parents were naïve and only cared about their upcoming grandchild. There was also the matter of a zoo keeper’s death (by elephant, person, or accident?), and the disappearance of zoo animals.

The underdeveloped characters influenced my ability to buy the plot. Iris, six months pregnant, had not been drawn as an investigative character who would seek out a murderer or work mysteries – to me she seemed tired and worried about her future. In fact, she was so tired that she repeatedly made decisions that put her at risk.

Did Not Survive was an uneven book for me. I was interested in learning about the world of ‘zoo’ and valued the insight about animal behavior and zoo strategies and operations. I was disappointed in the shallowness of the characters and in needing to suspend my disbelief so much for Iris to resolve the mysteries. It just did not work for me.

Rating: 2/5

Joanne is an organization development and human resources professional with a business background living in Ohio. She has lived in Europe, Africa (including her Peace Corps service in South Africa), and arround the United States. She loves to plays volleyball, read, write, and has a cat named Ender.

This book was provided free of any obligation by Maryglenn McCombs Book Publicity. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Category: Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Comments (9)

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  1. 7

    I used to love to go to the LA Zoo when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I was a little bit older that I appreciated that the animals had really large enclosures and when the keepers decided they needed bigger enclosures they built bigger ones, not only at this Zoo but at other ones around the U.S. I agree with every one else’s sentiments about Zoo’s, they are both appealing and appauling. We want to get to know the animals that are here on this earth with us, but we also want them to be happy and healthy and when an animal in pacing back and forth in a small cage, they are not happy nor healthy.

    I live in Las Vegas and we have a little Zoo here on rancho. I took my daughter there when she was little , thinking it would be kinda neat to see some of the native species of animals they have there. I was not excepting to see a tiger in a small cage pacing back and forth. I was appauled by this and asked someone there who was giving out food for the goats if they had plans to amke a larger enclosure for the tiger, she told me she is asked that a lot but it’s up to the guy that runs the place and he won’t answer any questions.

    It wasn’t too long after that, that others started asking that same question and even the local news got involved. he built a new more spacier enclosure but it’s not anywhere near as big as it needs to be.

    I refuse to go back there.

    I for the most part don’t like Zoo’s unless they have the animals best interest’s at heart and have the money to build really large enclosures for the animals and take care of them right. Some Zoo’s do this really well, like Busch Gardens and some do not.
    Mary Kirkland recently posted..Review- Wicked Pleasure by Lora Leigh

  2. 6
    Aleetha says:

    I have never read a book about zoo. I just read some books with animal as a pet or animal in circus. Most of them are touching. Because there were many emotions inside.

    Unfortunately this book is not the cup of your tea.
    Aleetha recently posted..Its Monday! What Are You Reading

  3. 5
    Jane Cook says:

    I appreciate honest reviews that you have here.

    The book sounds like it *could* be good, but didn’t quite make it. I hope the author keeps working and improving; the subject matter is interesting to me, and I’d love the books to be as good.

  4. 4
    Carol Wong says:

    I am like the reviewer. Zoos are a love/hate thing for me. I used to go to zoos whenever I found the a city I was visiting had one. Back in the 1970s, I saw the Colorado Springs zoo. The only thing that I can remember is seeing a Tiger up close in a small cage (for a Tiger)and it was pacing back and forth constantly. I felt so sorry for it.

    In college I took a year of Animal Behavior and learned a lot about what living in captivity does to wild animals. Pacing is not good!!!

    Later in 2000, I went to the San Diego zoos, one of the best zoos in the U.S. There was a short walk through area to get into am exhibit.
    Again, pacing, a monkey going back and forth. Later on, I went to safari in San Diego. The safari is basially a train ride through a very large area where animals were allowed to roam. No pacing there. However, there were some animals pointed out by the speaker on the train as being the last of the species, one was a very rare type of Rhino. It was upsetting, I tried hard to hold back the tears but but the end of the trip, I was almost sobbing. The train ride was supposed to be entertaining and educational but it was heartbreaking.

    What I do like is video cams. The animals don’t even know that you are watching. So I think the farther that zoos get away from being entertainment for people and the closer to preserves and encouragement for breeding is better for animals.

    I had a feeling that Colleen would feel the same way that I did so I wrote this before peeking at what she wrote. It is comforting to know that more people are starting to feel the same way about what is good for the animals instead of what is entertaining for the people.

    Carol Wong

  5. 3
    Colleen Turner says:

    That is dissapointing that the characters and plot didn’t thicken up as they should…I hate when that happens! Especially when it has such an interesting plot as this. I might give it a try, still, since the ins and outs (and politics) of zoos does intrigue me.

    I agree with the reviewer that zoos are both appealing and appalling. While it is great to go through these well manicured, pretty enclosures and see the beautiful beasts of the world so close for us to see, it just isn’t a natural setting for them. I think we sometimes forget that when we enjoy interacting with the animals so much. While I do think they sometimes serve the purpose of protecting animals and species that otherwise would be hunted and extinguished by hunters on the outside, there are also just so many “zoos” that don’t take care of them as they should. We actually had one here in Tampa where the zoo was closed down and the man charged with a number of crimes because they found that animals were dying or couldn’t even be located because he was supposedly trading or selling them off the books! Heartbreaking…

  6. 2

    It has such a great title! Too bad it wasn’t a better book for you.
    wall-to-wall books-wendy recently posted..Demonglass by Rachel Hawkins A Hex Hall Novel

  7. 1

    I too have been curious of the world of zoos. I think this peaks my curiousity a little. I might have to check the library for this.

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