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.