Iris Oakley's marriage is in deep trouble. Her husband Rick has a serious drinking problem and the problem leaves the marriage limping towards divorce. Iris and Rick separate for a week. At a work party Iris and Rick decide to give their marriage one more spin depending on Rick's commitment to stop drinking and recommit to the marriage.
But, stop the presses. Rick ends up stone dead in bottom of a lion's den at Finley Memorial Zoo in Vancouver, WA. The lions do what they naturally do and Rick ends up in the stomach of one of the cats. Iris finds out from the coroner that Rick died with an obscene amount of whiskey in his stomach.
Now ladies, would you have forgiving feelings towards your newly deceased husband after you found out that right after he made a promise not to drink, that he got himself so loaded that he couldn't keep himself from falling into lion's exhibit.
What makes Littlewood's story so interesting is not that the book is an amazing mystery, it's pretty middle of the road in that respect. I was able to guess who Rick's killer was in the first fifty pages (amazingly, it wasn't the alcohol or the lions). What makes Littlewoods debut so awesome is the setting of this mystery. Iris and Rick are and were, respectively, zookeepers at Finley Memorial.
Where the book really succeeds is bringing us into this world of interesting facts, surprising political battles, and dynamic interplay between quirky characters who all work at this zoo. Littlewood does her best work when she is describing the characters routine and the intrigue between different keepers keeping such a stranglehold on their different areas of the zoo. The author also brings up the struggles of a smaller, regional zoo. The descriptions of battling for public funds to get a new, shiny exhibit and how the characters react to this interloping "fund-stealing" behemoth of a project. These descriptions make the book worth reading although the mystery ain't bad, either.
I highly enjoyed this one. I am glad that my local library highlighted this little gem.
4 out of 5