Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Top five things about Zoo, by Patterson and Ledwidge

by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

As a thrill writer, scientist and animal lover, I can't imagine a thriller plot more fun than animals suffering from biological meltdown at the molecular level and thus going bonkers and sabotaging the earth.  That's even more fun than a barrel of monkeys.  And that's pretty fun.  What a blast.

This book has received mixed reviews, ranging from, "Patterson at his finest" to, "wow, this poor shmuck really jumped the shark.  Stop, James.  Please stop.  I'm begging you."  My review is in between.  I think the book was a bit fluffy, and if you're looking for depth, look elsewhere.  But I still enjoyed it and frankly, tore right through it despite myself.  Following are my top five reasons why:

1) The protagonist is a real scientist:
This book is written in first person (except for the parts that switch into the minds of animals...see #2...) and the story is told from the POV of a scientist investigating the whacky phenomenon known as HAC (Human Animal Conflict).  While many reviewers were extremely bothered by this guy's voice, I have to admit, I loved it.  Why?  Because he's real.  Now, I'm'a let you in on something here: real scientists don't all speak and act like total Poindexters.  Most of us are jaded, sarcastic, grumpy ass ugly bastards who can see the humor in almost everything morbid.  The main character of Zoo, whose name happens to be Jackson Oz (how cool is that?) gets himself arrested and refers to his annoying colleagues as "shitheels."  Thank you, Mr. Patterson and Mr. Ledwidge, for keeping it real.

2) Fun with tense hopping:
While the majority of the story is done in past tense, first person, there are moments that jump into present tense, third person.  This technique (one of my faves) is a great way to jump out of a protagonist's head for a moment, offering some alternate dimensions to the book.  In this case, it also gives animals a voice.  Love it.

3) Short chapters:
Literally, almost every new page starts a new chapter.  There are 98 chapters total followed by an epilogue.  Epic.  My friends - eh, I mean readers - harass me endlessly about breaking sections or chapters too frequently.  But I have noticed that it doesn't take them long to harass me about this once I hand them a draft, because they breeze through it in no time.  So I rest my case.  Long chapters inspire a reader to stop at the chapter break and wait until they have more time.  Short chapters let the reader squeak out one more page, even though dinner is burning and the kids are on fire.  And what writer doesn't want that?

4) Those heart-wrenching moments:
Let's face it - readers of thrillers are so used to wickedness that we can watch a character filter through a paper shredder without being either grossed out or the least bit sympathetic.  But hurt a chimp's feelings and you've just snapped a heart string or two.  Zoo brings the humanity by giving us characters we can feel for - animals.  Excuse me for a moment while I go hug my dogs.

5) We never find out what Zoo means
Sorry about this little spoiler, but it's really no big deal in the grand scheme of things.  Here it is: Early in the book, the protagonist makes some reference to the fact that the word Zoo is an acronym.  Throughout the book, I waited to see what could possibly start with a Z followed by two Os.  Zebras and orangutans and ocelots!  Oh my!?  Zany, omnipotent odor?  Nope.  They never reveal it.  While this was, in all probability, a lazy oversight on the part of an author who churns out 3-4 books a year, I found it utterly amusing.  Sort of like a musician deliberately writing an entire line of gibberish into a song and then waiting to see what his listeners think he said.  Brilliant.

When you have some free time, take Zoo out for a walk.  Don't forget the poop bags.  

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