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Review

Ecological balancing act

When The Killing's Done by T.C. Boyd

Rebecca Nesbit 1 September 2013

www.lablit.com/article/790

Endangered: detail from the cover

As we are regularly reminded, many people who oppose the judgement of scientists on when to take an animal’s life are often not shy of intervening

Around the world, rats have found their way onto islands previously free of mammalian predators, almost always as a result of human activity. To conservationists the question of whether to exterminate these rats, which threaten populations of seabirds, is clear-cut: many seabirds are faced with extinction, and rats are some of the most numerous mammals on this planet. But, as we are regularly reminded, many people who oppose the judgement of scientists on when to take an animal’s life are often not shy of intervening. When The Killing's Done (Bloomsbury) is the story of characters firmly on either side of the debate: Alma, an ecologist from the National Park Service, and environmental activists Dave and Anise.

Alma is campaigning to exterminate a rat population which threatens ground-nesting birds on an island off the coast of California. Dave, on the other hand, will stop at nothing to prevent the killing of living creatures, and his first appearance in the book is to vandalise Alma’s car.

As the book progresses, Alma’s plans move beyond rats to feral pigs on the island where Anise (Dave’s girlfriend) grew up, and so the stakes are raised.

Dave is by no means caring by nature, and his ‘protect all creatures’ attitude doesn’t extend to his personal life. It is perhaps not surprising that he is conflicted when racoons dig up his manicured front lawn, but he makes a decision that I certainly didn’t see coming.

This is a fast-paced and readable novel, but I felt that it didn’t fully do justice to the subject matter. Rather than seeing the issue from both perspectives, I found it hard to empathise with the characters, even though I wholeheartedly support Alma’s views. It also delved into back-story, such as Anise’s childhood, to a level of detail that I personally found unnecessary and confusing.

The novel is, however, dramatic, with shipwrecks, death, and prison sentences, and it admirably provides human and ecological tension in equal measure.