Trouble is brewing on the Channel Islands, off the coast of Santa Barbara. Here, on America’s version of the Galapagos Islands, many unique species are under assault. Someone has inadvertently introduced a species of rat—rattus rattus—to this fragile and ecologically rich area, and the rats are driving out rare, more exotic animals. The problem creates two warring camps. On one side, crusader Alma Boyd Takesue proposes to kill the rats with a method as humane as possible, so that the Islands’ delicate biological balance can survive. On the other side, fierce-tempered businessman Dave LaJoy feels that no group of animals deserves priority over any other; all creatures deserve to live, even rats. The conflict leads to several tense moments—a shouting match at a museum, a court case and an escalating sense of dread and hysteria.

T.C. Boyle presents an interesting question in When the Killing’s Done: If one species has a right to live in a certain area, shouldn’t all species be able to live there? Boyle’s novel is not just a ripped-from-the-headlines page-turner, but also a careful study of two memorable antagonists. Alma seems to leap from the page, and Dave will appeal to anyone who detects a whiff of hypocrisy in the idea of exterminating invasive species. Boyle’s lyrical, energetic prose is a pleasure: Anger surfaces “like a submerged log riding a contrail of swamp gas,” and a flashlight is “a darkened cylinder . . . held out like a homing device.”

Anyone who enjoys the topical, provocative novels of Jodi Picoult will want to pick up a copy of When the Killing’s Done. And, of course, Boyle’s countless fans—who have followed his career from Drop City to The Women—will want to get their hands on this new book.

 

 

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