Tag Archives: Russia

Monday are murder

What do you believe about animals?  Are animals capabale of even a rudimentary form of consciousness?  Or are any living creatures other than human beings merely creatures of biology and instinct – driven by what is hardwired into their DNA and genetic history as a species?

To put it more succinctly, is a tiger capable of murder?

I venture to say that, at least to a certain extent, John Vaillant thinks so.  In his recently published book The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, Vaillant tells a true story of death and destruction – both of tigers and men, of nations and nature.  The complete facts are, and will remain forever, somewhat murky.  From all appearances, a poacher in Russia’s hardscrabble Far East – Markov – managed to wrong an Amur tiger in some way.  Whether he helped himself to meat from the tiger’s kill or in some manner injured the tiger is beside the point.  The point remains that a tiger appears to have intentionally sought out Markov, stalked him, ambushed him and then eaten him – all with very purposeful and identifiable intent.

Vaillant’s book explores the subtleties of Markov’s story and its intersection with the tiger’s story – two creatures moving in overlapping worlds who collide violently after a lifetime of silently passing each other by.  Vaillant weaves the threads of indigenous wisdom, evolutionary biology, political science, environmentalism and cultural anthropology together into a tale that is “Wild Kingdom” meets Sherlock Holmes. 

I, for one, know that I came away convinced that Markov’s tiger foe committed nothing short of murder – if murder is to be defined as killing with intent.  But then again, what does that say about Markov’s alleged killing of other tigers, not just for meat but for the black market?  I am left with the unsettling possibility that Markov is a murder as well.

Another recent non-fiction title that probes the depths of human-animal relationships and the true nature of the wild is Thomas French’s Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives.  Anchored by the story of Tampa, Florida’s Lowry Park Zoo, French’s book ranges far afield – from Swaziland to Panama and back again – as it explores the contradictions inherent in the “freedom” of the wild and the necessity of captivity to the continued existence of numerous species on the brink of extinction.

Both The Tiger and Zoo Story are challenging books, and both could be very upsetting to those sensitive to the plight of animals and less than sympathetic to their human brethren in contrast.  But both are thoughtful and thought-provoking, eschewing platitudes and easy answers in pursuit of a deeper understanding of ourselves, our animal family and our planet.

Tiger cover imagezoo story cover cover image

Series updates: I have eight pages left in Pray for Silence, the second Kate Burkholder book by Linda Castillo!  It’s really a good story.  Perhaps not quite as strong as the first, but still a noble sophomore effort.  I hope to see the characters propelled forward a bit more forcefully in future books, and she could return to fleshing out some of the details of the supporting cast – they make the books more human and more interesting.  Off to finish those eight pages NOW!

Mondays are murder

Ahhhhhh, vacation!  Last week, I spent all my time meandering around rural Quebec and the Adirondacks, absorbing the sun, floating in the water (be it pool, lake or that which has been brewed into beer!) and … Reading. For. Fun.  And what a lovely time it was!

My reading menu ranged widely – from a teen historical novel about baseball to a collection of essays on the nature of happiness – but the detective novel I selected proved a particularly delectable morsel!

photo cover image

Belshazzar’s Daughter is a many-layered debutThe novel is Barbara Nadel’s debut.  It is also the debut of a spectacularly compelling detective – Çetin Ikmen, chain-smoker, brandy-drinker, rumpled, ugly, tiny father to eight and another on the way courtesy of his orthodox Muslim wife Fatma. 

One unfortunate day in the decrepit Jewish quarter of Balat in Istanbul, the body of an elderly man is found brutalized and long dead.  On the wall above his head, painted in what appears to be his own blood, is a two-metre swastika.  The Istanbul police, anxious to keep the incriminating racial details from the prying eyes of the nosy public and possible copy-cats, bring in their secret weapon, Inspector Çetin Ikmen.  Immediately Ikmen must navigate the murky intersection of truth-seeking and politics as the Israeli consul puts pressure on his boss to finger an Istanbul businessman of German origin with a documented Nazi past.

Ikmen, however, prefers a method he calls biography-building – an investigative method that should be old hat to any reader of modern mysteries or watcher of modern cop dramas.  Research the victim, find the killer.  Except in Ikmen’s case, he extends his bio-building to persons other than the victim himself.  A number of fascinating characters keep popping up in and around the investigation.  There’s Robert Cornelius – the young Englishman who would be just in the wrong place at the wrong time if he didn’t keep turning up.  There’s Reinhold Smits – the aforementioned businessman who might have more to hide than just a Nazi past.  There’s Maria Gulcu – a Turkish name cannot hide the truth of what she thinks she is.  Does any single one of them have everything it takes to murder poor Leonid Meyer so horrifically?  Motive, opportunity, the physical capability?  Does any one person possess it all?

Will Ikmen find his truth?  Or will he lose it all at the bottom of a brandy bottle?

Fans of series will be delighted to find out that Ikmen does indeed inherit a shelf of mysteries all his own.  I have half of them on my desk to take home and the other half on hold!