Book Review: Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

I’ve never read any James Patterson before, which is unusual as the guy is a writing phenomenon, cranking out 147 novels in the last 43 years, which works out at about three and a half books a year. That’s unbelievably prolific. I’ve seen a couple of the Alex Cross movies, based on his most famous character, a cop who tracks down serial killers, so I was a bit surprised to pick this up at a charity book stall and discover he had co-written a sci-fi thriller.

patterson zoo

The premise of this book is pretty simple, animals are turning on humans, acting abnormally and viciously. But why? And can it be stopped?

One of the problems with the book is that the premise is laughably daft, the whole man vs nature vibe coming across like a pumped up rework of The Birds, or the set up for a B movie, possibly starring Nicholas Cage. That’s not to say that it’s not entertaining, with the story unfolding in short, fast chapters which keeps the action flowing quickly enough for the reader not to stop and think too hard. It’s throwaway stuff, but entertaining enough.

There are a couple of plot holes which are never fixed, for example, our hero, Jackson Oz, has devoted himself to his theory of HAC aka Human-Animal Conflict. It’s cost him his academic career and trashed any reputation he could have held, leaving him viewed as a nutty conspiracy theorist. He’s broke, obsessively devoted to his cause, and in a downward spiral as it takes over his whole life. Oz is a true believer, that much is clear. So, why does the character take in a chimpanzee? If you thought animals were about to rise up against mankind you’d probably be reluctant to look after a neighbour’s hamster, let alone welcome a creature that can f**k you up easily into your home.

There’s also a bit of a cheat along the way, with a five year time jump, taking us from the early rumbles of nature declaring war to a more full blown scenario. It means that Oz and Chloe’s relationship goes from them having just met to having been married for a few years without any work put into creating a bond, it just happens in the gap.

Similarly, the perspective shifts frequently. Most is narrated by Oz, but there are also third person interludes dealing with poor suckers who get mauled by various critters, and even from the perspective of Attila, Oz’s former pet chimp. It’s inconsistent and seems to have been done to illustrate the global nature of the event, which makes you wonder why include any first person narration?

Oz is a likeable enough narrator, and adds a certain goofiness to proceedings, which is a good call as playing such a ridiculous premise completely straight would make it even dafter. There’s some nice tension, and kudos has to be given for turning a variety of different mammals into terrifying enemies, including a scene with a bunch of dolphins which is rather unsettling.

The curious thing is despite the silliness, there’s an unexpected weight in the closing stages, with the HAC serving as a metaphor for climate change. A solution is found near the end, but requires sacrifice and difficult living of mankind, will we adapt or is our selfishness and reliance on modern comforts too strong? It makes for an intriguing twist in the tale, and an uncomfortable reflection on humanity’s reluctance to change, even when the old ways are harmful.

Stupid, but a fun, quick read.

7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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