Review: When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle

If you’ve read the last two reviews (yes, I have a lot to catch up on), it would seem that I dislike the books I’ve read. Well, it’s more a problem with having taste for good writing, but needing to escape into lighter books from time to time. Unfortunately good writing is often an outlier in fantasy, science fiction, and thrillers. Thankfully, we have writers like T.C. Boyle who are simply outstanding.

When the Killing’s Done takes place on the Channel Islands and in Santa Barbara, California. Boyle aims an employee for the National Parks Service, Alma Boyd Takesue, and an environmental activist / local businessman, Dave LaJoy, who kind of reminds me of this guy, into a collision course that continues to escalate. The issue between the two characters is the National Park Service’s plan to restore the Channel Islands to their natural habitat by removing invasive species. In this case, invasive species include rats and feral pigs. Amidst the tension, Boyle provides context for how the islands developed and what role people and other species played in shaping the environment.

Boyle can be an uncomfortable writer. There are moments when one thinks the drama can’t go higher and then Boyle has the character do the one thing that is so terrible or stupid it’s hard to look away from. His characters stand on their own and out from the crowd. There are no milquetoast characters blandly waxing about their life. Instead, the characters are compelling and sometimes difficult to read about. The example in mind is the character, Dave LaJoy. He sucks. He’s a jerk and he sucks. But, Boyle is able to give the reader insight into LaJoy. We can see how he developed into the present jerk and it at least makes him understandable.

Finally, reading T.C. Boyle is a treat because his novels are all so different. It’s not like a Murakami book with thirty-something, first-person, male narrator who is aimless and has an affinity for cats. Boyle’s books are well-researched, different in topic, great to read. If you’re interested in the Channel Islands or in the tension between conservationists and animal rights / environmentalists who are fueled more by emotion than science, this is a book for you.

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