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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review - ZOO

The hype for this week's book proclaims: "Once in a lifetime, a writer puts it all together. This is James Patterson's best book ever" and "ZOO is the thriller he was born to write."  The book even has a graphic novel edition.  Find out if I felt it was his best, his pinnacle achievement.

Author: James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Copyright: May 2013 (Grand Central Publishing) 416 pgs

Series: Standalone

Sensuality: Graphic violence

Mystery Sub-genre: Thriller

Main Characters: Jackson Oz, a young biologist

Setting: Modern day, New York/Washington D.C. primarily

Obtained Through: Library

Jackson Oz was in college pursuing a Biology doctoral degree when he developed his hypothesis that something was going wrong with the entire animal kingdom.  He became obsessed with his hypothesis and ended up dropping out of college with only a few classes needed to complete his degree.  Thus, he has no degree and the scientific community considers Oz loony and his theory as wild conjecture.  Oz has refined his theory, now called HAC: Human-Animal Conflict--animal behavior is changing, displaying hyperaggresive behavior towards humans. Now animal agression has begun to pop up globally and garnering some splashy headlines.  Oz is contacted by a friend in Botswana Africa with a tip that there is proof of his theory there in Africa when an entire village is anihalated by lions.  Oz, unemployed, immediately flies to Africa. 

He gets his proof in a close encounter with a large lion pride made up of all males working as a team to kill humans.  During Oz's struggle to get away alive with video, he meets Chloe who barely survived a lion attack of a team of scientists.  Naturally Chloe, from France, follows Oz to the U.S. and becomes his girlfriend, but not before finding his chimp has killed somebody in his apartment (the worn out woman-in-a-refrigerator trope used here.)  Then there is a five year jump, Oz and several other scientists are working on the HAC crisis which sees world economies crashing from the fallout.  Can Oz and the other scientists find out what is causing global animal murder of humans while there are some shreds of civilization remaining?

Jackson Oz lives with a chimpanzee when he is the voice of Human-Animal Conflict theory.  He wants to be taken seriously as a legitimate scientist and help figure out what is happening, but he comes across as whinny and short sighted (living with a chimp).  Chloe Tousignant, a French Ecologist, is a cardboard character existing mostly for Oz's benefit and only gets a smattering of speaking lines sprinkled throughout the book. She is initially the Damsel in Distress
cliché and never really progresses past that. This was a waste of a character, she could have been a layered interesting part of the plot, but no.  Attila is Oz's chimpanzee that murders and runs rampant to kill again with a chilling intelligence.  President Marlena Hardinson was an opportunity to have a strong female character, but here again the female character fell notably short.  President Hardinson is so swept away with grief from her daughter's death at the hands of the family dog that she essentially succumbs to her male advisers telling her how to handle the crisis.  Her character is practically non-existent, mowed over, and pathetic.  There are many other characters, but in general they all were rather stiff.

The setting jumps around to various locals to give examples of animal violence against humans around the planet.  The many settings are portrayed well enough.  The plot had potential but never seemed to engage me.  I believe that was due largely to the writing style that was elementary, lacking in emotion, stiff, and impersonal with an excess of "telling" rather than "showing."  Yes, I really had problems with this novel.  Even the cause of the HAC phenomenon has some logic holes.  The climax was subtle, so subtle I went back to find it.  The wrap-up is a warning to our culture that our immediate gratification mentality and inability to sacrifice for our own survival will be our downfall - a good or even great theme if it had been executed better.  

I have read early Patterson books such as "When the Wind Blows" and "Lake House" that I enjoyed.  When I read the claims that this was Patterson's best book ever, the one he was born to write, I gave it a try.  I was sorely disappointed in this book.  Really.  If the writing style had used more showing than telling the characters might have blossomed, and if female 
clichés hadn't been used for every female character of note, it might have reached okay or medium well status. 

Rating: Poor - I had to force myself to finish it. Fatally flawed on multiple levels. 


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adlin said...

I was curious about your review when I saw the author, then not surprised by the reveiw when I saw it was co-authored by him. I read Sundays at Tiffany's, which he co-authored. Good concept, but executed on a 6th grade level. Truly done badly. Same experience on a Clive Cussler collaboration. I now don't read any books that are co-written by major authors - I think they're just lending their names to get the sales.

A.F. Heart said...

It is really bad when YA fiction is better written than a New York Times bestselling author. Other collaborations I have read worked out beautifully, like Victoria Abbott (mother/daughter team) or Hailey Lind (sisters team). So your idea that they are just lending their names and getting a cut from it sounds about right.

Truly disappointing, and like you said -- good concept, bad execution. What gets me is that Patterson is listed on Amazon Author Rank as the #1 selling Thriller author! When he repeatedly puts his name on such bad work, why do people still buy the books???

Mark Baker said...

The only Patterson I read is Women's Murder Club, and then only because I get them from the library and they are very fast reads. I don't get why he's so popular either for many of the reasons you named in the review.

With the Women's Murder Club, the co-author changed, and not for the better. I actually liked the early co-author, but not everyone involved often seems to just be phoning it in. The last one was bad, so we're due for a good one this year. I hope any way.

A.F. Heart said...

Thank you, I had wondered about the Women's Murder Club but was hesitant to try. If I get the urge again I will know to stay with the initial author only. It rather brings up an interesting point.

In several author forums there is talk about how the typical author doesn't make enough to make a living at writing novels only. These big names are the exception to this and increasingly they are pumping out the books as fast as they can. I am wondering if traditional publishing is taking a hit and that has impacted even the big name writers? Otherwise, I don't know what to think of this trend. How can I become one of those co-authors is my questions now?

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