One of the joys of reading anything by T.C. Boyle (and many joys await his readers) is the way he makes you reexamine the things you thought you knew. In his latest outing, When the Killing's Done, Boyle offers a thought-provoking look at environmental issues through the story of two philosophically incompatible characters engaged in a pitched battle over animal rights. Alma Boyd Takesue, a biologist for the National Park Service, oversees a program to eradicate an invasive species of rats from the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara. Her goal is to return the islands to their one-pristine condition by preserving their native flora and fauna. Dave LaJoye, an animal rights activist, objects to the way the Parks Service is, in his opinion, trying to play god.
Boyle's narrative moves back and forth in time, examining the lives and actions of a cast of memorable players who radiate out from Alma and Dave, and who all are, in come way, connected to the Channel Islands. In this way, Boyle demonstrates how humans have long impacted these Islands despite their isolation.
The conflict, however, is centered squarely between Alma and Dave and it develops in a downward spiral of increasingly diabolical and violent events. As intriguing characters go you couldn't ask for better than Alma and Dave, diametrically opposed in all ways. Alma is smart, attractive and sensitive; Dave is a loud-mouthed bully and all-around jerk with anger-management problems. He stages demonstrations, harangues and humiliates Alma at public hearings, and takes extraordinary measures to thwart her program. It's easy to loathe Dave. I found myself reading hungrily in the hopes that his come-uppance would be huge and terrible, but came instead to the unwelcome and uncomfortable realization that although he's hateful, he might not be entirely wrong. In Boyle's world, nothing is black and white.
T.C. Boyle tells a great, darkly humorous story; his narrative is tight and his use of language is masterful--his unforgettable description of a ship wreck and near-drowning during a storm at sea will literally have you gasping for breath. For a compelling yarn that will make you think, you won't go wrong with this great book.