A Review of Animal Parts by David E Knop by the illustrious US Review of Books
by David E. Knop
reviewed by Joe Kilgore
“They dragged the blubbering man off and the door slammed. Silence. Dark silence. Romero knew he wasn’t dead. Death couldn’t hurt this much.”
When it comes to novels, it’s virtually impossible to think about the combination of crime, mystery, and Native Americans, and not think about Tony Hillerman. His Navajo Tribal Police stories gave readers a different way to view people who had frequently been marginalized and too often caricatured in books, films, and television. This author’s oeuvre is similar, yet distinctive in its own right. His third and latest installment of the life and times of Cochiti Pueblo Police Officer Peter Romero is addictively engaging, thoroughly entertaining, even occasionally educational when it comes to events in history and tribal migration seen from a different perspective.
The book opens compellingly with a cougar in the crosshairs of a high-powered rifle. The big cat had recently attacked a couple of hikers, and Romero had been paid to dispatch the animal. One shot kills the beast, but his death is not the end. Actually it’s only the beginning of an adventure filled with danger, brutality, and mysticism.
It seems that poachers are out and about and it’s Romero’s job to find and stop them. But as is generally the case in these sorts of tales, there’s more here than meets the eye. While some poaching is being done to feed hungry families affected by the sluggish economy in New Mexico, there’s also mounting evidence that much of it is being done to fuel the lucrative but highly illegal market in animal parts. Elk and more are being found with their brains and sexual organs removed—organs that will likely end up in very expensive and questionably effective aphrodisiacs. But then the poachers start to end up dead. Not just shot, stabbed, or choked, mind you, but totally eviscerated. One might even say eaten.
Of course Romero must intercede, but things are not going well for him. His wife has left him, and he wants her to return. Local officials have sanctioned him, and he wants them off his back. A thoroughly alluring FBI agent might be coming on to him, and he’s not at all sure he can marshal the reserves to resist. His neighbor is attacked by something that appears to be neither man nor animal, and to top it all off, the cougar he was sure he killed returns. Just when it looks like things couldn’t possibly get worse, they get horrific.
Knop starts his tale in high gear and never takes his foot off the accelerator. He maintains a blistering pace not only with tightly woven subplots that zip from one chapter to the next, but also with prose that is short, sharp, and finely tuned. His exposition is quick and clipped. His dialogue is realistically conversational and spot on when it comes to nailing the way people actually react. This is a confidently written tale by an excellent storyteller.
Not surprisingly, there is even a surprise ending, which will certainly not be revealed here. Some readers may well find it completely appropriate, while others might find it slightly maddening, but whichever camp you find yourself in, you’ll have had an exciting dash to the finish line through the pages of this first rate thriller.
Read the super review here: US Review of Books-Animal Parts
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