This is a book I've had on my Kindle Fire for at least a year - probably two - but I just never got around to starting it. When I heard that it will be the basis for a new 13-episode TV series beginning June 30 on CBS, though, I decided to give it a go. First, I looked at the book reviews; to my dismay, as of late April there were 1,903 at Amazon, and an astounding 413 reviewers gave it the worst possible rating - one star - and the average is only three. Well, that's TV executives for you, I said to myself - who else would decide to take a book with that many lousy reviews and tout it as a must-watch series?
Nevertheless, I was determined to read for myself, and now that I've finished, I learned two things: First, the book probably wouldn't make my Top 300 List of favorites, but it isn't anywhere near that awful. Second, those TV execs may be onto something after all. Think "Planet of the Apes" meets "Under the Dome;" it's got all the hot buttons including animals of every kind in every country - even domestic pets - inexplicably forming packs and turning on humans, who suddenly find themselves being hunted down in a world in which they once ruled supreme.
Enter Ph.D. dropout Jackson Oz, a young biologist (and conveniently, a chimpanzee owner, which takes on significance as the plot unfolds), who begins to notice a sea change in animal behavior. When a major "event" takes place in Botswana, he travels there from his New York City home to see for himself. He narrowly escapes being killed by what appears to be an unusually coordinated pack of male lions, and he saves a beautiful young woman named Chloe from the same fate. They, together with a few like-minded folks, conclude that this is the start of HAC, or Human-Animal Conflict. If the cause isn't found and soon, it could mean the end of the civilized world.
Needless to say, hardly anyone of any importance buys into the theory until it's almost too late, so the scramble to find the reason(s) behind the behavioral shift extends over years - giving Jackson and Chloe time to marry and have a son. Fast-forward to a later time, when the animal attacks have grown more frequent and more vicious (cue up "Twilight Zone"-style background music for the TV series and close-ups of Texas-sized incisors as noses and other human appendages are savagely removed). There's no shortage of action and more than enough blood-and-guts to make for great TV scenes (if the lions and dogs don't get 'em, the rats will) as the race to save the human race from extinction heats up.
I can't explain more without giving too much away, but the reason behind the animals' behavior and the actions required to reverse it are a bit of a strain on the imagination (not to mention more than a little "preachy"). And given what the scientists discover, the ending makes almost no sense to me at all. I'm guessing that's what prompted the dislikes from other readers; I know it's why, even though the book held my attention just about every page of the way, I gave it three stars instead of four.
That said, I'm glad I read it prior to the start of the TV series, and I plan to watch the series debut and see how it goes. I could be wrong, but my bet at this point is that this will be one of very few instances when the movie really is better than the book.
Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge (Little, Brown and Co., September 2012); 417 pp.