Animal, by Munish K. Batra and Keith R. A. DeCandido

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery, Munish K. Batra, and Keith R. A. DeCandido for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In a collaborative effort, Munish Batra and Keith DeCandido deliver a high-impact thriller sure to pull the reader in from the opening pages. Detective Michelle Halls is trying to juggle her work with the Monrovia PD—a suburb of LA— and a personal life that has been falling apart. When an elderly woman comes in to speak with her about finding a finger in her ground beef, Halls is not sure what to do. After investigating the local meat plant, she discovers that two of their employees have gone missing. Security videos show something highly troubling, namely the aforementioned employees being slaughtered and ground up by a killer wearing a cow mask. News hits the wires and Interpol Detective An Chang flies from Beijing to look into the case. He’s certain that this is the work of a killer he’s been following for over two decades. After explaining some of the background, Halls and Chang work together on the case of a killer who appears to be trying to bring justice to animals who have been poorly treated by humans. Murders and grisly assaults all over the world can be tied to an assailant who wears a mask depicting the offended animal, with ruthless results. After another case pops up in San Diego, Halls and Chang make their way there, only to learn that the killer is getting bolder. As the pieces begin to fall into place, Chang not only realises that he has found a pattern, but thinks he may know the killer from his past as a local police officer. In a case that has all the action and a wonderfully twisted narrative, Batra and DeCandido offer the readers a heart-stopping piece that never stops developing. Recommended to those who love police procedurals, as well as the reader who enjoys a little social commentary with their mysteries.

Having never read anything by either author, I was not entirely sure what to expect. The premise seemed strong, though a little off the wall, but still I decided to give it a chance. It is clear that both authors pull on some of their expertise to craft a story that is both rich in medical jargon and offers a fast-paced narrative to push it along. The dual protagonist roles between Halls and Chang offer the reader something that is both straightforward and complex. Both characters come with their own personal baggage, which is presented in strong narrative fashion, as well as a dedication to the job at hand. Two members of completely different police forces thrust together makes for some very interesting banter, not to mention their cultural differences and a significant age gap. The authors weave their stories together nicely, never allowing them to get too comfortable with one another, while still focussing their attention on the case at hand. Grit and determination keep them an effective team, though the killer’s antics leave little time to rest on their laurels. The handful of strong secondary characters keeps the story moving in a number of directions, entertaining the reader as well as offering their own degree of education. As the reader will discover, parts of the story are flashbacks, all in order to fill in needed gaps in the overall plot, which forces a slew of characters to play a role in developing the plot. The story itself works well, quite unique in its approach and far from dull. The killer’s antics are quite graphic, though not to the point that many will walk away from the story in disgust. It has a certain creep factor, but it works well, especially when animal cruelty comes into the discussion. With a mix of chapter lengths that keep the reader wondering how things will progress, as well as information from a variety of locations and time periods, there is an added depth to an already strong piece. This is one novel that I will surely talk about for a significant amount of time.

Kudos, Dr. Batra and Mr. DeCandido, for this unique approach to a serial killer. I loved it and hope you two collaborate again soon!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: