…Boyle's terrifically exciting and unapologetically relevant When the Killing's Done…demonstrates that it's possible to write an environmental novel that provokes discussion instead of merely thumping away on conventional wisdom…When the Killing's Done presents a smarter, sharper vision of our environmental challenges than [Boyle's] doomsday novel, A Friend of the Earth. By corralling all these pigs, rats, dwarf foxes, golden eagles and human beings into one stormy tale, he's created a raucous exploration of the clumsy role that even the best-intentioned people play in these fragile environs.
The Washington Post
Character, science and history co-evolve marvelously here in a tale of fanaticism gone literally overboard. Boyle's devotees will find everything they expect in the way of manic plotlines, flamboyant obsessions and cool comeuppance outlandishly delivered…This is a smart and rollicking novel, with suspense and shipwrecks galore, in which no character ever quite understands the stakes and no challenge is perfectly answered.
The New York Times
Boyle (The Women) spins a grand environmental and family drama revolving around the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara in his fiery latest. Alma Boyd Takesue is an unassuming National Park Service biologist and the public face of a project to eradicate invasive species, such as rats and pigs, from the islands. Antagonizing her is Dave LaJoy, a short-tempered local business owner and founder of an organization called For the Protection of Animals. What begins as the disruption of public meetings and protests outside Alma's office escalates as Dave realizes he must take matters into his own hands to stop what he considers to be an unconscionable slaughter. Dave and Alma are at the center of a web of characters—among them Alma's grandmother, who lost her husband and nearly drowned herself in the channel, and Dave's girlfriend's mother, who lived on a sheep ranch on one of the islands—who provide a perspective that man's history on the islands is a flash compared to nature's evolution there. Boyle's animating conflict is tense and nuanced, and his sleek prose yields a tale that is complex, thought-provoking, and darkly funny—everything we have come to expect from him. (Feb.)
Boyle is no stranger to environmental fiction. His 2000 novel, A Friend of the Earth, chronicles the exploits of Tyrone O'Shaughnessy Tierwater, an ecological martyr. Here, Boyle delves deep into environmental philosophy by creating two characters passionate about saving animals but in diametrically opposed ways. The tension is centered on the population of rats on the Channel Islands off the coast of California. Alma, a biologist, is attempting to exterminate the rats to prevent further damage to the fragile ecosystem on the island. Dave, an animal rights activist, is equally passionate about all the inhabitants of the island, including the rats. Boyle's characters are challenging, to say the least, for they are complicated and often inconsistent. While the desire to preserve and protect nature does not defuse many of the conflicts between the two, their ethical similarities invite the reader to question where these two ideologies ultimately clash. Boyle uses the conflicts between his characters to explore the changing philosophy of human and animal relationships. VERDICT Whether we regard this work as environmental fiction or a philosophical treatise on land ethics, Boyle has delivered yet another quandary to ponder. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/10.]—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH
A provocative premise delivers considerable literary dividends.
In one of his richest and most engaging novels, Boyle(The Women,2009, etc.) characteristically combines a dark sense of humor and a subversive streak as he illuminates the dark underbelly of all-American idealism. The focus is California environmentalism, the idealization of the natural world, which is more often dangerous, even deadly, than idyllic. The novel puts two characters on a collision course, with each discovering in the process the complexities and ambiguities of their polarized opposite positions. Dr. Alma Boyd Takesue, a native Californian of mixed American and Japanese descent, spearheads a program for the National Park Service aimed at eliminating various species that have been imported to the Channel Islands, near Santa Barbara, to preserve the ecosystem and allow indigenous species to survive. Her antagonist is Dave LaJoy, head of the PETA-like FPA (For the Protection of Animals), who is both a dreadlocked hipster and a successful businessman. He is also a dislikable loudmouth—ravaging restaurant personnel, throwing his weight around, bullying Alma, whom he once dated. But he has a point: "He believes in something, the simplest clearest primary moral principle: thou shalt not kill." And his activism has spurred plenty of press coverage that demonizes the National Park Service's initiative, accusing Alma of trying to "manipulate nature and make a theme park out of the islands." Nature being nature, it refuses to obey the dictates of either Alma or Dave, as their battles escalate over rats, feral pigs and rattlesnakes, and the plot naturally comes to encompass human death (and birth) as well. A richly detailed back story provides additional context, as Boyle nimbly plays chronological hopscotch, showing how both these islands and these people came to be how they are. The novel never reduces its narrative to polemics—there are no heroes here—while underscoring the difficult decisions that those who consider themselves on the side of the angels must face.
Narrative propulsion is laced with delicious irony in this winning novel.