three-and-half-stars
user_rating: 
0

A-When the Killings DoneT. C. Boyle's work includes many novels and short stories. He won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1988 for his novel World's End. This is his 22nd book. Recently reviewed: Wild Child: And Other Stories (4 of 5 Stars May/June 2010).

The Story: California's Channel Islands are home to many plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. But species introduced by humans, such as black rats and feral pigs, have for decades worn away at the islands' native ecosystem. In 2001 the National Park Service made the controversial decision to try to wipe out many of the rats by using poison. A group of activists opposed to killing any animals (native or not) tried to save the rats by smuggling an antidote onto the islands. Boyle dramatizes these real-life events with larger-than-life characters and life-threatening plot twists. The two sides are personified in passionate but uptight National Park Service biologist Alma Boyd Takesue and her nemesis, tech-entrepreneur-turned-activist Dave LaJoy.
Viking. 384 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780670022328

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"Like any great novelist, Boyle never answers the question he raises--specifically, whether mankind is qualified to have dominion over the creatures of Earth. Instead, he does the honorable thing by presenting opposing arguments, giving the reader the power and the freedom to decide what to believe." Noah Homola

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Alma wears the white hat, LaJoy the black, but Boyle lets neither off the hook, showing how nature will always bite back and turn even the best human endeavor to water and dust. ... Boyle makes us laugh and wonder at his dazzling gifts but his comedy is a dark business." Richard Rayner

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
" [He] is at his best here, recalling the moral complexity of Tortilla Curtain." Betsy Willeford

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"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." Barbara Kingsolver

Atlantic 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The speed with which this novel has followed Boyle's last is evident in structural missteps--backstories aren't always well integrated with front stories; the timing of scenes is occasionally jarring--but two entirely believable set pieces of action, at once lush and taut, redeem the flaws."

Onion AV Club 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As much as Boyle tries to hold Alma and Dave in balance, Alma's clinical distance from a ‘necessary' slaughter seems far nobler and more identifiable than Dave's reckless abandon. ... If Boyle intended to suggest any ambiguity on whose path is wisest, he failed, but When The Killing's Done nonetheless feels true to its characters and startlingly clear-eyed in its assessment of a tough environmental issue." Scott Tobias

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"T.C. Boyle is a serious and entertaining writer, and this book has some fine things in it, but compared to his best work, say The Road to Wellville or The Tortilla Curtain, it just feels like a bit of a plod." Geoff Nicholson

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[B]ecause it's virtually impossible to care about [the characters], their stories bring little interest, light or urgency to the ideas they represent." Ellen Akins

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 of 5 Stars
"The killing's really never done in T.C. Boyle's lurid vision of the natural world. It's part of the daily routine--dog eat dog--only now mankind is making things worse. That's the unsubtle message the novelist pounds home in his 13th novel, written in a low-grade fever of pedantic wordplay and clumsy analogies, as though his editor called in sick the day the manuscript arrived." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

Like the characters in the book, reviewers of When the Killing's Done shared a passion that also divided them. All critics expressed their admiration for T. C. Boyle and his ability to find original drama in historical and contemporary settings. But they disagreed about whether he meets his usual standards here. Some critics felt that the complexity of Takesue, LaJoy, and other characters give this novel the moral ambiguity that they enjoyed in books like Tortilla Curtain. Others felt that the characters are stereotypical, particularly LaJoy: several reviewers claimed they had trouble seeing things from this point of view, even though they felt that is Boyle's intent. On the other hand, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel argued that this simplicity may be part of the book's appeal: perhaps Boyle intentionally makes the characters of this book animalistic to show the inadequacy of either side's view of nature. Even that reviewer, though, was uncertain of this strategy's success.