Today, The Poisoned Martini is reading James R. Tuck’s novella, That Thing at the Zoo.
Monster slayer Deacon Chalk faces an unknown assailant or “whatever is leaving the Atlanta Zoo’s most dangerous predators bloodless, skinned, and hanging high in treetops.” Now with the zoo in lockdown, Deacon and a handful of zoo staffers must survive the night and hunt down whatever nightmare it is stalking them.
This novella is considered a prequel to the novel Blood and Bullets. The events take place about six months prior to the first Deacon Chalk: Occult Hunter novel. Though the cover image is suggestive of a vampire, it’ll be interesting to see just what creature serves as antagonist. The first book, Blood and Bullets, made use of half-arachnid, half-human things that greatly increased the ick factor.
Follow along as I review the novella LIVE!
This post will be updated (with time stamps) as I progress through the story and share my thoughts firsthand. See below for what I envision as a Live Read.
8:00pm – Start Time
The story begins with Deacon and homicide detective John Longyard looking up at something in a tree at the Lion Habitat in the Atlanta zoo.
Deacon narrates, “The thing now lying on the ground was a big chunk of meat and bone. My brain tried to make sense of it, categorize it and figure out was it was, but it was so gnarled that I couldn’t.” Pretty gross imagery follows involving flies…segmented bodies…yet no blood.
Jimmy the zookeeper asks about Deacon’s specialty. “What’s he a specialist in? Tattoos and guns?” To which Deacon replies, “I’m the weird-shit specialist.” Six-foot-four, 300 pounds of muscle, shaved head, long goatee, tattoos and guns describe this occult bounty hunter.
No surprise the carcass is likely that of a lion. But what might haul it up twenty feet in a tree and leave no blood, wet or dry? Then we get more gruesome imagery involving teeth…
A revealing, world-building comment about the nature of Deacon’s universe. “One of the things that keep the majority of humans safe is that the monsters know, no matter how strong they are, that they are outnumbered. That’s why they stick to the shadows and edges of the night.” Deacon is “a monster to the monsters.” Longyard provides the cover story if things get “too bloody and too big.”
Chapter Two introduces the zoo’s program director, Dr. Critter, a golden boy and TV personality. “The lion is the third animal killed in four nights.” Previous incidents have been cleaned up depriving Deacon of potential evidence. “It would be irresponsible to allow public access to something so gruesome.”
Enter the zoo director, Mr. Beauregard, who is less than impressed with Deacon.
In Chapter Three, we learn Jimmy the zookeeper took pictures of the animal crime scenes. A pterodactyl appears to be on the suspect list, but I suspect that’s not the case.
Deacon was a tattoo artist and bouncer before a tragedy claimed the like of his wife and kids. Right now, Deacon is in a bland office teleconferencing with Kat, the manager of the strip club he owns and which finances his war on monsters. He rescues Kat from a vampire.
All the animals were killed at night. Lack of blood isn’t much of a clue. Vampires or something else…?
Possible candidates…”Quetzalcoatl, a gargoyle, a Nosferatu, Spring-heeld Jack, or a pterodactyl.” I’m still thinking something humanoid. The scenario suggests a level of intelligence.
As the zoo closes down for the night, Deacon is left with Jimmy, Dr. Critter, and Beauregard. “It was going to be a long night.”
Deacon stocks up at his car, “a 1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT.” He’s got quite the arsenal. “The hunt was afoot.”
As “the moon came up fast and full”, they’re off to the gorilla habitat. Deacon’s “supernatural Spidey sense began to buzz…”
What is this thing? It’s like a slug marking its territory? Deacon splashes holy water on its trail of goo. Add a little blood for bait and… “A low screech…like the rusty screen door on Hell.”
We now know what it is, and in Chapter Seven, Deacon and Jimmy are fighting for their lives. Deacon drives it off with a clip of bullets. I suspect that’s made IT angry.
“It was way too dangerous to let loose in the heart of Atlanta.”
Things seeks blood at administration offices. Epic battle ensues. It gets away.
“I had to follow it to whatever lay in that dark, dank hole.”
Beneath the zoo, in the sewers, Deacon tracks the thing to its lair. The battle and environs nearly sap all Deacon’s strength. Then it’s over, but not quite…
The final chapter, eleven is more like an epilogue, tying up loose ends.
9:38pm – Summation
That Thing at the Zoo was released digitally in December 2011, a few months before the first full-length novel, Blood and Bullets, came out in 2012. The series is an urban fantasy at its grittiest. Deacon certainly earns enough scars–and gouged flesh–in this short.
The secondary characters here don’t really have a chance–or the room–to be given enough dimension. They really only serve as sidekicks to Deacon or as fodder for the monstrous Thing. Each character is given a thumbnail sketch suggestive of a fuller character, but not something we really see. The story is much more about the action and Deacon’s badassness as monster slayer. This is not a bad thing.
This novella serves as an entertaining diversion. Much of the fun is trying to guess what’s killing animals at the zoo, and fortunately, there’s one twist that adds a whole new creep factor to the situation. As an introduction to the character and series, I’d say it’s a success. It’s a hard-boiled take on the genre with a bit more violence than most. Still, readers will likely want to know more about this particular urban fantasy world–and its rules–as well as watch Deacon take out vile things.
What’s a Live Read?
A Live Read is where I review the book as I read it. It’s kind of like writing notes in the margin of a book as you go. After the initial post describing the selected book, I’ll update periodically during the Live Read until the final pages. I intend to avoid any spoilers and certainly won’t give away the ending. Once finished, I’ll give a summation of my overall thoughts. I encourage participation either during the Live Read and beyond. Even if you’ve read the chosen book or not, feel free to chime in with your thoughts about the book, author, or mysteries in general.