|I'm not a fan of zoos; these sheep are as fierce as it gets in my photo files.|
Fierce Kingdom, by Gin Phillips, considers a contemporary American problem: You are enjoying a lovely time somewhere when suddenly there is an active shooter on the scene. What to do?
Just what to do becomes the urgent question for the novel's protagonist, Joan, who is at a zoo late one afternoon with her four-year-old son, Lincoln. They often go to the zoo and are hanging out in a favorite area in the back of the park, in the woods. It's October and the zoo is decorated with Jack-o'-lanterns and scarecrows. So when Joan hears cracking sounds, pops like fireworks, she dismisses it as something related to Halloween. Yet it is 5:30 p.m. and closing time is approaching, so Joan and Lincoln start walking towards the exit.
A long row of scarecrows has been propped along the fence that circles the pond. many of them have pumpkins for heads, and Lincoln is fascinated by them. He loves the Superman one and the astronaut one - with the pumpkin painted like a white space helmet-and especially the Cat in the Hat.
"All right, sweet," she says
He drops her hand and lifts his arms.
She glances along the fence, spotting the bright blue pumpkin head of Pete the Cat. About halfway down the fence several scarecrows have fallen. Blown down by the wind, she assumes, but, no, it hasn't been stormy. Still, the scarecrows are collapsed, half a dozen of them scattered all the way down to the parrot exhibit and beyond.
No not scarecrows. Not scarecrows.
No, indeed. And thus begins Joan's ordeal, trying to keep Lincoln and herself safe from this lethal threat. Author Gin Phillips lays down vivid scenes and turns up the tension. Phillips also does well at capturing the mixture of thoughts and feelings presented by the situation. One small example is when Joan looks outside the zoo's fence and, seeing the after-work traffic streaming past, wonders at how life nearby can continue calmly on while they are trapped in a nightmare. That little scene struck me because I've felt it in the reverse so many times: how is it that I am folding laundry or driving to work while elsewhere in our country there is an active shooter at a school? or a casino? or a church? or a mosque?
But in the world of novels, the manner in which Joan handles the situation in Fierce Kingdom is absorbing. And Fierce Kingdom is recommended reading.