3 out of 4 stars
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Monkey Business by Lois Schmitt is a mystery novel with an unusual setting: Rocky Cove Zoo, Long Island. When teacher-turned-journalist Kristy Farrell lands the chance to impress her editor with a feature on breeding endangered animals, she doesn't expect to stumble across a dead body on her first day of research. What is worse, all of the initial suspicion lands squarely on the shoulders of her brother, Tim, who is the resident director of herpetology at the zoo. After being questioned by a pair of comically named detectives (Wolfe and Fox), plucky Kristy immediately sets out on her twofold mission of clearing her brother's name and securing a permanent job with Animal Advocate magazine.
Kristy narrows down the suspect list to five individuals, none of which have airtight alibis. However, the further she probes, the more the evidence seems to stack up against Tim. When a further murder is committed, the stakes are raised, and Kristy finds herself up against the clock if she is to save her brother and write a captivating article. She is aided by her husband, Matt, a veterinary surgeon, and her daughter, Abby, who is also a vet. With their help - but due mostly to her persistence and indomitable curiosity - Kristy rapidly works her way towards a solution.
Monkey Business was a fairly straightforward example of the genre, with the usual red herrings and false trails; but what set it apart was its strong focus on animals. Throughout the novel, Schmitt weaves in some shocking facts about animal smuggling and mistreatment, and in the author biography at the end of the book we learn that animal welfare is extremely important to her. I found it fascinating to learn about breeding endangered animals, and about the seedy underworld of illegal animal auctions and drug smuggling. Kristy's pets - two dogs and a cat - are indispensable and lovable characters in the novel, too, always there to comfort her at the end of a discouraging day!
Kristy herself is an immediately likeable protagonist: she is self-deprecating but driven, and her comments are frequently humourous. The other characters are well-drawn, considering the large number of them and the brevity of the book. The novel is very fast-paced, and short enough to read in one sitting - if you are so inclined! The mystery element is well-plotted and controlled, and Schmitt writes in an accessible style. One negative would be the occasionally clunky dialogue, which contained unlikely exposition and detail. In addition, the "villains" of the piece were sketched in an exaggerated and improbable light during the final reveal.
I found two typos, and one instance where the word "conscience" was used where it should have been "conscious". The mistakes were all fairly glaring to me, but as there were only three it was not a huge issue. On balance, Monkey Business is an entertaining light read, with a well-sustained ambience of suspense. I felt that Schmitt had a great grip on the plot and characters, and Kristy was an especially congenial character. Furthermore, the atypical setting and the inclusion of educational facts about endangered and rare animals really helped to give this book an edge. It is the perfect novel for mystery aficionados, animal lovers and for those looking for a quick and pleasurable read. I would rate Lois Schmitt's Monkey Business a solid 3 out of 4 stars.
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