Book Review: When The Killing’s Done by T. C. Boyle

When the Killing's Done by T. C. Boyle

This is T. C. Boyle’s newest book. I don’t run fast to the book shop when one of his new book is out, but I do try to get it sooner rather than later. Yes, I am a bit of a fan. I’ve read about 7 of his other books so when there’s a new book, I am certainly interested in reading it.

When The Killing’s Done: What it is about

The book begins when the grandmother of Alma Boyd Takesue (one of the main characters) is shipwrecked and washes up on Anacapa, an island naar the coast of the Californian city Santa Barbara. There she discovers many, many rats colonising the island.

Years later Alma, a National Park Service biologist, and her colleagues plan to eradicate this non-native species from the island so the native species can flourish again. Publicly opposing the plans are David LaJoy and his girlfriend Anise (and the rest of their animal welfare group).

When the National Park Service persists in their plans to kill the rats, LaJoy and his group take matters in their own hands to try and stop the killing from happening.

Later, the book turns to a few decades before in Santa Cruz, an island neighboring Anacapa, where Anise’s mother finds a job working for a sheep ranch and the much younger Anise grows up on the island until she outgrows it. Having set the scene on Santa Cruz, we then move forward in time, with more eradication plans by the National Park Service, now on this island, and more opposition from LaJoy and his group.

In the end, the story revolves around whether you should or should not kill animals for the sake of the welfare of other animals. Even LaJoy himself has to make that decision, and he almost gives up his principles.

The main question is whether you should try and restore an original ecosystem or leave the new ecosystem, however faulty, uninterfered with. And where do you draw the line?

When The Killing’s Done: What I thought

I loved the writing of this book. As always, Boyle’s writing is very literary and precise. Sometimes too much so. There were details that weren’t important and the book was a slow read for me.

The story was interesting: nature vs. humans, humans vs. each other. However, I didn’t like the order of the story. Moving back into time to when Anise was young broke up the story too much for me, and it made everything quite confusing. I’m not sure how much we really needed to know about Anise, but the shifting back in time wasn’t something I enjoyed.

I didn’t agree or disagree with either of the opposing parties. I would have liked to have felt drawn to one position and then start doubting it when I find out more about the others’. Not so.

Alma and LaJoy were the main characters (except for the historical interruption where Anise’s mother was the focus of the story), but I didn’t like either of them. I didn’t get any idea of what Alma’s job really was (she was spending a lot of time behind her desk, doing what?) and she didn’t seem as clever as her biologist diploma would suggest she was. LaJoy was an unlikely character, a wild-life preserving activist with dreadlocks who was also the owner of several successful stores, living in a nice, expensive house.

In the end, though, it was a good reading experience. The sense of location was great and it was interesting to think how far your should go in preserving certain wildlife at the cost of others.

Rating: 4/5

I got this book: at my local bookstore

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 369

First published: 2011

Genre: literary fiction

Extra: Check out my review of East is East by T. C. Boyle

Independent Literary Awards: This book will not be my favorite fiction title that is published this year, but if it’s yours, why not nominate it for the IndieLitAwards, the book awards from book bloggers in several genres. For more information, check HERE.


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

13 Responses to Book Review: When The Killing’s Done by T. C. Boyle

  1. Nadine Nys says:

    À writer I have heard a lot about, but haven’t read yet. I should really try him out, I think, because I love literary fiction. Perhaps I should start with another book?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Nadine, one book by him that I really enjoyed (and I think it was my first) was *Tortilla Curtain*. That was maybe not quite as slow-going as some of his other books. *Water Music* is also a beautiful book and *Talk Talk* was quite an easy read, if I remember well.

  2. I gave up on this book after about 100 pages. I loved the writing, but the plot wasn’t interesting me and there were times when I felt it was ranting at me. The non-fiction examples of eco systems around the world were very interesting, but I’m afraid the characters did nothing for me. I’m glad you enjoyed this, but I wish it had remained non fiction all the way through.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Oh, you didn’t finish it? I agree that the plot could have been better. And I agree that the characters were rather bland. Still enjoyed reading about the nature and the contradictions of human nature – further on in the book, when decisions have to be made on what creatures should or should not live.

  3. curlygeek04 says:

    I’m a big TC Boyle fan and look forward to reading this one! I think you have to like the strange blend of fiction and nonfiction that he uses. I feel like I learn a lot about real historical figures from his books, even if I know a lot of it’s fictionalized. Some of my favorites are Road to Wellville, Drop City, Riven Rock, and The Inner Circle. I just picked up Tortilla Curtain at a used bookstore so that one’s next.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Curlygeek, you seem to have read exactly the books by Boyle that I haven’t read (except for Drop City… I think I read that). I do enjoy his books generally and this one was fine, but a little confusing too.

  4. Misha says:

    I have many of T.C. Boyle’s books on my wishlist, yet I haven’t read any of them yet. There are so many authors I want to try – there never seems to be enough time! From your review, it seems that this is not one of the author’s best. Which book by T.C Boyle would you recommend I start with?

  5. Rats are the one thing in nature I have a complete aversion to — so I don’t know if I could ever be sympathetic to their plight. That said, the ecological issues of exotic species are of great interest to me, and I think the book sounds very interesting. Thanks for your review! I’ve never read anything by Boyle, but I think I will look at some reviews.

  6. Great review. Sound really good for animal activists. I don’t know what I’d think or do about removing non-native species so the native species can thrive, how do you decide that and where do you remove the non-native species to?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Indeed, Lena, very hard to determine. I guess these people have at least studied that kind of thing and have some idea how the removal of one species will influence the rest of the ecosystem, but you can never be sure.

      And (also mentioned in the book), wild life that comes floating in on logs… they’re not native species but this has happened so often in the past, when there were no humans to interfere. All quite difficult stuff.

  7. Pingback: Book Review: San Miguel by T. C. Boyle « Leeswammes' Blog

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