Review: When the Killing’s Done

When the Killing's Done by T.C. BoyleThe first two chapters of When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle tell the completely engrossing story of a 1946 boat wreck from the perspective of Beverly Boyd. The story switches to present day with a focus on Alma Boyd Takesue, granddaughter of Beverly Boyd, and a biologist for the National Park Service. Alma is working to eradicate invasive rats on an island off the coast of California. Coincidentally, the island is the same one that her grandmother landed on after her 1946 boat wreck.

The reader is soon introduced to Alma’s nemesis, Dave LaJoy, who is an animal rights activist and opposes the extermination of rats on the island. Alma and Dave have quite the antagonistic relationship. One of the things I noticed right away was that Dave LaJoy was eating eggs, and I thought that was pretty contradictory to the image portrayed by Dave. I expected him to be vegan.* I believe several characters were written with the intention of showing hypocrisies. Dave, a character who cares so deeply about saving every animal’s life, is an extremely angry and mean person. He also drives a giant SUV and has a green, water guzzling lawn.

Alma has a few contradictions in her own life, but I’ll save those for the reader to discover. I really liked how the stories of Beverly, Alma, and Alma’s mother are told in some form throughout the book. There are similar notes of love and loss throughout all of their lives.

A reader who likes to find meaning in a story will find a lot to think about in When the Killing’s Done. Many side stories are told within the main story, including the history of the islands and other minor characters in the book. The problem I had with the story was that after those first two chapters, the book was a pretty slow read. I can’t say exactly why I found it so slow. Too many words? Too much description? I’m not sure. I am glad that I read the book. It gave me thinking material about what we expect of people and the natural world around us.

*I had expectations of Dave’s character based on who I stereotyped him to be. In my mind, of course an animal rights activist would be vegan! But then, I am an animal advocate and I am vegetarian. I eat eggs. Maybe I am seeing too much into the story, but I think it was Boyle’s point to show stereotypes and hypocrisies.

Book: When the Killing’s Done | Author: T.C. Boyle | Published: Viking Adult; February 22, 2011 | Format: Hardcover | Source: Library | Rating: 4 out of 5

6 thoughts on “Review: When the Killing’s Done

  1. I haven’t heard of this book before. The title makes it seem like it’s a gruesome murder mystery, but your description makes it sound more like a family saga.


    • Hi Alyce, I agree. The title does sound like a mystery. The killing referred to is probably meant to be taken literally and figuratively. At its most literal, it refers to the killing of animals on the islands. I really enjoyed the book!


  2. I’m OK with a slower read now and then and I don’t mind lengthy descriptions if they’re full of great imagery that enhances a sense of place. If however, words are just basically extending the length of the novel without really adding anything to the reading experience, it can get a bit tedious. The story sounds a bit like Anita Shreve’s The Weight of Water. Great cover!


    • I’ll have to check out The Weight of Water, Wanda. I honestly can’t say what made this one feel so slow. I really did enjoy the story, though.


  3. I had the same reaction to Dave LaJoy eating eggs. I wondered if this was intended to demonstrate his hypocrisy. Also, his gas-guzzling SUV has leather seats. I hope this was intentional hypocrisy and not author error. I’m still in the midst of reading the book and hope there are animal-rights folk who are not mustache-twirling villains as Dave LaJoy is shaping up to be!


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