Monday, September 02, 2013

Vet School Mystery: AN ANIMAL LIFE by Howard Krum

Last month's "Bookstock" festival in Woodstock, Vermont, brought an unusual new book to me: AN ANIMAL LIFE: THE BEGINNING, first in a series from three veterinarians (and illustrated by a fourth). Described by the authors -- Howard Krum with Roy Yanong and Scott Moore, plus art by Patty Hogan -- as "a scientific medical mystery (animals and people are dying)," the book is far from a traditional who-dun-it. There is no sleuthing plot to speak of, there are few clues, and the focal point of the story isn't really the hunt for what's causing the deaths (a real discovery, by the way, from the late 1980s).

And there is definitely a taste of "first book" here, plus some structural issues betray the team aspect of authorship. The first few chapters wobble, and the pace has issues.

The good news, though, is that this book is so much fun, and so much a period piece -- an updated version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance crossed with Mash and taken into veterinary school -- that I never did put the book down for much longer than it took to get a fresh glass of iced tea.

THE ANIMAL LIFE opens with two aspects of vet life: first-year vet college featuring cop-turned-animal-intern Jack Doyle and courageous Anna Heywood, who's battling Lou Gehrig's disease, complete with therapy dog; and the political pressures on a prominent zoo vet, Dr. Violet Marie Green, who might seem to have it all but is being blackmailed and bribed simultaneously (the closest the book comes to expected mystery terrain). With a couple of romances in blossom, entertaining dynamics among various types of students and their more advanced peers, and entirely endearing interactions with horses, dogs, and more, the book provides a delicious jumble of entertaining scenes, quickly spilled forward over a school year.

And the authors' attitude toward their storytelling is captured at the start with this short insert:
People ask: "So what's this book about?"

We usually reply: "It's about 300 pages. . ."

Also, it's about life, death, and finding your place in this world. And veterinary medicine. But that's it, just those three things: a medical mystery, finding Love, and becoming a veterinarian. Promise.
If you've ever dreamed of becoming a vet (I did, for years), or know someone who has (you'll want to give them a copy), or believe in treasuring the first efforts of promising authors who like to set up amusing moments in print -- zip over to the website and pick up a copy. You may also find the book at stores in or near Windsor, Vermont, where it's published.

Don't shelve it with mysteries, though. Put it on the shelf of rollicking fun in college form, and let your friends know it's there.

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