Keith R.A. DeCandido is joining us today to talk about his novel, Animal, co-authored with Munish K. Batra, MD, FACS. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Two grisly murders are committed at a meatpacking plant by a person wearing a cow mask…not long after the CEO of a water park is brutally killed by someone wearing an orca mask.
Interpol Agent An Chang believes these are the latest acts of a ruthless serial killer he has been chasing for more than twenty years…a killer who targets those who harm innocent animals.
Elephant poachers in Chad, Russian big-game hunters of endangered species, dog fighters in Atlanta, European food execs who gorge ducks to make paté, gorilla hunters in the Congo, ivory merchants in China.
Those who torture animals are not safe…
Working with two California detectives, Chang races to unmask the killer, as his spree ramps up. But the killer’s motives and history are far deeper than anyone realizes, and the truth of his rampage leads on a wild chase from the streets of Shanghai around the globe…
Animal is a relentless thriller by renowned surgeon and humanitarian Dr. Munish K. Batra, in collaboration with international best-selling author Keith R.A. DeCandido. This thought-provoking, pulse-pounding novel will engross and enthrall. Do the most noble of intentions justify the most horrific acts?
Who is the real animal?
What’s Keith’s favorite bit?
KEITH R.A. DeCANDIDO
Finding a favorite bit in writing Animal with Dr. Munish K. Batra is a bit of a challenge, because so much of the book involves horrible, horrific acts. The novel is about a serial killer who specifically targets people who mistreat, torture, and brutally kill animals.
But the murderer in question—who is half-American, half-Indian, and who was raised in Shanghai by his diplomat father and wealthy mother—works all over the world. While the main action of the novel takes place in Southern California, as an Interpol agent works with two detectives to track the killer down, there are flashbacks to his various other killings, as well as the formative events that started him down this road as a child.
Which meant Munish and I got to write scenes that took place in several different locations in China, as well as Chad, the Congo, South Africa, and Japan, not to mention Los Angeles (including suburbs Vernon, Thousand Oaks, Van Nuys, Beverly Hills, and Monrovia), San Diego (including suburb Escondido), Miami, and Atlanta in the U.S.
Some of my favorite fiction, whether on the page or on the screen, is that which thoroughly embraces its location, to the point where the place is as much a character in the story as the people. TV shows like The Wire with Baltimore, the various Law & Order series with New York, Republic of Doyle with Newfoundland, and Longmire with Wyoming; movies like The Taking of Pelham-123 with New York, The Dark Knight with the (fictional) Gotham City, L.A. Confidential with Los Angeles; and novels like the works of George Pelecanos with Washington, D.C., Carl Hiaasen with south Florida, and Laurie R. King with pretty much anywhere she cares to write about, as she is particularly expert at immersing you in a particular time and place.
One of the joys of writing Animal was getting to bring the reader to the crowded market streets of Shanghai, the rainstorm-wracked national park in Chad, the oppressive humidity of Miami, the wide-open spaces of South Africa, and the crowded cities of Beijing and Atlanta.
In addition, besides immersing your reader in a place, you can also immerse them in a mind. Unlike every other form of storytelling, prose is uniquely suited to get you inside a character’s head.
In this particular favorite bit from Chapter 5 of Animal, we’re in the head of one of the killer’s impending victims, an elephant poacher in Chad. One of the themes of Animal is the conundrum of who’s the bad guy, the animal killer or the killer of the animal killers. Seeing the depraved indifference to life in Félix Habré’s mind helps make that more of a conundrum than it would be if it was just some guy killing some other guy—there’s context for everyone’s actions.
It was always best to go after the elephants early in the rainy season. This soon, the rain hadn’t had a chance to accumulate—by the end of June, beginning of July, the region would be better named Zakouma National Lake, there was so much flooding—but the actual downpours were intense enough that most folks stayed away. Especially those tiresome conservationists.
For many years, Félix worked as a guide to the park, usually for insipid tourists or those very same conservationists. The former were irritating, but at least tipped well. The latter were self-righteous and pig-headed, and tipped very poorly. They spoke of the elephant population being endangered, as if the creatures couldn’t still reproduce or something. It was madness. They still had calves, which the poachers generally avoided killing, since their tusks weren’t developed yet. And they all died eventually in any case. What difference did it make if it was from one of his weapons or from old age?
The heavy rains meant he was likely to be left alone—by everyone except for noseless lunatics, in any event. Not that conservationists wandered around armed or anything, but killing or even injuring one came with difficulties and attention that Félix preferred to avoid. He’d already spent time in Korotoro Prison, an experience he was very much not eager to repeat.
At least he didn’t have to worry about the park rangers. He’d adequately bribed all of them to keep their distance and give him and his team free rein of Zakouma. The bribes were considerable, but as nothing compared to what the Chinese were offering for the ivory of the elephants’ tusks. Even though it meant bribing pretty much everyone who worked for the park, as well as about a dozen government officials, it was still such a small percentage of what they got from the Chinese that it wasn’t much more than a rounding error in terms of profits.
So everybody won. The Chinese got the ivory they craved, Félix and his team got embarrassingly large amounts of money, and a bunch of civil servants got something to actually put into a savings account for once in their miserable lives.
Well, truly not everybody. The conservationists didn’t win, but they had plenty of elephants in zoos that were doing fine.
Munish K. Batra, MD, FACS was born in Kanpur, India on Halloween in 1965, which he always felt was fateful. His family emigrated to the U.S. in 1972. Dr. Batra’s extensive experience in trauma and reconstructive surgery and craniofacial surgery has been put to charitable use at missions overseas, and he has lent his services during natural disasters such as the tsunami that struck southeast Asia in 2004 and the earthquake that devastated Nepal in 2011. In his new hometown of San Diego, he has started Doctors Offering Charitable Services (DOCS), which provides charitable surgeries to the less fortunate in Southern California.
His cosmetic practice is one of the busiest in the nation, and Dr. Batra has been featured in People, the Los Angeles Times, and many other national media outlets, as well as on The Oprah Winfrey Show. He is active in developing multispecialty medical practices that put patient care and the doctor-patient relationship at the center of health care.
Dr. Batra is currently collaborating with Keith R.A. DeCandido on other fiction projects, and is also working on a nonfiction book called Medical Madness. He also enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, yoga, and meditation. His wife Pooja and their three young children, Ayaan, Kairav, and Kiara, offer him constant encouragement and support.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is the award-winning, best-selling author of more than fifty novels, almost a hundred short stories, a smattering of comic books, and a ton of nonfiction. Some of it is in thirty-plus licensed universes (Star Trek, Alien, Doctor Who, Marvel Comics, Supernatural, World of Warcraft, Cars, Resident Evil, The X-Files, Orphan Black, etc.), others in worlds of his own creation, from fantastical police procedurals in the fictional cities of Cliff’s End and Super City to urban fantasies in the somewhat real cities of New York and Key West. Some of his most recent fiction includes the Alien novel Isolation; his long-running fantasy police procedure series, the latest novels of which are Mermaid Precinct and Phoenix Precinct; an urban fantasy series set in his native New York City including A Furnace Sealed and Feat of Clay; short stories in various anthologies; scripting the graphic novels Icarus and Jellinek; and popular culture commentary for the award-winning website Tor.com. Keith is also a third-degree black belt in karate (for which he both teaches and trains), an editor of more than twenty-five years’ standing (for clients both personal and corporate), a professional musician (currently with the parody band Boogie Knights), and probably some other stuff he can’t recall due to the lack of sleep. Find out less at DeCandido.net.
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