Will Staples, the screenwriter perhaps best known for his work on the videogame Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and the upcoming Amazon Original Without Remorse, makes his first foray into novel writing with Animals. Clearly a passion project for Staples, Animals revolves around a rotating narrative of characters impacted by and participating in exotic animal exploitation. Animals is a gritty, dark, well-researched exposé of global animal trafficking that would appease any John Grisham fan. And, yet, despite the detailed attention paid to the logistics of animal trafficking, Staples’ portrayal of women, and particularly Chinese women, leaves something to be desired.
Staples tells the intertwined stories of a park ranger-turned-vigilante, an insurance agent profiting in the world of zoos, a government agent determined to make the connection between foreign terrorism and animal trafficking, and a mother who turns to alternative medicine to treat her dying son. Staples creates a fascinating, terrifying illustration of the underground crime world of animal trafficking and exploitation. Details of the trade are artfully interwoven without becoming dry or tiresome. One debate on endangered species between two main characters, held over a serving of bluefin, is particularly poignant. Staples is clearly passionate about the subject of animal exploitation. Unfortunately, he is not nearly as impassioned about the representation of women in Animals.
Though the representation of female characters in Animals is certainly no reason to disavow an otherwise competent work, it is an important note to keep in mind. Audrey, a mother whose sense of normalcy has degraded along with the health of her son, is notably the most hollow of the four primary perspectives in Animals. Her character shift is extreme and never seems fully justified. Perhaps she would be more believable if more time was dedicated to her development and less to the multiple descriptions of pubescent teenage girls. In one particularly uncomfortable passage Staples writes of a character, “…struck by the juxtaposition of the attractive, mature-looking teen and her room with its toy-themed bedding”. In another Staples describes a brothel where “skinny teenage girls [linger] in their shrink-wrapped cocktail dresses and ice pick heels”. And yet, despite a few descriptive pitfalls, Animals is, admittedly, a pretty great read.
Animals is the perfect introduction to the ins and outs of the animal trafficking industry. Staples provides great insight and is able to effectively capture the perspectives of the many players in the business. Animals is an intense, fast-paced thriller that is sure to leave readers with a better understanding of animal trafficking and, ideally, a new motivation to fight this horrific industry.