Book Review: Gone

“Never underestimate mankind’s capacity for mindless destruction.”

In recent months I have read several articles in the mainstream media that suggest human fertility could make reproduction difficult within a generation (e.g. here). Having read Gone, by Michael Blencowe, it is hard to mourn this potential issue. Throughout his existence man has been a scourge on our amazing planet, wiping out entire populations of his fellow creatures seemingly without caring about the carnage and suffering thereby caused.

The book is divided into eleven chapters, each focusing on a species that is now extinct, often because man discovered it existed. The creatures were slaughtered: for food, for wealth, for science. Where their natural habitat contained no predators, man’s arrival introduced them. Although often passing through – seeking food and trophies – if man stayed then his desire for settlement and agricultural land further destroyed ecosystems that had previously supported healthy populations of diverse wildlife. If money could be made this was regarded as reason enough for decimation.

The supposed great naturalists of past centuries, whose interest in science was lauded as a step forward in human understanding, were often culprits in destroying that which they studied.

“Like any great naturalist of his era, he carried with him the two qualities required for such an expedition: an enquiring mind and a big gun.”

Chapter One explains how thriving colonies of great auks were wiped out. The account is horrific and heartbreaking. Subsequent chapters continue in this vein proving that extinction was not a concern if riches and renown could be obtained. A good number of natural history museums around the world were founded on collections created by zoologists and other wealthy scientists, from specimens brought to them by bounty hunters. All that is left now of many magnificent species is skin and bones stored in drawers and display cases.

As well as travelling to the last known habitats of extinct species, the author visits the museums that hold what remains of them. He talks to the curators and is granted access to rare body parts, learning more about their history and the species’ demise.

“I look again to the animals whose lives I had followed and with whom I had felt an unexpected affinity. But all I see now are bones, feathers and fur, the sad remains of the worlds extinct creatures, taxidermy testaments to the havoc we have wreaked upon the world.”

The writing style makes this an easy book to read; the subject matter is harder to digest. Beautiful and evocative illustrations of the eleven creatures focused on – artwork by Jade They – help bring to life what has been lost. It is a cry to do better.

 “On 6 May 2019, scientists from the United Nations gathered in Paris to announce the findings of a global study on biodiversity, concluding that 1 million of the world’s estimated 8 million species now face extinction, many within decades.”

“The driving forces behind these extinctions are changes in land and sea use, hunting and poaching, climate change, pollution and invasive alien species.”

It seems that man has learned nothing from his past wanton destruction – and continues apace.

Although upsetting to consider, if a book such as this can touch readers and drive a change of attitude it will have served its purpose. Sadly, I question if mankind is intelligent enough to fathom fully how this planet – our life support system – is being damaged by our actions. Unlike many of the creatures we have driven to extinction – peaceful and curious, unable to comprehend the danger posed by man – we have some awareness, yet continue.

Will we be willing to change how we behave when to do so may make our day to day lives less congenial? An evocative, disturbing, recommended read.

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My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Leaping Hare Press.

Book Review: Gone

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Gone, by Rebecca Muddiman, is a crime thriller that does not attempt to portray the forces of law and order in a particularly positive light. Even the more dedicated police officers appear distracted and inept at times. Resources are limited and witnesses uncooperative. It was frustrating to read but perhaps accurately portrays the challenges of the job.

Sixteen year old Emma Thorley went missing eleven years ago. It was her third disappearance in less than a year so few took this event seriously. As a known drug user she elicited little sympathy. The officers tasked with investigating her case expected that she would turn up eventually, as she had done before.

Now a body has been discovered buried in woodland. Items recovered suggest that it could be Emma but there is no DNA evidence, no dental record, nothing concrete to confirm identification. DS Nicola Freeman is assigned the case and soon has a suspect on her radar, Lucas Yates. As she sets out to track down other persons of interest in an attempt to gather evidence she becomes aware that Lucas is on the same trail.

The character of Lucas Yates is brilliantly developed by the author. An arrogant, vicious, misogynist he could be charming when he chose but was truly unlikeable. He made my skin crawl, not least because his attitude was an exaggeration of laddish behaviour that is still all too commonly accepted. He considered women to be his property, existing to please him. The strong writing evoked angry emotions as I longed to see him taken down.

Many of the male characters showed his attitude towards women in a minor way. The married man whose wife left him for a colleague felt bereft at his loss but also resentful that she should have made him appear lessened in front of others. The loving boyfriend was determined to rescue his girl, partly due to a feeling of embarrassment following his discovery that she had been protecting him when his ego required that he should be seen to be protecting her.

There was little empathy between the characters. Each were existing within their own ideas of what they wanted their lives to be, railing against the actuality. In this it seemed a believable if bleak depiction.

Although I had guessed many of the answers to the various mysteries early on I was not disappointed by the tying up of threads. The short chapters, recaps and time jumps took some getting used to but by the second half I was eager to turn each page.

This is crime fiction for readers who appreciate realism over heroes and happy ever after. There is tension and drama aplenty with DS Freeman and DI Gardner making an interesting team. I wonder if the author plans to develop their relationship in a sequel.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Mulholland Books.