by John Vaillant (Vintage Departures, 2011)
This is a murder mystery. Why did a tiger stalk, kill, and eat two people in the Russian Far East province of Primorye in 1997? And what must be done to prevent further deaths? Yuri Trush of Inspection Tiger is charged with solving the mystery and with finding and killing the tiger. John Vaillant interviewed the principals (with the exception of the tiger) and has written a book that manages to present everyone’s side objectively and fairly, although Trush is clearly his favorite character in the drama. The reader can appreciate the desperation of the poachers and the tiger alike. The book describes the life in the taiga, difficult for man and beast alike, made even harder by the changes in politics and policies following perestroika. But Vaillant points out that compared to neighboring China, Russia has actually done pretty well by its tiger population.
The final chapter, in which Trush and his team catch up with the tiger, had my pulse racing:
…Shibnev, picking up some kind of ineffable, intuitive cue, calmly said, “Guys, we should spread out.” A moment later, the clearing exploded.
The first impact of a tiger attack does not come from the tiger itself, but from the roar, which . . . has the eerie capacity to fill the space around it, leaving one unsure where to look. . . . The tiger’s roar exists in the same sonic realm as a natural catastrophe; it is one of those sounds that give meaning and substances to “the fear of God.” . . . .
What happened next transpired in less than three seconds. First, the tiger was nowhere to be seen, and then he was in the air and flying. . . . [His] eyes were fixed on Trush: he was the target and, as far as the tiger was concerned, he was as good as dead. . . .”
In addition to the drama of the hunt of this particular man-eating Amur tiger, the reader learns about the status of the species and the state of the environment in the Primorye (discouraging, but with some cause for hope).