cover image Oh No, Not My Baby

Oh No, Not My Baby

Russell James. Do-Not Press, $15.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-1-899344-53-6

British author James (Count Me Out, etc.) usually writes noir that reaches down low and comes up with all kinds of unsettling images, but here his main focus--the animal rights movement--just isn't dark enough to please. Sax player Nick Chance falls for Babette Hendry, the school beauty he once fancied from afar, when she comes on to him at a gig in Bath. Now an animal rights activist, Babette persuades Nick to sit in her car outside a Bristol meat-processing plant while she goes inside to take pictures. She never comes out, apparently having died in an accident involving a meat pulverizer. After being questioned at the local police station, Nick returns home to find what appear to be two plainclothes policemen searching his flat. Meanwhile, a couple of ecoterrorists roam the country, attacking scientists, terrorizing abortion clinics and otherwise causing mayhem. Nick later learns that the manager of the meat-processing factory was in love with Babette, and that she once worked for a mysterious company marketing health products. James is adept at revealing his characters' motives as good or bad, then playfully subverting them. Besides exploring the morality of animal rights, here he gets in a few licks at corporate sponsorship, charitable organizations and quasireligious self-help programs with their gurulike leaders. But Nick is never in enough real danger to maximize suspense, and an important twist near the book's end misfires. This novel, finally, is more gray than noir. (Mar.)