In When the Killing’s Done, author T. Coraghessan Boyle sets the action in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and most memorably, in the nearby Channel Islands of Anacapa and Santa Cruz. The main characters (the human ones) have various relationships to the islands. These include a biologist for the National Park Service, an activist on the far fringe of an animal rights group, a shipwrecked young woman, and two hard-working sheep ranchers. It might be said, however, that the true main characters of this novel are the islands themselves, the unpredictable sea around them, and the ever-changing assortment of animals that inhabit the islands. The biologist, the ranchers, the activist all believe they are doing the right things, but the novel leaves us with big questions: can people really control an ecosystem, especially one that is semi-isolated off the coast? What are the ethical questions that arise as species, especially humans, become more and more mobile?
If you know the recent history of these islands and Channel Islands National Park, you know that biologists have in fact worked very hard to restore the islands to their pre-invasive-species state; Boyle spent time on Santa Cruz Island with biologists engaged in this work. But the novel is much more than a pro/con version of historical events. It is an entertaining and engaging story of flawed people in interesting and sometimes dangerous situations on islands that usually appear lovely and inviting from the mainland.
T.C Boyle resides in the Santa Barbara area and teaches at USC. He has won numerous awards for his writing. Payson Library has several of his works, including an earlier novel, Tortilla Curtain, which is also set in Southern California, in and around Topanga Canyon.