Rating: 2.75 stars
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Zoologists Paul and Noah were brought together by their love of animals and their jobs at the Philadelphia Zoo. But Paul is becoming fed up with Noah’s impulsive nature as well as what Paul sees as unprofessional and dangerous behavior from Noah around the big cats he cares for. Noah was a subject of an attack by a zoo jaguar in the past and hurt badly. So Paul is fearful and shocked when Noah charges into a cage where a lioness is threatening her cubs. Noah’s actions endanger not only his coworkers but the general public as well, something Noah will not acknowledge.
Paul is furious, their bosses horrified, and Noah in danger of losing his job. Frustrated and angry, Paul and Noah have to find a way back to each other while keeping their jobs intact as well as their relationship. Can Noah understand the danger he put everyone in and can Paul find a way to understand the basis of Noah’s actions? Only time will tell.
The Caveman and the Devil is a quick read at 80 pages and quite honestly I am not sure if that hurts or helps the story. What doesn’t help is that the media has reported the deaths of two zookeepers recently, one a volunteer, for the same issue that almost gets Noah injured and fired. Almost from the beginning I found myself solidly on Paul’s side. Here is an example of not only how they communicate (or don’t as it were) but also how clueless Noah is:
“You are mad.” He wrinkled his nose as his searching gaze flitted over my face. He was clearly puzzled by my behavior. “Why?”
“Why? Why? Seriously? You’re seriously asking why I’m mad at you?”
“Yes, dear almighty Caveman, I’m seriously asking why you’re mad at me! I didn’t do anything wrong!”
Utterly baffled, I forgot all about what I was doing or what I had intended to do. I stared down at Noah, my lover, the man I’ve loved for almost a year now. Incredulous, I croaked, “You didn’t do anything wrong today? Is that right?”
The light bulb slowly went on for Noah. Of course, he immediately lunged into defense mode. “I just wanted to get the cubs out of there!”
“You went into Kiara’s compartment without waiting for the inner door to be locked! She had just killed two of her cubs and was in the process of killing the other two!”
“She had walked into the other compartment!” Noah protested.
“But the separating door wasn’t closed yet!” I shouted, eventually losing the fight with my emotions.
“Trent locked the door right after I was inside.”
“Yes, and she came back and jumped against it, roaring. What if Trent hadn’t managed to lure her away?”
“But he did. Don’t be such a nitpicker all the time.”
I could hardly breathe.
Paul later goes on to think that he would have fired Noah based on this incident and he would have been correct. Anyone who has worked with animals would be aghast at such carelessness and disregard for regulations. So I am amazed that Kat would have written this character with these personality traits and expect the reader to identify with him. Noah “wrinkles his nose” in puzzlement. Is that supposed to be adorable while his boyfriend is confronting him about his behavior? Not so much. Nor is his bemusement over Paul’s anger and reaction to his actions. The characters then go on to have massive amounts of sex, makeup and otherwise, but settle nothing between them. Lots of shouting, lots of sex, and not much else, including story.
Another puzzling element is that Paul and Noah are two characters first introduced in a story called Cuddling Up in the Animal Magnetism anthology. I mentioned there that the author seemed to know her zoo protocol, and the same applied here. So why is Noah constantly flouting the rules and regulations of the zoo they both work for? In Cuddling Up, Noah exclaimed that the cat he was in the enclosure with “would never hurt him,” an inherently false idea that I let fly at the time because it was a short story. But here the incident is much worse, Noah’s reactions more painfully obtuse, and only Paul realizes the ramifications. The question remains as to why an author would have a character negate the research that makes the story realistic and then want us to accept that character as an authentic zookeeper? What was barely acceptable in an anthology shouldn’t work in a longer story. And it doesn’t.
What makes this tale enjoyable are the main characters’ interactions with two lion cubs. Those sections prove to be the story’s saving grace because who doesn’t love lion cubs? Those also reveal the strongest parts of Paul and Noah’s relationship. But when the story takes to the bed or back to the zookeeper’s office, then it falls apart. Paul hedges and muddies the account of the actual events of Noah charging into the cage, there is a batty and bigoted media director, and it all just falls to pieces. Paul is an authoritative and dominating character, hence the Caveman appellation. In fact that is Noah’s term of endearment for him. So obviously, the Devil is Noah. Tasmanian Devil that is, spinning constantly around, upsetting everything in its path, dangerous and impulsive. Just the person you want as a coworker and partner, right?
I just remain puzzled over Paul and Noah’s relationship as written by Kat. To me it seems dysfunctional, lacking in communication. I realize that this is supposed to be a fluffy story but I guess too many issues that circle around Noah kept it from being enjoyable outside of lion babies.
I silenced Noah’s cry of protest by laying a finger on his lips. “That is, if I can convince the zoo management not to fire you.” Loosening my embrace, I turned Noah around. He stared up at me from large, frightened gray-green eyes. Water trickled down his pale face in small rivulets as the impact of my words hit home.
“They won’t do that, right? Fire me, I mean? I rescued those two cubs!” His voice rose.
“Noah, any of us could have saved these two cubs after the compartment door was closed,” I said. I was doing my best to be gentle and understanding, but at some point, he would have to accept the truth. His behavior hadn’t only been unprofessional but also irresponsible and extremely dangerous. I wondered if the management would give Noah another chance. If I was honest with myself, I wouldn’t.
By this time, I find myself nodding in total agreement, thinking fire Noah and move on. Oh well, I liked the lion cubs and Paul. But for the rest of the story, I’d give it a pass. I haven’t read any of this author’s longer stories, and I consider this one only for those of you who are die hard Chris T. Kat fans.
Cover art by Paul Richmond is the best thing about this book.