You may not be familiar with Gil Reavill as a fiction author; however, he’s written non-fiction, has ghost written memoirs, and has both screenwriting and playwriting credits to his name. I didn’t know all of that when I chose 13 Hollywood Apes to read; however, the concept called to this long-time ex-Los Angeles resident because it combined three very interesting elements: wildfire season, retired film animal actors, and animal rights. Yes, there really is a wildfire season in Southern California and the Lost Hills fire in this story has become almost a legend. Mr. Reavill combines those elements with a fast-paced police procedural thriller that rings true and makes for a great read. And it’s an e-book bargain on top of that. Sound interesting?
“Chimpanzee, n. [from Bantu kumpensi, ‘fake man’ or ‘mockman’]: A great ape of the genus Pan, native to Africa, believed by evolutionary biologists to be the closest existing relative to human beings.”
Although there are many upsides, one of the downsides to living in an area with extremely low humidity is that when the vegetation can’t retain moisture anymore it becomes highly combustible. So the people and animals of Southern California know there will be wildfires every year. The only question is where and how bad will it be. In the year of this tale, the Santa Monica Mountains near the wealthy community of Malibu are suddenly being hit hard and evacuations of multi-million dollar homes are mandated as Santa Ana winds create firestorms. Crews from all over California and other states are called in to try to get even a small toehold on the Lost Hills fire as it rages out of control.
What most Southern Californians don’t know is that there is an animal sanctuary in the mountains above Malibu, a retirement home for chimps who were once beloved by children and adults alike on various TV shows and in films. Fourteen chimps are living out their golden years in those hills, in a home that has been as safe as it could be made until now.
“Delinquent flames showed on a ridgeline to the north, orange-black in the distance.
Dread of fire, an age-old fear, was bred into their [the chimps’] bones. They gathered as a family that sweltering October night, the last of their lives. For all their nervousness, they performed their usual evening routine, grooming one another, shaping their tree-bough bedding for the night…They fell into wakeful sleep one after another: Mister Jeepers, Monk, Chow-Chow, Stella. Veronica curled up with the playful youngster she had adopted, Bee Bee. Pamela slept with her daughter, Amy. Eric paired off with the elderly Bess.”
It’s late at night when disaster arrives on two legs. Thirteen of the chimps are shot where they sit before they can even react, just like ducks in a barrel. The last one is only wounded though, unbeknownst to the shooter, and hides. To cover his tracks, the shooter takes no chances and sets his own little fire that he knows will join with the huge conflagration already in progress. That way no evidence will be left behind of his deed and the deaths will just be another sad fire-related tragedy.
“Moment by moment, the members of the family fell. The big chain-link fence cut off all retreat. There was nowhere to run. The killing took but six minutes.
Finally only a single lost soul survived, an eight-year-old male, running along the ditch on the grassy western side of the compound, frantic after the death ruckus of the others. He sped not away but toward the shooter. Confused, or angry, bent on revenge.”
But the killer doesn’t know about the survival of Angle, the fourteenth chimp – a very special young chimp who somehow miraculously survives the fire and, despite his grief at his clan’s loss, tries his best to communicate with the humans around him using ASL to describe the killer. And the killer doesn’t know about a brave firefighter who spots the signs of arson near the sanctuary and reports them to Malibu PD. And the killer hasn’t bargained on Layla Remington, the Malibu DA’s Office deputy detective investigator, it’s only investigator, who’s like a bull terrier when it comes to investigating cases – even cases that can’t technically be called homicides.
“[Cindy said,] ‘We find them all dead as dust, Ian’s freaking – he keeps saying, Where’s Angle? And then the little guy pulls himself out of the ditch in the northwest corner, all bloodied up.’
‘You hear anything, someone moving? A vehicle? Anything?’ [Layla asked.]
‘No way. I’m totally scared now, you know? I figure whoever’s doing the shooting is still out there, drawing a bead on us. I hide with Angle in the shed for five, ten minutes while Ian looks around…Pretty soon the fire came down, and we had to run. I mean really, literally run the hell out of there, Ian carrying Angle, me worried the little guy was going to bleed out.’
‘So you ended up here at the clinic?’
Cindy nodded. ‘It turned out to look worse than it was. Angle just got dinged in the shoulder. Nothing hit a bone, just muscle. An inch or so farther in, Dr. Heppo said, there’d be all fourteen of them dead.’”
But things get even weirder after Angle is allowed to go home with a prior handler, a rock-star handsome New Age commune dweller. Suddenly people even remotely associated with the sanctuary begin being viciously attacked and slaughtered by a chimp who authorities are convinced is Angle. Could Angle and his handler be out there seeking revenge for the other chimps’ deaths? Rick Stills, the new Malibu Assistant DA, certainly believes they are and he’s determined to use this case to rebuild his tarnished career with the LA County DA’s Office.
Layla? Well, Layla is having a hard time reconciling the sweet, gentle chimp she’s coming to know with the insane killings; however, the DNA she obtains from Angle seems to be conclusive. And that means Angle will be put down – no ifs, ands, or buts. As an animal, even one with 98% of the same DNA a human has, he has no rights. Her instincts tell her there’s something she’s not picking up on but what? Is Angle a bloodthirsty, insane killer lurking inside what appears to be a sweet, gentle chimp?
Layla is a person who lives by her convictions, no matter how harsh the consequences, and I admired her for that. Not only does that make her a very persistent investigator, who goes far beyond just crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, but it means she isn’t willing to accept anything less than the truth no matter what it is or how the consequences play out for her or the investigation. I think she’s going to make for a great series character! The DA is purely a political animal, much more interested in his climb to the top of the greater Los Angeles DA’s Office than the truth. Angle – how I wish I could tell you all about Angle but it would be a major spoiler so you’ll have to discover Angle for yourself. If you’re an animal lover like I am, it will be well worth the read just to do that unless, of course, he is a rampaging killer.
13 Hollywood Apes combines a lot of elements that appeal, all wrapped up in a complex detective thriller puzzle that I enjoyed a lot. And it nails the dog-eat-dog world of LA politics to the wall. A little disclaimer: The crimes following the initial crime are quite vicious; however, they do reflect the reality of how apes maim and kill perceived threats. The animal rights questions raised about animals so similar to us on the evolutionary tree are excellent ones – and the similarities in behavior are intriguing to read about. If you’re an animal lover (or a lover of Hollywood tales) who also loves thrillers, this one is a bargain you’ll probably want to snap up.
Can’t wait to read it?
13 Hollywood Apes was published on December 16, 2014, so it’s available from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). Please note: This is an e-book only – and it’s a bargain at only $2.99, so enjoy!
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