An absolutely gripping true story that reads like a mystery is John Vaillant’s award-winning science book called The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival. The story is set in the frigid Maritime Territory of Russia, where an Amur (Siberian) Tiger killed three hunters in 1997. The reader is transported to the tiger’s natural forested, mountainous domain through Vaillant’s lyrical prose. The tension between the hunters trying to extract a living through poaching, however illegal, versus the plight of the endangered and magnificent tiger roaming his ever encroached upon habitat makes for compelling reading. Throughout the book the human fear of the dangerous carnivore is palpable. The scenes of the attacks upon villagers, who were ambushed by this tiger, will forever stay in your mind as Vaillant recounts the gruesome scenes of men and dogs on its trail in the bitter cold of Russia’s far east. A full-grown Amar tiger is the size of a small sports car and so intelligent that it is capable of stalking one particular, specific human being over a period of several weeks, engaging at times in what can only be, in human terms, a kind of relentless psychological warfare. This stanza from William Blake’s famous poem: “Tyger Tyger, burning bright/In the forests of the night/What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” never rang so true. “Chilled to the bone” is no exaggeration in this case.
Nor is it in the latest fiction by popular mystery writer, Faye Kellerman, called The Beast. Part of the Decker/Lazarus series, this latest case involves a tiger, bought illegally and kept in a small apartment in the middle of Los Angeles. Kellerman’s skill as a writer is on full display as she describes the odiferous and bloody mess that the detectives must wade through in order to get to the bottom of a murder in that same small apartment. The adult female tiger part of an illegal trade of exotic pets is a victim, too, as it was chained and kept in an environment so opposite its natural habitat that it begs outrage, especially if the vast forests of Russia as described in Vaillant’s book still compel you.
This is as good a book pairing as you’ll find—one non-fiction, one fiction—both extremely well written and full of danger, intrigue, and lore concerning one of nature’s most frightening beasts. In both books, the mystery that is the tiger will lure you from page one.