"Thieves find entrances, but grifters... we make them."- Sophie Devereaux (The Inside Job)
Keith R.A. DeCandido's The Zoo Job (2013) is the second tie-in novel to the Leverage TV-show, a resumption of the series in book form after TNT pulled the plug after its fifth season, and continuity is the (unofficial) theme of the story.
The Zoo Job takes place during the fourth season of the television series, somewhere between The Queen's Gambit Job and The Radio Job, and centers on Brillinger Zoo that has been in the hands of the same family since the 1800s, but the place is off the tourist track and falling on hard times. Marney Billinger wants to shake up business with the exhibit of two black rhinos, which she managed to secure through a Malani priest, but the animals never arrive and are now obliged to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the priest – who needs the money to run a struggling medical clinic in a poor country under a dictatorial regime.
One of Brillinger Zoo's younger, but regular, attendees, Zoë Kerrigan, who appeared in The Beantown Bailout Job, nudges her in the direction of the men who helped save the lives of her father and herself, Nathan Ford ("The Mastermind") and his crew.
The only problem is that they're not exactly sure who their mark is. So they do what Fred would've done, if this had been a Scooby Doo episode, and split up the gang. While Parker ("The Thief") and Alec Hardison ("The Hacker") bore themselves with surveillance work of the zoo's board members, Sophie Devereaux ("The Grifter") and Elliot Spencer ("The Hitter") infiltrate the Malani clinic. Malani was a former Portuguese colony and an independent West African kingdom, under King Lionel's rule, until he was over thrown by General Polonia – and third season ties with his corrupt minister of finance sort of makes this book an aftermath of the Damien Moreau-arc.
DeCandido covers nearly every major event from the show, ties-in background stories and name dropped pretty much all of the side characters, which sometimes made the story feel like a companion guide to the TV-series. But is a respect-and artful treatment of the source material really a draw back in a tie-in novel? Not for me, but if you're unfamiliar with the original incarnation of Leverage, you might want to sit through a few episodes before digging into this book. But one thing's for sure, The Zoo Job has more continuity than Burke's Peerage.
If there was one drawback, it was the lack of a clear and proper villain for the crew to target, and as a result, we were deprived of a long con full of fun, but dangerous, pitfalls – which were represented here by Interpol's James Sterling ("The Antagonist") and Malani's finance minister, Aloysius Mbenga, with his armed goons. They've to figure out whom to zoom in on and what the game of their opponent is, before they can put a stop it. And that full picture doesn't emerge until quite late into the book. Leverage was known for trying different approaches of telling the story, but there was always a mark or goal (e.g. beating an unbeatable security system) and it felt a little bit like watching Columbo stumbling around without knowing himself who he's suppose to be hounding.
But that's a minor, fan boyish complaint on an excellent job at translating the characters and atmosphere of the show to paper and weaving a good story around it. I hope these novels do well enough that they commission more of them and perhaps open a new avenue to re-launch the TV series. Here's hoping!
My review of Matt Forbeck's The Con Job (2012).
Note of interest for this blog: one of the characters was reading Rex Stout's Murder by the Book (1951).