(Knopf, 329 pages, $26.95)
A 600-pound tiger is wanted for murder in John Vaillant’s “magnificent” new nonfiction page-turner, said John McMurtrie in the San Francisco Chronicle. We meet the book’s “sort of” hero, Russian game warden Yuri Trush, as he’s following tracks in the snow to a place where a tiger and a human seem to have waited for each other “as if meeting for an appointment.” Trush discovers boots nearby with stumps of bone sticking out. He also finds evidence that the tiger remains near. But the tiger isn’t the biggest danger in this tale. Vaillant has found a riveting story in which the very balance of nature is at stake.
At the time the killing took place, said Carlo Wolff in The Christian Science Monitor, Trush patrolled easternmost Russia, a land where the rare Siberian tiger has long been king. These great hunters lived harmoniously with humans until the Soviet Union collapsed and the region’s suddenly desperate residents began hunting the tigers for their valuable hides, bones, meat, and even whiskers. “Some may cavil that Vaillant digresses” too often from Trush’s suspenseful investigation. But the big picture he paints gives the central drama the weight it needs. The Tiger isn’t just a thrilling nonfiction detective story. It is “nature writing of the highest order.”
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“Humans who believe ours is the only species that can think” might be surprised when Trush learns that the cat’s attack “was a case of premeditated murder,” said Sy Montgomery in The Washington Post. The victim had stolen boar meat from the tiger and probably shot its paw. “To those of us” who start rooting for the embattled predator, the fury and cunning that the animal applies to exacting revenge provide “the emotional satisfaction of Quentin Tarantino’s film Kill Bill—with the tiger in the role of Uma Thurman’s vengeful bride.” Even so, this story is never a simple morality tale. The dead poacher himself wasn’t all bad, and the climactic confrontation between tiger and Trush snuffs out “a passionate soul.”
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