Book Review: 13 Hollywood Apes by Gil Reavill

13 Hollywood Apes13 Hollywood Apes
A Layla Remington Mystery
Gil Reavill
Alibi, December 2014
ISBN 9780553395051

From the publisher—

As a wildfire rages outside the Odalon Animal Sanctuary in the rugged Santa Monica foothills, the retired Hollywood movie chimpanzees housed there are shot and left for dead. When Malibu detective Layla Remington reaches the grisly scene the next morning, she’s deeply disturbed—and even more confused. The victims are not human, so the attack cannot be classified as homicide. Yet someone clearly wanted these animals dead, and executed them with ruthless efficiency. Miraculously, there is one survivor: a juvenile male named Angle.
But as Layla reaches the veterinarian’s office where Angle is recovering, a man with rock-star good looks and a laid-back Southern California attitude swoops in and removes him. And just like that, an unusual case turns truly bizarre. Soon reports surface of ferocious attacks against Odalon employees . . . with Angle as the prime suspect. As a wave of senseless violence reaches its apex, Layla chases a mystery man and his chimp—but everything comes back to that terrible night at the sanctuary.

Any reader who avoids novels that include harm to animals will want to skip this one because it’s not just a brief description that’s part of a bigger story; 13 Hollywood Apes is built on the murder of these chimpanzees. The fact that chimps are our very near relatives doesn’t make things any easier and a scene in which a character remarks on how much one of the dead chimps looks like his grandfather just brings everything closer to home.

Deputy detective investigator Layla Remington is in an odd position as she’s attached to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and the ADA she’s working with, Rick Stills, doesn’t agree with Layla that the incident merits investigation. They’re animals, after all, so what does it matter? Layla believes it matters very much, especially after she meets Angle, the lone survivor. Then, humans fall victim; is it possible that Angle is killing them? Unfortunately, Layla’s efforts lead to many more questions and to her eventual administrative leave and accusations of disloyalty to the department. That’s not the worst that will happen to her.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The cruelty towards the chimps—and the damage they can do in turn—is hard to read about but, at the same time, it makes for a clear view of how animal research can go so wrong.  While it never hurts to be reminded of the harm we do to animals of all kinds, this story is overladen with the dark side of animal activism with touches of an odd sort of racism. It was a little difficult to tell where the story left off and the agenda took over. I also thought there were a few too many threads to follow but, all the same, I found this a penetrating look at what makes the difference between human and ape and whether the apes should be treated as animals—and property—or as near-humans. It’s a tough read but worthwhile.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2014.


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About the Author

Gil ReavillGil Reavill is a journalist, screenwriter, and playwright. Widely featured in magazines, Reavill is the author of Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedy Brothers, and the Meeting That Unmasked the Mobas well as Aftermath, Inc.: Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home and the screenplay that became the 2006 film Dirty, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. He lives in New York with his wife, Jean Zimmerman, and their daughter.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: 13 Hollywood Apes by Gil Reavill

  1. Well, this story certainly is different. It sounds good and something I would think would be totally unique for most mystery readers. I felt totally pulled into the story by the publisher’s synopsis. Your review was interesting as well.


  2. Hey, Leila T — you have (almost) the same name as my protagonist, Layla Remington. Thanks for the good words — and believe me, I understand your comments. It is a difficult subject. Some people will shy away from it. I have an informal motto that has led me down some dark paths, from Terence, the Roman poet and playwright: “Nothing human is foreign to me.” Over the past few years I’ve felt myself move more and more in sympathy with animal rights issues. So, what to do about it? How do I put my shoulder to the wheel of progress on this matter? Well, I’m a writer, so I should write something. But then I immediately run up against a central quandary: books that push an agenda come off as self-righteous, insufferable and—perhaps their greatest failing—unreadable. So that was the problem I faced, how to write something that airs out the ideas of the animal rights movement without being didactic or smug. What I came up with was Thirteen Hollywood Apes. I don’t know if I succeeded, and 13HA is not exactly Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but it’s an interesting question, don’t you think? How to write a righteous book without being self-righteous. One that will continue to bedevil me. Somehow the times we live in can seem so dire that I think no one should write anything nowadays without coming down clearly on the side of kindness, open-heartedness and goodness, in one way or another. (I can hear Patricia Highsmith sneering at that sentiment.) Anyway, I wonder if others have confronted this issue of writing well versus doing good. It seems central to me right at the moment.
    A big P.S.: Please, please tell me what you mean by “touches of an odd sort of racism.” I would be terribly mortified if anything in my book gave off any sort of racist vibe. I am extremely sensitive to the question. Again, as with the subject of hurting animals, I might have erred on the side of confronting the issue (with the subplot of Gregg Hickler) rather than shying away. But confronting evil is a part of fighting it, no? Because I portray racists doesn’t mean I in any endorse their views, right?


    • I’ll be back to talk about all of this (have to go out for a few hours) but I wanted to address this right away—{tell me what you mean by “touches of an odd sort of racism.”} I was not referring to your intent at all but, rather, to the group that Gregg Hickler runs, an especially vicious concept. No, your voice doesn’t come out of that in any way other than highlighting that such groups exist. The fact that it caught my attention means that you made your point well 😉


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