One of my favourite books ever is Douglas Adams’s (yes, that Douglas Adams) Last Chance to See, a travelogue-quest to spot rare and endangered species around the world and which predisposed me to love the first-person account of chasing after animals in the wild in order to save them.
Unspotted by Justin Fox fits into that genre with an added twist (or bonus, if you are me and taking care of a 4 year old post-surgery as well as renovating 1/4 of your home for the arrival of your mother-in-law.) It’s a short e-book: 40 pages.
Fox recounts his time spent chasing after the elusive Cape Mountain Leopard at the side of zoologist Quinton Martins, founder of the Cape Leopard Trust. Seven reasons I give it a thumbs up:
- Chasing leopards around is a pretty cool activity and Fox brings the reader inside the experience with a lot of rich detail.
- The pacing of the book is pretty good; it does sometimes feel like it could have been a longform article but for the most part there’s not a lot of extraneous information, or a lot of gaps.
- I got a good sense of the zoologist at the centre of the story, Quinton Martins. There are a couple of moments that made me want to go meet him, which is a gift in any story.
- I learned a lot without ever feeling lectured to, with the possible exception of the scene that actually is a lecture.
- There’s a strong sense of place without (mostly) being overwrought description.
- It feels candid on the truth side of truth-telling, and controlled on the telling side…in other words, Fox (who is not a novice writer) is providing a true tale, well-told, or at least that’s the sense I’m left with as a reader.
Three ways it could improve:
- I didn’t come away with a strong sense of Fox’s interior journey beyond details like mud in his shoes. This could be a feature for people who find The Serpent and the Rainbow-type books to be self-indulgent writing, but because the narration was quite close first-person, I expected a bit more. I felt a bit like I missed some of the journey, or like this was a smaller piece of a larger work.
- Occasionally I felt pelted with adjectives/adjectival phrases, particularly in the opening chapters. It settled down well once the story got rolling.
- I think Fox is a strong enough writer that he could have dropped the chronological narration and moved some of the stronger anecdotes to the start of the book or at least the start of a chapter. I mention this not just editorially but because my understanding is that as a money-making enterprise, e-books sold through Amazon are increasingly compensated for whether people actually read through them. I found some of the strongest material was buried at the end of the book.
Publishing digression: And with that last point I want to talk a bit about why I volunteered to review this book. I think the idea of small e-press publishing original works is a great compromise between “free” and “writers don’t get compensated and The World Ends.” But it doesn’t work if people can’t find them or aren’t talking about them, so I’m pleased to be a part of the conversation.
This particular book didn’t sell me on the format in the sense of wow, were it not for novella-ish-length e-publishing this completely perfect gem wouldn’t have been the ideal shape to bring me joy but given the crazy summer I am having, it absolutely was the best length for me as a reader. And it costs less than a latte!
Disclosure: I received a free review copy and I’m an Internet fan/supporter of Annorlunda Enterprises which is a startup enterprise publishing short e-books.