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Wildlife Mystery Thrillers

Jessica Speart's __Unsafe Harbor__, the 9th in her Rachel Porter Fish and Wildlife Agent series, is a wildlife mystery thriller, a new genre that, unlike traditional mysteries, brings wild animals into the foreground. As Speart, credited with creating the category, points out, "The endangered species trade actually does include the very elements required of any good mystery-intrigue, murder, suspense, back-stabbing, and greed," and "U. S. Fish and Wildlife special agents are trained detectives, only instead of investigating the murder of humans, they unravel crimes perpetrated against wildlife."

While wildlife mystery thrillers share many attributes of traditional mysteries, there are also differences. Traditional mysteries seldom feature investigators dedicated to protecting wild animals and their habitats from criminals, seldom give prominence to wild animal characters, and seldom focus on wildlife issues. Because they focus on such issues, wildlife mystery thrillers are "mysteries with a message" (see Aileen Jacobson "Crime Novels that Crusade" but they are also more.

Information about issues such as the illegal trade in exotic animals and animal parts or destruction of wildlife habitat, is basic to the genre. But even more essential is making the reader care as much as the investigators care about the victims of the crime. And that means the author must find ways to make endangered wild creatures become as real to readers as they become to their investigators as they work through the mystery basic to the novel's plot.

What distinguishes wildlife mystery thrillers from all other mystery genres, then, is the success their authors achieve in making their readers hear and respond to what, in "War Within" Speart refers to as "silent screams," the voices of nonhuman victims of illegal and illicit action (Speart, Jessica. 1993. "War Within." Buzzworm: The Environmental Journal V: 4(July-August): 36-85).

Interested in more about the genre? See my "'Critter Crusaders'": Wildlife Mystery Thriller Series," __Society & Animals__ 12: 2 (2004):

Author: Jessica Speart

Jessica, as NILAS members who attended the Springfield IL Conference in August 2005 know, is as lively and engaging in person as on the page. Training as an actor makes Jessica a particularly effective speaker and an equally effective creator of characters and character interaction. Her U. S. Fish and Wildlife Agent, Rachel Porter, is, like Jessica lively and engaging. And, like Jessica, she cares deeply about the voiceless victims she is pledged to protect. Experience has made her all too aware of the obstacles lying between caring and actually making a difference in their lives.

A trip to Africa convinced Speart to abandon acting in order to give voice to the voiceless animal species being victimized around the world. After researching and writing articles about Betsy Dressler's efforts to save endangered species and about Ken Goddard's forensics lab, the first to specialize in wildlife, Speart decided to concentrate on the gargantuan task that faces U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents. She sees the Rachel Porter series as an effective way of making the public aware of the odds against both wildlife and wildlife agents largely because reading mysteries is fun-ironically, unthreatening. Each Speart novel tackles new issues and new "critters" and demands and gets research as intense and extensive as did any one of her wildlife articles.

For more about Jessica Speart, see her website:


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