BOOKS: White Eye

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1995:

White Eye, by Blanche D’Alpuget. Simon & Schuster (1230 Avenue of the
Americas, New York, NY 10020), 1994. 254 pages, hardcover. $22.00 U.S.,
$28.50 Canadian.
Seldom have I found a murder
mystery as satisfying as Blanche
D’Alpuget’s White Eye––not only first-rate
suspense, but educational to boot. A grant
from the Literary Arts Board of the
Australia Council allowed the author to
spend two years researching international
wildlife trafficking, genetic engineering,
wild bird rehabilitation, and biomedical
research on primates—among other sub-
jects. Judging from D’Alpuget’s portrayal
of the illicit wildlife trade and primate
research, about which I’m relatively well
versed, she seems to have mastered the
topics. Her description of raptor rehabilita-
tion and release, about which I knew little,
is fascinating. Passages dealing with genet-
ic engineering, which heretofore has left
me totally confused, actually brought me a
glimmer of understanding.

White Eye moves back and forth
from Thailand to the Australian bush, cen-
tering on a biomedical research lab investi-
gating means of exterminating rabbits and
foxes, feral species which have caused con-
siderable grief to Australian conservation-
ists as well as ranchers. The rabbits were,
of course, introduced by hunters; the foxes
were later released to control the rabbits.
Both have prospered, despite ceaseless
The heroine of White Eye i s
described as an animal rights activist, a
term belied by her meaty diet and her habit
of shooting rabbits and foxes. She is, how-
ever, ardent on behalf of nonferal and
undomesticated wildlife, especially birds of
prey; she might more accurately be termed
a radical conservationist. Whatever she is,
Diana Pembridge is picked to serve on the
animal ethics committee for the lab after
scandal erupts with her discovery of the
murdered body of a scientist in Diana’s
“flying ground,” where she reintroduces
rehabilitated birds to the use of their wings,
behind the lab complex. The scientist, Dr.
Carolyn Williams, had told Diana her sus-
picion that one Dr. John Parker was secretly
and illegally using chimpanzees in his
underground laboratory. On the dead body,
Diana finds chimp hairs.
But there are conflicts of interest
and twists of plot. Diana and the murdered
Carolyn are not friends. Carolyn is proba-
bly Diana’s half-sister, issue of an adulter-
ous liaison which itself ended in murder. A
flamboyant nymphomaniac, Carolyn was
herself guilty of seducing Diana’s
boyfriend, a Spanish wildlife photograph-
er––for which Diana would have liked to
kill her.
Yet Dr. Parker is a perfect villain,
among many others with both motives and
means. He would be the caricature of a
mad scientist were it not for the author’s
skillful characterization. Down to the dan-
druff in the doctor’s dirty hair and his kinky
sex drive, D’Alpuget paints a complex por-
trait of an egomaniac devolving into a psy-
All the characters are interesting
and full of striking inconsistencies, just like
real people. The narrative is intricately
detailed and richly colored. D’Alpuget exe-
cutes her plot masterfully. But best of all,
the reader is left with the message that cru-
elty to animals leads to cruelty to humans.
––Kim Bartlett
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