Fatalis by Jeff Rovin (2000)

 

FatalisCover blurb

They come from prehistory to stalk and kill…

It begins, as terror so often does, with a disappearance – two men lost in the foothills of the Santa Ynez mountains, a pair of backpacks the only evidence that they’d been near the mysterious sinkhole. An ancient fissure has been jolted open in the hills; the sprawling, teeming metropolis of Los Angeles carries on, oblivious to the constant geological changes in the earth beneath it.

Something is descending, stalking at night, moving ever closer to civilization. The official response to death is more destruction: Sheriff Malcolm Gearhart wants to destroy the creatures before anyone is even sure what they are, to annihilate any beast that would dare to attack man. But anthropologist Jim Grand and local newspaperwoman Hannah Hughes see another way – a dangerous path, but one that might save the last link to a prehistoric time.

And as the humans battle to steer the right course, the cats are getting closer….

My thoughts

Anthropologist Jim Grand is a tough guy, the kind who does 200 push-ups on his fingers, after drinking three cups of coffee, mind you. Tougher still is Sheriff Malcolm Gearhart, a Vietnam vet who doesn’t like liberals, and as a result probably spends his life wondering what god he offended to find himself in Los Angeles. Bringing these two together are a rash of mysterious killings that, at first, baffles both. But soon Grand makes a fantastic discovery: A pride of living saber-toothed cats is behind the attacks.

Grand and a reporter from an alternative newspaper, Hannah Hughes, want to save the cats from a second extinction. Gearhart wants to kill them all, pointing out they’re leaving behind a trail of corpses that would make Freddy Krueger green with envy. The resulting mayhem will carry through the streets of L.A, climaxing at a final showdown at – you guessed it – the La Brea Tar Pits.

Finally, my favorite prehistoric animal gets its own novel… and it’s terrible.

Fatalis is the kind of novel where “chapters” are three to five pages long. It’s the kind of novel where characters are introduced only to be eaten a couple pages later, and where the animals kill far more people than they really need to eat.

What made Fatalis particularly egregious to me – other than slandering my favorite cat – is that true big cat attacks are terrifying affairs, read Ghosts of Tsavo for an example. Using a little subtly and portraying the sabertooths as real animals would’ve have gone a long way toward improving this book. Instead, Rovin has them plod through L.A, with all the grace of Godzilla and no menace whatsoever.

Trivia

  • The title Fatalis was taken from the scientific name for the sabertoothed cat, Smilodon fatalis. You can guess what it means. But if Rovin wanted more bang for the buck, then he should’ve picked the cat’s much larger South American cousin, Smilodon populator. The name means, “he who brings devastation.”
    (Source: The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives)

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