ALMOST HUMAN
By Lillian M. Roberts

Ballantine Books, 1998
ISBN 0-449-00228-4

Reviewed by S. E. Warwick

The life of Dr. Andi Pauling, Palm Springs veterinarian, was complicated enough by an emergency cesarean section on a chimpanzee thrown among the daily chaos of a small animal practice. The last thing she needed was to have the person of a former patient send her a video tape requesting to be "put to sleep." Gilda Hopkins, the person in question, had spent her life getting her own way and just because she was rendered helpless quadriplegic by cancer and age, she was not going to stop now.

In ordinary circumstances, Andi, partner in Dr. Doolittle's Pet Care Center, would have ignored the request. But Gilda Hopkins, over bearing and obnoxious though she had been, had had a profound effect on Andi 's professional development.

Feeling she at least owes Gilda an explanation why she cannot accede to the dying woman's request, Andi goes to see her in person and is sucked into the maelstrom of a very dysfunctional family. To further complicate matters, Andi remembers only too well watching helplessly while her own mother died slowly as cancer destroyed her. When Gilda dies, her hysterical daughter accuses Andi of the murder. Though the police are not eager to categorize the end of a very sick woman's life murder, they are obligated to follow up on the complaint and find watered down drugs at Andi's clinic.

The staff of Dr. Doolittles, the "parents" of the baby chimp, a gay couple portrayed with amused dignity, the animals both patients and "family" and Andi's sometime lover, weave in and out of the action to form a credible story.

Though the climax is simple, it is also believable. In spite of action movies, most bizarre situations probably end with little fanfare but much paperwork for the police.

Lillian M. Roberts does a good job of storytelling and gives the impression that she is a terrific vet herself. Almost Human is well worth a sniff!


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