The first novel of James Robert Smith, The Flock, is an extremely well researched book dealing with a group of what is called "Terror Birds", and we ain't talking about your average canary here folks. The creature stands between five and nine feet tall, has a large brain, and in Smith's book has the ability to mimic other sounds and communicate.
This makes them a very effective fighting group. They have to be, since they have been hiding out in the Florida Everglades for the last couple of million years without being captured or a corpse found.
Starting right after the Second World War, we find a group of soldiers on maneuvers that run into the creatures. Now, since our birds have survived for the same reason man has, by being more intelligent and cunning then the rest of the animals around them, their only option is to kill the soldiers. It is a chilling section of the story.
Smith has created a believable story about the large, flightless meat-eaters who just might be a match for the deadliest killers alive, you and me. The flock lives in a small area of Florida, limiting its hunting to the unpopulated areas and covering its tracks to keep from being found. They also eat the carcasses of their dead flockmates. I think that is what Sasquatch does, which is why we can't find them either.
Anyway, there is always one member of the flock with the job of covering tracks and keeping the flock safe.
But there is one bird, called The Scarlet for reasons that become obvious, who is out to break free of millions of years of deception and is willing to face man. The Scarlet shows a complete disregard for the cautions of the group and plans to start its own flock by drawing off females. It is the story of its battle with the current lead bird that comprises much of the conflict in the story.
But not all of the conflict; we also get to read about the problems of man's invasion of the flock's habitat in the form of an "entertainment conglomerate" known for anamorphic animals and which is not above murder when it comes to protecting its interests. We also have a rich environmentalist who suspects the existence of the flock, a right-wing survivalist nut group and a park ranger who is trapped between all of them and the flock.
What is great fun to watch is how Smith is able to keep these multiple story lines in order and keeps the reader hooked on what is happening, thus keeping the action going until we have the final chase scenes. Yes, "scenes". Two chases for the price of one. A bargain.
There will be the comparisons to Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and that is a waste of time. That is like comparing Jurassic Park to Valley of Gwangi; after all, they both had dinosaurs in them. Piffle. There are no clones in The Flock and there are no cute, lovable kids that you keep hoping turn into dino do-do. And Valley of Gwangi was more fun then Jurassic Park. However, some people are still going to compare the two and when they do just smile and walk away.
The Flock is a great first novel, with an impressive group of characters both human and animal (and sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart) who actually grow on you. By the end of the story, you find yourself on the edge of your seat, worrying about the ones you like and hoping the ones you don't get what is coming to them. The story is complex and intriguing, with the parties involved facing off and each one with its own plan.
Smith demonstrates that he is a more then capable writer with this book. The creatures are believable and realistic perhaps because they are based on fossil fact and not just fiction. They are the true bright lights of the book. Next time you are in the glades or just in a deserted stretch of wilderness, look around. If you see a giant bird's beak peaking out of the tall grass, run like heck.
Oh, remember what I said about the flock being mimics? That least to one of the funniest twist ending I have read in years. Thanks James, for that.