In Jeff VanderMeer’s eco-thriller Hummingbird Salamander, security analyst Jane Smith receives an envelope containing a key and a short list of animals. The contents of the envelope seem to be random, but Jane investigates them anyway and ends up at a storage unit where she finds a taxidermied hummingbird. After prying out the eyes of the bird, she finds another clue, which leads to an unraveling, deadly mystery that unravels Jane as well.
Jane has an exceptionally unique voice. Even from her first-person point of view, it’s apparent that she is selfish, brazen and highly unusual. She gives strange nicknames to her belongings, such as “Shovel Pig” the purse and “Bog” the cellphone. She is closer friends with her purse than with her husband.
Though Jane has “made it”—she has a high-paying job, a family, a nice house—she seems to experience life as an outsider. Perhaps that’s why it’s easy for her to throw it all away, though the reader must take certain leaps to understand this motivation: The story falls short when it comes to establishing why Jane would go to such excruciating lengths to solve the mystery. The reader’s questions are ultimately answered, though only in a sense, and far too late.
VanderMeer is a well-established, highly acclaimed author who is known for weird, inventive fiction, including his Southern Reach Trilogy, the first novel of which (Annihilation) was adapted to film. Hummingbird Salamander is not a great introduction to his style, but his existing fans will likely be carried through by its intriguing, propulsive plot.