When animals around the planet begin to attack humankind, it is up to one man to persuade the world to take action, or allow themselves to perish. Jackson Oz, a dropout from Columbia University has, for years, been developing a theory called HAC or Human Animal Conflict. After noticing an increasing number of animal attacks on humans, Oz felt compelled to drop out of the PhD program at Columbia, raising several eyebrows from his peers, to more closely examine and study this alarming trend. With no job, no degree, and a theory that scientists find absurd to say the least, Oz is struggling to survive in New York City. However, when a string of animal attacks occurs almost simultaneously in different parts of the world, Oz decides to throw caution to the winds one last time and investigate. He receives a call from a friend in Botswana who reports very strange animal behavior and decides to embark on a journey to Africa in the hopes of finally obtaining the necessary evidence to give his claim credibility. In preparation for his trip, he calls his girlfriend Natalie, and the super of his apartment to look after his pet chimpanzee Atilla whom he has rescued a year before from a research laboratory.
Upon his arrival in Africa, Oz meets up with his friend Abe, who tells him that prior to their expedition into the African savannah, he must first stop by a nearby camp to search for his younger brother who hasn't been heard from for several days. Abe and Oz load up their gear as well as several guns and head out into the harsh African wilderness. They arrive at the camp and find it deserted, as though several people had simply left and never returned. With an increasing feeling of unease the pair, travels further along, finally encountering a group of three men who had deserted the camp the day previously. They tell Abe, that there is something wrong with the lions in the vicinity and they flee in search of safer grounds. Abe and Oz continue on in their search for the missing people and finally stumble upon a disheartening scene. Two vehicles stand abandoned underneath a tree in the middle of the savannah surrounded by human bones and tattered scraps of blood stiffened clothing. As Abe disembarks from the vehicle to get a closer look, Oz pulls out his camera and begins to record. He realizes that they are surrounded by an odd grouping of all male lions, waiting silently in the bush for the right moment to attack them. Camera still rolling, Oz watches the lions close in and attack, pouncing on and seriously injuring Abe and climbing on top of the car. Oz shoots several of the lions and then attempts to make a speedy exit out of the melee, but unfortunately ends up crashing the car into a nearly dry riverbed at the bottom of a steep embankment. The car overturns and he manages to escape into a shallow section of water, where he watches thunderstruck as the lions clamber down the embankment and remove Abe's body and drag it back up the bank. One lion however, approaches him, launching itself into the river, seemingly intent upon devouring him. Oz shoots it in the head and finds a patch of dry land in the middle of the river to rest on.
After taking some time to survey his surroundings and collect his thoughts, Oz sneaks back to the car to liberate the remaining guns and finds his video camera, still running. He grabs his belongings and heads out on foot back to the abandoned camp. As he approaches the camp, he sees a swarm of huge ants devouring two buffalo carcasses. He continues along until he hears what sounds like a woman screaming. Looking around he locates the source of the sound; a young woman balanced precariously on a rock in the middle of a river filled with crocodiles. He returns to the two buffalo carcasses, and dragging one to the water effectively distracts the crocodiles, leading them away from the helpless woman. After coaxing her to swim to the bank, the two run the remaining miles to the abandoned camp where they find fresh clothing and a bottle of scotch. Oz introduces himself to the young woman whose name is Chloe and together they watch the footage of the lion attack that he captured mere hours before. Chloe then tells him that she too is a scientists from Paris and had come to Africa with two peers to study the odd behavior of migratory birds when the trio was attacked. She barely managed to escape with her life and had been preparing to die when Oz came along and saved her. As the two scientists discuss the strange events unfolding around them, they hear the hopeful sound of a plane engine overhead and flag it down. The plane circles back several minutes later to rescue the two from the increasingly dangerous environment and takes them back to the airport. Armed with the evidence he needs to prove his HAC theory exists, Oz asks Chloe to accompany him to the United States to explain what she had seen in the African savannah and to hopefully persuade the scientific community to realize the imminent threat and to force them as well as the government to take action. Chloe, naturally agrees, and the two gather some of the world's most highly respected scientific minds and shows them the video of the lion attack. While the scientists clamor for more information, the think tank begins, and theories as to why and how this aggressive behavior in animals is happening begin flying around. Having set the wheel in motion, Oz and Chloe return to New York to check on Atilla and to begin more intense research and study.
Upon arriving at his apartment, Oz finds his home in ruins, having been destroyed by his chimpanzee. Oz attempts to restrain Atilla, only to receive a vicious bite to his knee. He realizes that whatever is affecting the mammals around the world has found its way into the mind of his own once friendly and loving pet. He watches as Atilla flees onto the fire escape and disappears into the night. He surveys his apartment, noting the urine and fecal matter splattered all over his walls, the rotting food strewn around his kitchen floor and finally he finds the decaying, mangles, and partially eaten corpse of his girlfirend Natalie, who Atilla had attacked one night when she came to feed him.
The story fast forwards to five years later, where the reader finds HAC in full effect. Humans all across the planet are suffering from thousands of vicious and brutal animal attacks, from wild animals entering highly populated cities to slaughter people, to household pets turning on their owners and seemingly killing them in cold blood. Oz, who lives in New York City with Chloe whom he married and their three year old son Eli, is feeling slightly gratified that his theory is finally being acknowledged and taken seriously. However, that gratification is slight and small comfort while he watches thousands of lives being literally torn apart by a collated and almost organized attack by the animal kingdom. Having become a sort of official on the current nightmare situation, Oz has been reporting on news channels across the country, speculating with other like minded individuals as to the cause of this change in animal behavior. He is called to Washington, DC to confer with the President and National Security to isolate the agent causing this behavior and to find a solution that will end the assault on human lives. Unfortunately, while he and his scientists inch closer to the answers, the military comes up with its own solution, to bomb and kill all pack of wild animals beginning in densely populated areas. As military strikes begin across the country, they seem to have an averse effect, merely stirring up the remaining animals into an absolute killing frenzy. Oz is sent back to New York to continue his research and theorizing.
One day, on his way to yet another meeting with government officials, Oz sees a dog walking down the busy 7th avenue. He follows the dog all the way to Bryant Park, where it disappears into what looks like the basement entrance of a building. Gritting his teeth and steeling his nerve Oz follows, finding a pack of thousands of dogs, breeding, feeding, and fighting in a dank, filthy space underneath the street. The dogs have set up galleries where females suckle newborn puppies and Oz notes that the smell that these dogs are secreting is unlike any he has experienced before. he returns home to his wife and child, realizing that he has possibly just found the missing link to this aberrant animal behavior. He theorizes with other scientists that pheromones, the chemicals found in secretions from mammals are what is causing this spike in aggressive behavior. Oz returns to the White House for another conference with a think tank of scientists who hammer out the theory. The increase in aggressive behavior is due to hydrocarbons in petroleum and cell phone radiation which has affected the pheromones that are normally secreted. these pheromones have morphed into something resembling what makes insects attack when their nest is disturbed and since essentially all mammals other than humans have an incredible sense of smell, they are attacking the source of the secretion: human beings. Oz informs the President of this discovery and realizes that there is only one way to test whether this theory is truly valid: they must shut down all electrical items and cell phone towers worldwide to see if this stops the aberrant animal behavior.
The President complies, and issues a broadcast declaring a two week cessation of electrical power. No one is allowed to use electricity, to drive, or to use a cell phone for two weeks. As the blackout begins, animal attacks worldwide do not simply decrease, they all but stop completely and Oz realized that they had indeed found the source of the problem. He realizes that there is much work ahead, to find a new way for humans to operate without using those same hydrocarbons that incited the aggressive behavior in the first place, but merely a week into the blackout, people are beginning to use electricity again, despite the ban. Planes are flying, people are using generators and cell phones, and people are out driving in the streets once more. However, as soon as humans resume their use of electricity, the animals attack begin anew, this time more vicious and ferocious as ever. Even the White House is overrun with snarling dogs and rats searching for blood. Finally, the President is forced to evacuate to Greenland near the Arctic Circle, with a select group of scientists who will work on a plan to reverse the pheremonal changes the animals are experiencing. And it is there in the Arctic Circle with his wife and child that Oz watches the world fall apart at the seams.
Best part of story, including ending:
I love this story because Patterson uses undeniable believable logic in his plot. In a world controlled by technology, we humans rarely think of the effects we have on the biosphere. Yes we consider global warming, but mostly because it affects our lives and our ecosystems. And while on occasions we might consider the effects we have on our ecosystem, it doesn't stop us from continuing our lives as usual. It isn't entirely unfeasible that one day we'll be made to pay for our selfishness, and who better to exact that revenge than the animals that we have shunted aside to make room for our excesses?
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Atilla, the chimp sits in Oz's bathroom gazing at his reflection for hours and watching the aggression take over him. It is haunting, terrifying, and utterly heartbreaking to see how he can't control his body when pheromones take over.
Opinion about the main character:
What I like most about Oz is that even when he was able to prove all of the naysayers wrong, and to finally show the world that he had been right all along, hen ever once felt the need to say I told you so. I'm not certain that I would have had the same amount of grace.