White Gold by Caitlin O’Connell

Setting:  Various locations in China


  • Catherine, a wildlife biologist working to protect elephants
  • Craig, Catherine’s boss
  • Ling-Ru, Catherine’s college roommate and friend

Plot:  Catherine works in a dangerous field, but she’s driven by her desire to protect wildlife, elephants specifically. In White Gold, she is tracking illegal ivory poachers. After being attacked while posing as a foreign buyer, Catherine embarks on a series of missions that, on their face, seem poorly timed or inconsequential. What she (and readers alike) can’t quite piece together until the end is how each mission, job, and path reveals tiny tips and clues to figuring out what exactly is going on. With her life in danger every step of the way, Catherine relies on Craig and an old friend, Ling-Ru, who shows up in the knick of time to save her life. What she never saw coming was the deception on every side – even from those who she thinks she can depend on the most.

Pacing: Fast

Predictability: Very low

Wild Card:  White Gold is the second book by Caitlin O’Connell featuring Catherine Sohon. I haven’t read the first, but I didn’t feel as though my enjoyment or understanding were compromised in any way by not having done so. This story moves at a lightning pace and there were times when I felt a little lost or confused. Being set in China, the names of people and places are unfamiliar so, for me at least, that meant it was a little more difficult to keep track of everyone and everything.

While it’s true there is a complex plot involved, there are also lots of opportunities to see the world through Catherine’s (and Caitlin’s) eyes. The setting is wonderfully descriptive; I could empathize with Catherine’s discomfort in some scenes, and bask in the relaxing scenery of others. That said, I do feel the need to caution readers, especially the more sensitive among us. The subject matter is a difficult one and, having first-hand experience means that the author is able to immerse her readers in disturbing minutiae. The descriptions of what befalls wildlife in some parts of the world were hard to read and heartbreaking. I struggled a little with trying not to be righteous and judgemental when reading about menu options in one unpalatable chapter! For those readers who find it difficult to read about harm coming to any animals, this may not be the best book for you. If you can stomach those cold realities to see the story beyond – and the mission of conservation that both author and character are on – it’s a thrilling adventure that will keep you turning the pages.

Hit, Miss, or Draw:  Draw; well-written and riveting, but the subject matter may make it difficult for some readers to enjoy

About the Book
30955666Catherine Sohon has gone undercover in the Chinese underworld, where the illegal ivory trade is at an all-time high. Posing as a foreign buyer in the backroom of the Beijing Antique Market, she’s closing in on the smuggler who has eluded her since Namibia. Then ruthless gunmen burst in, leaving death in their wake and turning Catherine into a suspect in a triad turf war.

After a close call with a king cobra on a boat full of endangered wildlife, new clues propel her across the country, from open markets to an ivory carving factory in Guangzhou to the forests of southern Yunnan, home to the precious few remaining Chinese-Asian elephants. Her quest pits her against the same vicious trafficking kingpin—only now it’s clear that even high-level officials are looking the other way as the world’s endangered species flood into China from all across Asia and Africa. And when an old lover pays a surprise visit, Catherine is forced to confront the agonizing choices that still haunt her.

As Catherine races to execute a daring sting operation along the mountainous border of Myanmar, a shocking betrayal sends her into a tailspin. Now her life depends on the bond forged with an elephant named Lu Lu. Meanwhile, in the shadows awaits a powerful new adversary—someone with far more at stake than Catherine could possibly know.

About the Author
ceobiopicDr. Caitlin O’Connell is a Consulting Assistant Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine and a world-renowned expert on elephants and vibrotactile sensitivity. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed science memoir, The Elephant’s Secret Sense (2007, Simon & Schuster), which highlights a novel form of elephant communication as well as the elephant’s conservation plight. Her narrative nonfiction photo book An Elephant’s Life (2011, Lyons Press) uses a graphic novel approach to revealing subtle and intimate aspects of elephant society. Her co-authored nonfiction children’s book, The Elephant Scientist (2011, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children) won five awards, including the Robert F. Sibert Honor and Horn Book Honor for 2012. A Baby Elephant In The Wild (2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers) was a Junior Library Guild Select and winner of the 2015 NSTA award for Outstanding Science Trade Book for students K-12. Elephant Don: The Politics Of A Pachyderm Posse (2015, University of Chicago Press), brings to light the hidden world of male elephant society. It is now available in paperback and is the subject of the award-winning Smithsonian documentary, ELEPHANT KING. Her debut novel, Ivory Ghosts (2015, Random House) was nominated for the International Thriller Writer’s Thriller Award for Best ebook Original Novel. The sequel, WHITE GOLD, is set in China and comes out in 2017. Bridge To The Wild (2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers) invites young readers on a journey to understand why animals are so special. O’Connell is the co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization, Utopia Scientific (www.utopiascientific.org), dedicated to research and science education. She is also co-director of Triple Helix Productions, with a mandate to develop more accurate science content for the media. She has taught Science Writing for Stanford University and The New York Times Knowledge Network.

Also visit her elephant blog: elephantskinny.tumblr.com. And be sure to watch an award-winning documentary about her research on the Smithsonian Channel: www.smithsonianchannel.com/sc/web/show/3373743/elephant-king.

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