By Carmen Adams.
Best friends, Kelly and Rachel, have landed summer internships at their local, rundown zoo. Aspiring vet, Rachel, is ecstatic, but Kelly secretly finds the zoo creepy and is afraid of any animal larger than her dog. It doesn’t help that she gets a crank call the night before starting the internship, warning her to stay away. Kelly’s parents are absorbed by their frantic search for her older sister, who ran away from home a few months earlier. Not wanting to cause them extra worry, she tries to put the creepy call out of her mind. The next day, the girls meet the zoo’s eccentric director, Dr Hoffstadter, and their fellow interns, pleasant Sandy, handsome Griffin (who catches Kelly’s eye and vice versa) and Jon and Melissa, whose respective parents are on the zoo board and have forced the internships on their reluctant kids. Kelly and Rachel are delighted to be assigned to the big cats, whose keeper, Lonnie Bucks, unnerves the girls with his own feline qualities and tendency to talk to the cats as if they were human. That evening, Luther, a black leopard, gets out of his cage (which has been mysteriously unlocked) and chases after the girls. They narrowly escape his claws, and Luther dashes out of the zoo gate, which has also been left open.
Having been comforted and driven home by Griffin, Kelly gets another crank call… from the leopard (or possibly someone playing a recording of his roar). The next day, Jon reveals he has also received an intimidating phone call, and Melissa was threatened by an unidentifiable stranger whilst out jogging. More worrying, Sandy is missing. They trace her route and find her in an underpass, having been mauled by the leopard, with a gash of five deep cuts across her arm. Kelly is convinced that the missing leopard, and the harassment of the interns, is somehow wrapped up in a larger mystery concerning the zoo itself (possibly linked to an audit of the zoo’s accounts which the hunt for the missing cat has put on hold). As she attempts to discover what is going on, Kelly finds herself getting into ever increasing danger.
There is very little mystery in The Claw. Clearly someone unlocked Luther’s cage, and someone wants to scare away the interns, but the narrative doesn’t do much to encourage us to wonder who it may be, or why they might be doing it. It is unusual for a Point Horror, as most tend to be whodunnits, but it wouldn’t be an issue if the story managed to satisfy our horror-yearnings in another way (for instance, by having the leopard actually pose a threat rather than disappear for pages on end). Following the attack on Sandy, however, a clue is dropped which not only finally makes it clear we should be trying to guess who the perpetrator is, but also makes their identity and their motive glaringly obvious. But we still have to plough through another hundred pages of wheel spinning and boring exposition, before what we already know is eventually confirmed.
It doesn’t help that Kelly is a particularly dull protagonist. All we are told about her is what she doesn’t like: animals, the zoo, Jon and Melissa (and rich kids in general), violent films, Rachel going to the movies without her… Kelly’s one positive ‘quality’ is her supposedly psychic sense of intuition, which only gets a mention when it helps the plot along. The one, mildly interesting aspect of The Claw is the mystery of Kelly’s runaway sister, Heather, which ends up being just another ropey plot device. It gets an extra point for having more ethnic diversity than probably any other Point Horror, but that is really the only thing going for this entry.
What is there to be scared of, aside from a couple of half-hearted prank calls and some fake claw marks? The actionless finale is dry and lacks any sense of threat or danger. Even the errant leopard only seems to be bothering sheep.