My Favorite 2018 (Fictional) Dogs

In one of the lightest moments of Robert B. Parker’s Valediction (just before one of the darker), Spenser describes his reservation about the first two Star Wars movies: “No horses . . . I don’t like a movie without horses.” After watching Return of the Jedi, he comments that it was a silly movie, but “Horses would have saved it.” Which makes me wonder what he’d have thought about The Last Jedi. Horses aren’t my thing, it’s dogs. I’m not quite as bad as Spenser is about them — I like books without dogs. But occasionally a good dog would save a book for me — or make a good book even better. I got to thinking about this a few weeks back when I realized just how many books I’d read last year that featured great dogs — and then I counted those books and couldn’t believe it. I tried to stick to 10 (because that’s de rigueur), but I failed. I also tried to leave it with books that I read for the first time in 2018 — but I couldn’t cut two of my re-reads.

So, here are my favorite dogs from 2018 — they added something to their novels that made me like them more, usually they played big roles in the books (but not always).

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Edgar from The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven (my post about the book) — Edgar has a pretty small role in the book, really. But there’s something about him that made me like Washington Poe a little more — and he made Tilly Bradshaw pretty happy, and that makes Edgar a winner in my book.
  • Kenji from Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby (my post about the book) — The moment that Grigsby introduced Kenji to the novel, it locked in my appreciation for it. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the added detail of robot dogs — at once a trivial notion, and yet it says so much about the culture Cole Brannigan lives in. Also, he was a pretty fun dog.
  • Rutherford from The TV Detective by Simon Hall (my post about the book) — Dan Groves’ German Shepherd is a great character. He provides Dan with companionship, a sounding board, a reason to leave the house — a way to bond with the ladies. Dan just felt more like a real person with Rutherford in his life. Yeah, he’s never integral to the plot (at least in the first two books of the series), but the books wouldn’t work quite as well without him.
  • Oberon from Scourged by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book) — Everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound doesn’t get to do much in this book, because Atticus is so focused on keeping him safe (as he should be). But when he’s “on screen,” he makes it count. He brings almost all of the laughs and has one of the best ideas in the novel.
  • Mouse from Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (my post about the book) — From the moment we read, “My name is Mouse and I am a Good Dog. Everyone says so,” a good novella becomes a great one. As the series has progressed, Mouse consistently (and increasingly) steals scenes from his friend, Harry Dresden, and anyone else who might be around. But here where we get a story (in part) from his perspective, Mouse takes the scene stealing to a whole new level. He’s brave, he’s wise, he’s scary, he’s loyal — he’s a very good dog.
  • Ruffin from Wrecked by Joe Ide (my post about the book) — Without Isaiah Quintabe’s dog opening up conversation between IQ and Grace, most of this book wouldn’t have happened — so it’s good for Grace’s sake that Ruffin was around. And that case is made even more from the way that Ruffin is a support for Grace. He also is a fantastic guard dog and saves lives. His presence is a great addition to this book.
  • Dog from An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson (my post about the book) — I might have been able to talk myself into ignoring re-reads if I hadn’t listened to this audiobook (or any of the series, come to think of it) last year — or if Dog had been around in last year’s novel. Dog’s a looming presence, sometimes comic relief (or at least a mood-lightener), sometimes a force of nature. Dog probably gets to do more for Walt in this book — he helps Walt capture some, he attacks others, just being around acts as a deterrent for many who’d want to make things rough on Walt. Walt couldn’t ask for a better partner.
  • Trogdor from The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin (my post about the book) — Honestly, Trogdor probably has the least impact on the book than any of the dogs on this list. But, come on, a Corgi names Trodgor? The idea is cute enough to justify inclusion here. He’s a good pet, a fitting companion for MG — not unlike Dan’s Rutherford. He just adds a little something to the mix that helps ground and flesh-out his human companion.
  • Mingus from The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie (my post about the book) — Like Trogdor, a great name. Like Mouse and Dog, a great weapon. He’s really a combination of the two of them (just lacking Mouse’s magical nature). He’s vital in many different ways to the plot and the safety of those we readers care about. Petrie made a good move when he added this beast of a dog to the novel.
  • Chet from Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (my posts about Chet) — If I couldn’t cut Dog, I couldn’t cut Chet. Listening to this audiobook (my 4th or 5th time through the novel, I believe) reminded me how much I love and miss Chet — and how eager I am for his return this year. This Police Academy reject is almost as good a detective as his partner, Bernie, is. Chet will make you laugh, he’ll warm your heart, he’ll make you want a dog of your own (actually, all of these dogs will)
  • Zoey from Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt (my post about the book) — how do I not invoke Tara when discussing an Andy Carpenter book? Good question. It’s Zoey that brings Andy into the story, it’s Zoey that helps Don to cope with his own issues, it’s Zoey that defends Don and saves him (in many ways). Sure, Tara’s the best dog in New Jersey, but Zoey comes close to challenging her status in this book.
  • Lopside from Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout (my post about the book) — It almost feels like cheating to bring in a dog from a novel about dogs — conversely, it’s hard to limit it to just one dog from this book. But Lopside the Barkonaut would demand a place here if he was the only dog among a bunch of humans — or if he was surrounded by more dogs. He’s brave, he’s self-sacrificing, he’s a hero. He’ll charm you and get you to rooting for these abandoned canines in record time.

The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie: A Near-Perfect Thriller Debut that You Won’t Want to Miss

The DrifterThe Drifter

by Nicholas Petrie
Series: Peter Ash, #1

Trade Paperback, 371 pg.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015

Read: August 16 – 17, 2018

Peter pushed the truck hard toward downtown, the city roads rough with potholes, trying to get to Lake Capital begot they closed the doors for the day.

One eye on the rearview, watching for the black Ford. But it would be easy to miss in heavy traffic. And Peter’s truck would be easy to follow. Unless he was willing to rent a beige sedan, he couldn’t do anything about it.

He didn’t have a plan for Lake Capital. But the principle wasn’t complicated. It was the same principle he’d operated under for years.

Poke a stick into something and see what happened.

This approach to problem solving isn’t new — Philip Marlowe employed it, Spenser loves it, Harry Dresden has invoked it — and I’m pretty sure a certain homeless former MP has mentioned it a time or two. It may be tried and true — but that’s only because it works really well (at least in fiction). Peter Ash is one of the leading candidates for “the next Jack Reacher,” so he might as well employ it, too. It’s a very effective stick in this instance, I should add.

Now Reacher, as you probably know, was a career Army MP, the son of a career Marine officer — he’d spent his entire life living on military bases until his discharge following the Army’s downsizing after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In reaction to that kind of living, he’s taken to walking all over the US, getting to know the country. Peter Ash is a recently discharged Marine Lieutenant, with a couple of degrees in economics, who is wandering around the country a little bit. His reason for it differs from Reacher’s, since coming back to the States after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Peter has panic attacks anytime he’s indoors — he calls it “white static.”

This has led to him essentially living in the woods for the past few months, until he heard that his former sergeant and friend, Jimmy Johnson, has killed himself. Peter quickly came to Milwaukee to visit Jimmy’s wife, Dinah. He wasn’t around to help his friend, but maybe he can assuage his guilt by helping out with some much needed home repairs on his behalf.

He starts with the front porch — and while he’s working on it, discovers a hidden suitcase filled with money, and four bricks of plastic explosive. This seems strange, Peter hides the bricks, and gives the money to Dinah. Around the same time, a mysterious figure comes by looking for something (probably the suitcase, but he never mentions is). The two of these together gets Peter’s curiosity piqued — and he sets out to find out what his friend was up to before he died. He barely beings this before someone tries to kill him.

Peter survives, and becomes even more certain that something is going on — Jimmy was on to something just before he died. Peter has to find out what — to honor Jimmy’s memory, protect Dinah and her two sons, and maybe get a little peace for himself — maybe find some forgiveness for failing to help Jimmy.

This isn’t just guy wanders into town, finds trouble and starts hitting/shooting things and people until the problem is solved. Peter has to think, he has to investigate, he takes wrong paths, he really needs to find a shower and a way to clean a very large dog — which isn’t saying anything about the investigation, it’s just another thing he has to do along the way (still, harder problems than you might expect when you throw in his white static). There’s plenty of hitting and shooting, but it’s not the focus.

Yes, Peter is very much in the Reacher mold — but he’s different in very significant ways. The ways in which he’s not Reacher make him a fascinating character on his own. He has a sense of humor, he’s lonely, he’s a bit more self-reflective — he knows that he didn’t come back from the wars whole and intact, and is seeking to fix that. Maybe. He’s got a different kind of education, and a different way of looking at the world. The ways he’s similar to Reacher (good with weapons, devastating to hand-to-hand combat opponents, fast thinking, strategic, etc.) simply ensure that he’s fun to read about. Both of these sides together give us a Thriller protagonist that’s a sheer pleasure to read.

So Peter has “White Static”, Jimmy clearly had problems adjusting to being back home, but they’re not treated as the only ones — there are many others seen and talked about in this book. It’s not done exploitatively, it’s done to highlight the problems and the many, various ways they can be addressed successfully. Nor are they talked about in a way that suggests everyone who comes back from combat service comes back damaged. Nothing is universalized or generalized. I’m certainly not speaking from any kind of first, or even second-hand, experience here — but it appears to me that Petrie dealt with these psyches in just the right way — compassionate, understanding, and accepting.

As there is an element of mystery to the story, I’m not going to talk about the villains much. But they are just as good as the rest of the book — wide-ranging motivations, differing levels of commitment to the enterprise, they’re not all cookie-cutter types. They are not cartoonish, they are not super-villains. They are straight-from-the-headlines evil though. I could absolutely see something like this happening and it working.

I could have spent more time with just about every other supporting character — not in a “hey, you could’ve developed them better” way, but in a “I liked them and enjoyed Peter’s interactions with them” kind of way. Sure, that would’ve involved more character development, but not because they were lacking anything, it just would have worked out that way. Dinah’s an ER nurse with a lot of grit, and isn’t sure what to think of her late husband — but is dedicated to being the best mom she can to their kids. Charlie, their oldest, has learned a lot from his dad and is trying his pre-teen best to live like he should and be “the man of the house.” There’s a woman from the Veteran’s group that tried to help Jimmy who is a wonderful character, too. I could say more about her and the other supporting characters, but you should meet them yourself.

The last advantage that this one has over any of the Jack Reacher novels — and frankly, most Thrillers, is Mingus. He’s a very large dog that Ash finds living under the porch at his friend’s house (that porch led to the discovery of a lot) — he’s a bigger, nastier version of Walt Longmire’s Dog. Just as friendly, too — toward people not being threatening, anyway.

Okay, I obviously found this fantastic. The tension was high throughout; the pacing was fantastic; the actions scenes were fast, furious and believable; the story was clever and yet sensitive to current events, and the people represented by the characters; the stakes were real and believable; Peter’s code and the code(s) of those around him are wonderful to think about, examine and possibly try to adopt. They don’t get much closer to perfect than this — I’m definitely picking up the next two in the series as soon as I can, and I can’t wait to talk about them without nearly so many references to Jack Whatshisname.


4 1/2 Stars