Book Reviews: The Dogs by Robert Calder

Well this was a fun read. Robert Calder (AKA Jerrold Mundis) published this in 1976 at the height of the big horror boom. You know, when every publisher wanted to jump on the King bandwagon and hoped they’d have their own horror cash cow. In truth, I have no idea if Jerrold Mundis was trying to ride that wave of profitable thrillers. But, we do have this little canine tale which, although has its problems, is a pretty sweet read all in all.

Sometimes you can pick up on certain things when you read certain authors. If they have a chip on their shoulder, their favourite bands, if they’re ripping off Lovecraft etc. The main character is Alex Bauer, a university professor, who has an affair with a student and he has a bitch (no pun intended) of an ex-wife. His so-called wonderful life is complete when he discovers a lost puppy which he names ‘Orph’. As in Orphan. You know, cause he’s found abandoned?

*studio applause*

The dog is from an experimental breed intended to bring the canine back to its primal roots and of course, after a slight mix-up, Orph ends up in the care of the professor. Alex bonds with Orph and even lets his kids play with him! So yeah, being a horror novel, it was only a matter of time before Orph starts the bloodshed and it begins non-fatally with his son. From then on, Orph flees to the wild and forms a doggie gang that goes around savaging people. In between, we get a huge information dump about dogs and what makes them tick and blah blah blah. Pro tip – exposition is boring. Try and make it flow with the prose so it feels natural and part of the story. However, we get two parts where this is thrown at the reader and it ruins the pacing a little. Yeah, the prose is well written and the horror is somewhat satisfying but Christ, ease up on the essays. Unless that was a stealth pun at the expense of the university professor protagonist, then touche.

This is another problem; Bauer is barely in this story. Or at least, it feels like it. He doesn’t have much to do and not even an arc to develop within. Seriously, his ex-wife is just there to complain and threaten to withhold visitation rights. You’d expect to see more of his sons after the attack but no. You see Bauer struggle to resolve himself with his guilt but even then, there’s no real conflict here. Another tip – don’t include characters to exist solely as a plot device. It’s really, really lazy. It’s almost as bad as introducing a character with only precious pages to go who has an impact on the plot.

Oh yes, that happens to Tyndall, a old tracker tasked with helping the police. And the hippie family which consists of another woman whose breasts he describes in lusty detail. I know, it’s a pulp horror and I’m holding it to a high standard. To be honest, it’s a good read and I did enjoy it. But those things stood out and it does detract from the experience a little. All in all, The Dogs is a blend of forgettable characters, clear prose and an interesting plot. Shame about the white bread protagonist.

Oh, one more thing. There’s a pretty funny misprint of the name ‘Harriet’ near the end of the book. It’s literally in the same paragraph where the name is spelled correctly. It doesn’t matter how it’s spelled when she gets killed off anyway.

But eh, it’s pulp horror. There’s enough gore and murder to tide you over the dull parts. Overall a good, if flawed read.

Oh, one more thing. The book cover states it’s ‘soon to be a major motion picture’. Don’t ask me to review it because I doubt it even exists.

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