Okay, since I first opened the pages of Dog On It 8 years ago, I've been a Spencer Quinn fan -- it probably took me two chapters to consider myself one. So it's kind of a given that I'd like this book -- but only "kind of." This was so far from a Bowser & Birdie or Chet & Bernie book that they could be written by different people.
Sgt. LeAnne Hogan was an excellent athlete in her childhood and teen years, and then she joined the Army (deciding her West Point plans would take too long -- an oversimplification that'll do for now) and became an excellent soldier, serving multiple tours in combat zones. During her last sting in Afghanistan -- as part of a team working to build intelligence sources among Afghan women -- she is involved in an attack that leaves some dead and her injured -- physically and mentally.
Her memories of that fateful day are vague and dim at best, but the scars will not leave. Not only that, she lost an eye, her confidence, her future plans, and career. She slowly befriends a woman who lost part of her leg to an IED in Iraq who shares a room with LeAnne in Walter Reed. Marci dies suddenly and unexpectedly -- and that is too much for LeAnne. She leaves the hospital immediately and sets off on a drive across the country, she really doesn't have a plan, but she needs to be somewhere else.
It's pretty clear that LeAnne is suffering from PTSD on top of everything else -- as you'd expect. She comes across as angry and rude to almost everyone she runs across and exchanges more than a few words with. She eventually finds herself in Marci's hometown -- where her daughter has gone missing. For the first time since the day everything changed, LeAnne has a purpose -- bring her friend's daughter home. Along the way, she LeAnne gets adopted by a large dog who will prove an invaluable aid in this challenge.
LeAnne is a great character -- not a perfect person by any means, but you can see where a lot of writers (novelists or journalists) would try to paint her as one. She has huge flaws -- some of which are easier to see after the injury (and some of them are new after it, too). There are some other good characters, too -- even if you don't necessarily like them (LeAnne's mother would be an example of this -- she's trying to do the right thing, but the reader can sense LeAnne's apprehensions toward her -- and will likely share them). The people in Marci's hometown (particularly those that are related to her) are the best drawn in the book -- and I'd be willing to read a sequel or two just in this city to spend more time with them. Not everyone gets what LeAnne's going through -- some don't know how to react to her -- but those that come close will endear themselves to you.
The dog, Goody, isn't Chet, he isn't Bowser -- he's a typical dog, no more (or less) intelligent than any other. Goody won't be serving as the narrator in a story any time -- he will drink from the toilet bowl and ignore a lot of what LeAnne wants him to do.
Like I said, I'm a Quinn fan -- but I didn't think he had this in him. Funny mysteries with dogs? Sure, he's great at those. But sensitive explorations of veterans dealing with the aftermath of life-altering injuries? I wouldn't have guessed it. But man . . . he really got this flawed character, this incredibly human character, right. There's a couple of moments that didn't work as well as they should've -- a couple of moments that were hard to believe in a book as grounded in reality as this book was. But you know what? You forgive them easily, because so much is right with this book -- so much just works, that you'll accept the things that don't. It wasn't all dark and moody -- there's some hope, some chuckles, a lot that is somber and sad, too. While not a "feel good" read by any means, you will feel pretty good about who things end up.
This is probably categorized as a Thriller, as that's where Quinn's readers are -- but I can see a case for this being labeled General Fiction (or whatever synonym your local shop uses), it's flexible that way. This is Spencer Quinn operating on a whole new level with a character we need more like -- such a great read.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post -- thanks to both for this.