I say I’m not the biggest fan of horror, and end up reading two in a row! Although maybe it is also fair to categorize The Dogs as a psychological thriller or murder mystery.
Award-winning Canadian author Allan Stratton has written a twisting, horrifying story about two separate cases of spousal abuse and murder occurring half a century apart, and converging in the present.
Cameron Weaver and his mother have been on the run for years from an abusive father he barely remembers. He doesn’t know the extent of what his mother endured, he just knows enough to always move when anything out of the ordinary happens.
He stops making friends as he gets older. It becomes easier to live in his own head, and have his own conversations, rather than become close to other kids and then feel the pain of leaving them behind like they never existed.
In Wolf Hollow, in the middle of nowhere, the past and present come together. Cameron begins to slowly uncover a 50 year old mystery on the farm he now calls home, drawing parallels to his life, and raising questions he’d never bothered with before.
The Dogs is a smalltown horror story that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. Cameron’s unstable life creates a mental anguish and chaos as he revisits the past abuses. He questions his sanity and his mother’s, questions what is true and what is just a figment of his overactive imagination, questions whether or not it was his father that was the problem, or, he wonders, was it his mother?
It takes some extraordinarily and psychologically gripping chapters for the truth to come out. Stratton’s ability to weave illusion and reality is stunning; I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what was real, who was real, and what Cameron’s exhausted brain was fabricating on its own.
The setting is eerily perfect. Stratton’s description draws on classic horror scenarios of a derelict house, a mysterious figure out in the barn, a sealed attic, a creepy coal room in the basement, shadowy woods, and the echoes of howling dogs in the distance. Perhaps the weird neighbour with the meat-grinding machine in his barn is a bit cliché, but it certainly did not take away from the story!
Stratton wrote a really interesting teen in Cameron, but in order to make the story happen, has him make decisions that do not fit his personality. (Approaching the school bully for information about his family, when he has made your life miserable from day one, does not seem like something ANYone would do.) That said, his vacillation between imagination and truth is wonderfully written. The reader is left wondering which is which.
Cameron’s mother is believable, a woman always on the edge. Jacky is a perfect spectre from the past. The farmer, Sinclair, is appropriately mysterious and creepy. The other secondary characters move the story along well, but don’t really stand out for me.
I found the ending slightly rushed after all the build-up to it, but was by no means disappointed by the final result.
Appropriate for all teens, keeping in mind there are disturbing descriptions of domestic abuse and murder. But a fast read, and enjoyable for both fans of the genre, and those who want to give it a try.
The Dogs is published by Scholastic Canada.