As Red Rover opens, a faithful dog and a clever cat are surveying an empty playground’s scents and sights. There has been a kidnapping in the small Massachusetts town of Hope Falls. Baby Adam has been stolen away, apparently by some animal. Who is better suited to solve this crime and return Baby Adam to his rightful place than Hope Falls’ animal residents?
Mr. Caraway’s helper dog Goldie, a black Labrador retriever named by his blind master, may have once been a stray. He’s missing all memories other than his painfully present nightmares. Medusa is the hoity-toity Himalayan cat to whom Countess Lenotchka’s entire estate was willed, as well as a member of the oppressive Purity Association’s board of directors, sworn enemy to all pets without a pedigree. Despite her sarcastic commentary, Medusa proves that even cats have hearts when the unlikely pair join forces to find Baby Adam.
What starts with a temporary alliance to put a crime to rights becomes an Odyssey through all the frightening unknowns Hope Falls has to offer: bloodthirsty birds of prey; the cruel head of Animal Control, Edgar Fergut, and his pal Gill Grimes from the dump, the Lost Hills Animal Sanctuary said to have been a site for genetic experimentation years ago, and many more sinister obstacles. Goldie and Medusa track down and interrogate every animal whose scent could be found at the crime scene, before being forced to seek answers up in the Lost Hills, out at the strangely quiet Animal Control facility, even deep in the woods from the Oracle.
The novel’s main female character, Medusa, is grossly outnumbered by male characters, but manages to remain edgy and mean even as she primps and preens. Never one to make a choice to please anyone but herself, the cat is even labeled a bitch (one of this reviewer’s least favorite words for females who refuse to please) by her male companion at one point. Depending on your perspective, the character of Medusa is a delightfully strong, stubborn female, or a tired silhouette of the anger that can arise from a lifetime of being omitted and objectified.
No matter your particular brand of feminism, Houser’s inventiveness and sense of timing will keep you laughing even as you shake in your boots. Nik Houser’s fiction has been featured in numerous journals and even the anthology Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: 20th Annual Collection. Meet good dogs and bad dogs in this hackles-raising suspense mystery from a rising master of horror, sure to make animal enthusiasts and dog catchers alike sit and stay.