He Got the DOG Right! Yippy Skippy!
Suspect, by Robert Crais (Putnam, 312 pages, 2013, $28)
I would have given this novel an A+ if only Robert Crais hadn’t mentioned the term, alpha, quite so often (‘alpha’ being outdated and now disproven). Instead, Suspect merits only an A. But what an A!
What did Crais get right?
The body language of a dog. The fact that you can’t reinforce fear. Why you should talk to your dog and often – your dog will not understand your words but will understand your tone. How a dog can see your heart in your eyes - and dogs are drawn to our hearts (from page 235).
The bottom of page 58 was music (paraphrased) to this reward-based trainer’s ears: The best dog training is based on the reward system. You should not punish your dog for doing wrong but reward your dog for doing right. When your dog does something you want, you reinforce the behavior with a reward – pet’m, tell’m he’s a good dog, let’m play with a toy. The standard reward for a K-9 working dog is a hard plastic ball with a hole drilled through it where you can smear a little peanut butter.
What’s it all about?
The long road back. Two injured beings – one, a wounded military working dog whose handler was killed in Afghanistan, and the other, a wounded policeman whose partner was killed on duty in Los Angeles – each being was present during the respective incident and sustained not only physical injuries but also emotional injuries. The question now is: Can these two beings heal each other?
The long road back - to what? Normalcy?
A fearful man, a fearful dog. A man who seeks retribution and forgiveness and must help a dog heal in order to do so. A who-dun-it with a smattering of romance, considerable escalating danger and can’t-put-it-down suspense. In other words, a darn good book.
I recommend Suspect for dog trainers to recommend to clients with a fearful or reactive dog and for anyone interested in the canine-human bond or who wants to learn how to train a dog to associate unexpected sounds (e.g.) with a positive experience - like bologna! And, of course, anyone who likes a good suspenseful story.
Yes, I noticed some inconsistencies in the book (I’m a dog trainer and a veteran, after all) but, regardless, the reader will gloss over them as I did (it is a novel, after all) and nothing detracts significantly from the brilliance of the writing and of the plot and of the suspense and of the dog-ness. You have heard of poetic license, haven’t you?
Although 2013 is not even half over, I suspect Suspect will be in my Top Ten for 2013. Thanks, Chan, for recommending it.
Caveat: I must admit that I cannot yet read the prologue. I was deployed to Afghanistan where the prologue takes place. I’m sorry. I tried to read it – twice.