Dog Days - Joe McKinney

4th August 2014

Winner of the Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a YA Novel

It’s the summer of 1983.  Mark is a kid who lives in an affluent area of his hometown, with a police officer dad in the K-9 unit and a doctor mum, who have marital problems due to work patterns. 

Mark is a typical teenager: he defies his parents, he likes adventure, has a close-knit group of friends, and he looks forward to integrating with the girls at high school after summer ends.  There is some tension between him and his dad, after Mark borrowed his dad’s service gun to shoot an alligator in the swamp, after being spurred on by his friend Jeff.

A flood hits Mark’s town, putting many areas under up to 25ft of muddy brown water.  A shrimp boat has been stuck in one of the pecan trees in his street, and there is a strange smell emanating from it.  Mark’s dad is called to investigate, and finds mutilated bodies inside; a killer who appears to be human has murdered the crew of the boat.  Mark gets a glimpse inside at the horrible scene, which even has his hero-cop dad nauseous.

"One small person can bleed enough to cover an entire living room floor, up to your shoelaces” 
Mark, Jeff, Alan and Eric make use of the floods to paddle their canoe around the swamps, ultimately incurring – again – the wrath of a gang of older boys who have been bullying them for around 2 years.  It was easy to connect with the boys, knowing there are always occasions where kids helplessly have to endure bullies for no real reason at all; there was a real "Stand By Me" vibe here.

As the bodies start to rack up, Mark’s former babysitter and teenage-crush Heather is a victim of the killer along with another friend.  One of her girlfriends somehow survives and manages to tell of a grotesque “hairy man”, who ran off after mauling the girls. 

Sister of one of the victims, Alan understandably becomes distant as the other boys speculate on the coincidence between the lunar cycle and the killings, and they reckon it could be a werewolf.  Another full-moon is up-coming, and the boys await another appearance by the hairy man, who will no doubt seek more victims.

I read the book in one sitting, and I really enjoyed this book, which I received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers giveaway.  It is an easy but enjoyable read, though some themes are probably for the older end of the Young Adult spectrum.  I liked the main character, seeing myself in his sometimes headstrong teenage ways, and I liked the tense atmosphere of a deranged killer being out in the swamps somewhere. 

There was a twist I thought was coming which never did, and I felt the end was a little rushed, though there is a satisfying conclusion to it.  The dog Max is a loveable character, as he alternates between loving family pet into protector, able to offer a dual purpose to the storyline.  

The only question mark for me in the book was a tirade by Mark’s mother on the sins of the church, which I think seemed out of place and didn’t sit with the rest of the novel.  I am not remotely religious, but felt the novel didn’t need it.  It seemed more like a random outburst than really connected to the plot.

All-in-all though, a very good book, one which I will probably read again, and would recommend to other fans of the genre.

I received this book for free as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5 stars

About the author:

Joe McKinney has been a patrol officer for the San Antonio Police Department, a homicide detective, a disaster mitigation specialist, a patrol commander, and a successful novelist. His books include the four part Dead World series, Quarantined and Dodging Bullets.

His short fiction has been collected in The Red Empire and Other Stories and Dating in Dead World and Other Stories.