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by Neal Barrett Jr
Kensington, June 1997
347 pages
ISBN: 1575661799

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A Texas whodunit, thickly peopled by a fine cast of odd-ball, eccentric cast-offs, from some lunatic circus. You know that song that starts, "Welcome to the Hotel California?" Well, welcome to the little town of Pharaoh, Texas, not far from Dallas, where the hot summer sun has baked the brains out of most everyone there. How bad is it? Listen up.

Chapter One.

"Tuesday started off real fine, then Henry D. called about the dead electric dog."

Meet Jack Track, back to his home town after fourteen years of running, rambling and bumming about. He's just been named Town Constable, the principal task of which is being sure the door are locked around town at night. Track is emotionally involved with Cecily Benet, the yogurt queen of Texas. Not a pageant queen, you understand, she owns the bidness. Then there's Earl, the second or third wealthiest man in town, only he's black. He carries a .44 magnum in his car and he lives in a trailer surrounded by the construction materials for the house he may one day build. Or not.

Max Coomer, wealthiest man in town, married to the prettiest girl back in Pharaoh High School days, is awakened one morning by the sound of a dead dog barking out behind one of his sheds. When he locates the dog, it's dead, all right, but between it's front legs is a tape recorder barking away while a mechanical device flaps the dead dog's jaw. Coomer wants Sheriff Deke on the case. Jack has his own agenda.

After that, things get serious and people start dying in ugly ways. Jack and Deke, enemies since high school, are now in another kind of competition, since Deke wants Jack as far off the dead dog case or the missing maid case, for that matter It soon becomes clear there's a maniac running loose in town, but it's going to be hard to figure out all the answers, because it's difficult to separate the non-homicidal loonies from the homicidal maniac doing the killings.

DEAD DOG BLUES is a very funny, mordant, and fine story. It's full of mayhem, keenly observed characters, sex, casual racist talk from some characters, brutality, and lots of humor. The writing is excellent, and fits subject and characters like a fine leather glove, the likes of which you aren't likely to find in old Pharaoh, Texas. The pace is that of a runaway train. This book is unlike anything I've read in many years, and it was a great read. Oh yes, there's also a chicken-killing badger. Let's hear it for Badger Bob.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 1997

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