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by Dorothy Johnston
St Martin's Minotaur, March 2005
304 pages
ISBN: 0312332475

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sandra Mahoney is back in the workforce again while her husband is away in America for a year. Her son Peter is finally in school. Sandra has been hired to complete a statistical report on women who work off-site and their compensation or lack thereof.

Sandra was hired by Rae Evans, a woman who had some sort of relationship with Sandra's mother, years ago before the mother died. The two other women working on the report, Dianne Trepani and Bambi, don't do anything resembling work and seem to bear some animosity towards Rae.

Rae is accused of stealing a million dollars from the government by changing a payment voucher. This requires a minimal expertise in computer technology, which Sandra doesn't believe that Rae possesses. Sandra is convinced that someone is framing Rae.

In the course of trying to figure out who framed Rae and why, Sandra becomes involved with another co-worker, Ivan Semyonov, who dabbles in virtual reality. They investigate together, and eventually end up having an affair. Ivan helps Peter learn to read, which forms yet another bond.

I enjoyed Johnston's writing, particularly her descriptions: "Isobel was so slimy you could slip on her and break both legs." And her metaphors are just as good: "The claims of loyalty were devious, with more legs than a centipede." My favorite: "Memory is hunger for the taste and smell and heartbeat of a person, rage that they are not there with us now."

Johnston can write with great skill about the mundane activities of a young mother, giving the reader both the monotony of that life and the opportunities for introspection, as well as the frustrations of dealing with a husband who is clueless about what goes on at home while he's off earning money to buy beans.

THE TROJAN DOG contains, for obvious reasons, a lot of information about computers and how they function. I am barely computer literate and still found this information to be interesting and only beyond my comprehension once or twice. I didn't have any trouble following the computer-related twists and turns in the plot, which I believe also speaks to Johnston's writing skills. The sections on virtual reality are quite interesting, although they have much more to do with some sub-plotting than with the financial chicanery Sandra is tracking down.

I had a difficult time with THE TROJAN DOG. I felt like there was a sub-text that I wasn't getting, that there were complete chunks of Sandra's thought processes that I wasn't privy to, that I was missing something major. Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy THE TROJAN DOG. I did. I just had an odd, edgy feeling while reading it.

I never did understand what compelled Sandra to try to clear Rae, a women with whom she had a minimal relationship and no clear ties beyond some brief recollections of her mother spending time with Rae. Sandra's relationship with her husband Derek was also not very clear, although I think I had a better grasp on aspects of it than Sandra did.

All in all, this was a strange book for me, not an easy book to classify. I enjoyed the writing very much; this book won an award in Australia and I can see why. Johnston kept me reading, even when there wasn't a lot of action. I didn't always know why Sandra was doing what she was doing, but I kept reading to see what happened next.

There is no murder, so if that is a must for you, skip THE TROJAN DOG. There is some violence, but it's not on-stage and it does make sense within the confines of the story. If the thought processes of an amateur sleuth are what suck you in, then read on. If watching a woman come to terms with her life and where it is going, are a big draw, then THE TROJAN DOG might just be what you want.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, September 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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