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My legion of regular readers will recall that I recently reviewed Chuck Wendig’s DINOCALYPSE NOW, a 1930’s style pulp novel featuring psychic dinosaurs, warrior gorillas, and heroes in jet packs. The eesence of the review was that book is pure FUN.

This week, I’m reviewing Wendig’s newest book, BAIT DOG.

This book is not fun.

It’s actually pretty unpleasant in places.

Let me clarify. The subject matter is unpleasant. Not the writing. The writing is excellent. The book is filled with crunchy nuggets like this one, describing a woman in despair “sitting there and hatching little pity eggs like the saddest bird on the block.”

BAIT DOG is a follow-up to Wendig’s novella  Shotgun Gravy which introduced us to a very emotionally scarred teenaged girl, Atlanta Burns, who has yet to deal with the emotions of having killed her mother’s boyfriend for doing unspeakable things to her. In that book, Atlanta took on bullies, gay bashers, and neo-nazis, all to protect her friends and to do right. Both “friends” and “doing right” are hard concepts for Atlanta, but there she is. You probably should read that one first because it’s good and it does help set the stage for this one. Thoughtful Wendig actually bundles the Shotgun Gravy e-book with BAIT DOG, so you’ve got no excuse.

In BAIT DOG, things have only gotten worse. One of Atlanta’s few friends is dead, a suicide that Atlanta knows could not have been a suicide. She has an idea what happened, but she can’t deal with it. Instead, she is called on to help someone whose dog has been lost to the world of dog fighting. The idea is so repulsive that Atlanta can’t bear to think of it, but she also can’t stop herself from doing everything she can – and then some – to stop it. Armed only with a squirrel gun, a baton and her wits, Atlanta goes to war, finding shelter from her grief in more familiar feelings of rage. She again runs afoul of the powerful, and shady, men in town, but stands her ground – even as her mom’s money woes threaten to take that ground away.

The Neo-nazis, racists, hate crimes and murder rampant in Shotgun Gravy are back. Now Wendig has piled on the stomach-churning “sport” of dog-fighting, hence the title (A “bait dog” is a dog, or anything really, as the book graphically depicts, used to entice the fighting dogs to, well, fight.)

Told you this book wasn’t Dinocalypse Now. Not by a long shot.

As Atlanta battles old enemies and new foes, her own age and older, the action is sometimes uncomfortable to read, many of the characters despicable. It’s a testament to Wendig’s skill that you want to push through the revulsion – and the occasional lump in the throat – to see what happens next.  Thing about that is, you think you know what is going to happen, but you don’t quite know.  Wendig sticks the knife in (sometimes literally), twists it a little, lets you up, then drives it in again.

I liked Shotgun Gravy. I love Bait Dog. So will you…But I’m a little scared to find out what the hell Wendig is going to put Atlanta through in book #3.


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