Island resident Susan Wilson has established a preeminent place among authors of dog books, a genre with breathtaking growth over the past decade. She has penned four novels over the past seven years with canines as central characters, including “One Good Dog” in 2010, which put her on the New York Times bestseller list.
Her fifth book, published this month, is “Two Good Dogs,” featuring the further adventures of Adam March and his pooch, Chance, stars of “One Good Dog.” The sequel is a wide-ranging novel incorporating a number of social issues that are front and center today.
Writing about dogs and their people has a long history. Jack London and Jim Kjelgaard were standard-bearers in the 20th century. Now writers like Garth Stein, Jon Katz, and Ms. Wilson lead the way. Writing that genre well can be tricky, because the audience is informed. You are writing about a subject that your readers know and love. You can write a spy thriller or a crime novel and maybe get by, since most of us aren’t spies or criminals. But dogs? We know ’em and we love ’em, and when presented with books about dogs who can talk or are private detectives, we’re thinking, “Not so much.”
Ms. Wilson allows dogs to be dogs as we experience them. She also has a talent for creating canine characters that make us think, “Ahh, so that’s why Fido does that.” She captures the relational aspect of our life with dogs.
In “Two Good Dogs,” we pick up the trail of Adam March, the protagonist of “One Good Dog,” and Chance, his scarred-up pit bull mix. The two met originally on a rundown street in a seedy Boston neighborhood at a time when both were licking their wounds. Chance’s wounds came from his former owner fighting him in pit bull rings. Adam’s wounds were self-inflicted. His obsession with career, success, and money imploded in a sea of legal woes, leaving him broke and in a new, judge-mandated career, working at a soup kitchen as part of a sentence to community service in lieu of jail time.
Adam is now a fundraising consultant for nonprofits, and his work has taken him to the Berkshires region in western Massachusetts, where a wrong turn and a snowstorm deposit Adam and Chance at the door of a small, very old hotel in its first year of ownership by Skye Mitchell. Ms. Mitchell took her 14-year-old daughter Cody from seedy city life to a fresh start in the Berkshires in a business venture that is on life support.
Things get interesting as several plotlines emerge. First, Adam is grieving the loss of his wife a year earlier. Cody’s dad, from whom Skye was divorced a decade earlier, was murdered in a drug-related street shooting. also in the previous year.
Now 14-year-olds are generally challenging, but Cody also has a dangerous secret related to her dad’s death that makes her more than a handful. She is isolating in an attempt to protect herself and her mom from her dad’s killer. If you’ve raised teenagers, you’ll identify with Skye’s efforts to connect with her daughter, perceptively written by a woman who’s raised teenagers.
One night Chance hears the voice of a dog in trouble, and leads his people to an abandoned house where they find Mingo, a young man who has OD’ed, and his dog, another scarred pit bull. Adam resolves to save the dog from the fighting life, and as the story unfolds, Adam and the Mitchells take on Mingo’s attempts to rehab his life. This story offers insights into the teen drug culture and the culture of school bullying.
Ms. Wilson has published nine books. She is a facile writer who incorporates topical subjects in her plots and keeps it real. You will identify with these people and root for them. You will also understand why we love dogs as we do. They are all about unconditional love, and you can’t beat that.
“Two Good Dogs,” a novel by Susan Wilson from St. Martin’s Press, © 2017 by Susan Wilson. Paperback, $26.99. Available at Bunch of Grapes bookstore, online, and at Island libraries.