The best wild and weird books on dogs

Neal W. Fandek Author Of Peter Pike and the Silver Shepherd
By Neal W. Fandek

Who am I?

I’m the author of the Peter Pike private eye series. Pike is a beat-up Middle Eastern veteran-turned private eye who finds himself embroiled in mysteries, usually with lost treasure involved: in the huge, sophisticated Indian civilizations that were here before us; in Lincoln’s murky sexuality; in a lost Faberge egg and the downfall of the Romanovs; and with Peter Pike and the Silver Shepherd, some rather nasty (and one nice) Nazi war dogs. 


I wrote...

Peter Pike and the Silver Shepherd

By Neal W. Fandek,

Book cover of Peter Pike and the Silver Shepherd

What is my book about?

Peter Pike's in bad shape. The private eye has broken up with his fiancée Greta, is homeless, and diagnosed with PTSD in the mid-Missouri town of Smithtown. The VA refers him to the Center for Humane Animal and Canine-Human Assimilation, "Cha-Cha" for short, which assigns him a silver German shepherd as a therapy dog.

But who is this dog, really? Bubba is kind and gentle but has strange reflexes around certain symbols. Who are the supersmart wild dogs terrorizing Smithton? What is the director of Cha-Cha hiding, and why is she so knowledgeable about Nazis? Pike must dive into the sordid history of war dogs, space dogs, and the Pet Holocaust to find out who let the dogs out and how long he has before they take over Smithton—and the world!

The books I picked & why

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The Dogs of Babel

By Carolyn Parkhurst,

Book cover of The Dogs of Babel

Why this book?

You want heartwarming books about man’s best friend? You’ve come to the wrong place. Novels with dogs don’t have to be heart-warming. They can be quite strange, sinister or both.

Here’s a prime example: The Dogs of Babel, which starts as the heartbroken narrator discovers his artsy, Goth wife has fallen from a tree and died. There are plenty of clues that this was not an accident. But there are no witnesses, except for poor Lorelei the dog. What starts out as a heartbreaking account of grief then takes a sharp turn into the bizarre as the narrator tries to teach Lorelei to speak so he can reconstruct his wife’s last hours. It descends into a seething underground, complete with people operating on dogs’ vocal chords to make them speak. Have I mentioned my list isn’t heartwarming? Did I swipe elements of this novel for my book? You bet I did.  


Cujo

By Stephen King,

Book cover of Cujo

Why this book?

Oh, come on. You can’t expect a wild, weird dog list without Cujo, the phenomenally popular, phenomenally scary 1981 novel made into a fair-to-middling movie, which is usually the case with King’s novels. What’s so good about this novel isn’t the supernatural—there is none!—but King’s evocation of small-town life and the troubled, boozy, cheating lives of its inhabitants and the big, friendly St. Bernard who chases a rabbit into an underground cave. Then emerges as death incarnate. The three-day car standoff is particularly vivid; so are the sequences written from the perspective of Cujo, which makes the novel all the more vivid. Again, this is Stephen King we’re talking about, so some scenes are pretty darn gory. And vastly entertaining.

I’ve read reviews that Cujo is a metaphor for King’s alcoholism, coke addiction, workaholism, and infidelity. If so, that explains a lot about how effectively portrayed these damaged (and soon-to-be mangled) characters are.


Hell Hound

By Ken Greenhall,

Book cover of Hell Hound

Why this book?

Every list should have a lost classic, and this is mine: The tale of Baxter, the full-fledged psycho bull terrier, with, again, extended passages from the dog’s point of view. The book opens with Baxter musing:

“What if some morning as the old woman stood at the head of the staircase she were suddenly to feel a weight thrusting against the back of her legs? What if she were to lunge forward, grasping at the air, striking her thin skull against the edge of a stair?”

Bad dog. Baxter then trots over to live with the young couple across the street. That doesn’t end so well either. Then he finds true love with a kid with as little capacity for love as Baxter, and suddenly Baxter is no longer the antagonist and … the novel comes full circle. Very dark and very funny in spots and, I hate to repeat myself here, but definitely not for the faint of heart. Consider yourself warned.


White Fang

By Jack London,

Book cover of White Fang

Why this book?

Sure, this book is more than a century old, written in 1906. Sure, Jack London’s reputation has soured in the 21st century as critics re-appraise his motley life and books. This isn’t one of them: part dog, part wolf, the titular White Fang is born into a wild mostly wolf pack and has a pretty good life. Until he’s thrown into the immeasurably cruel and brutal world of mankind, first in a Native village, then to white men during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. Another book told from the dog’s point of view, the cruelty is presented impartially, without judgment, which is London’s strong suit, as this already pretty tough pup becomes a dogfight killing machine. This time things turn out well. This novel is the exact opposite of Call of the Wild, another phenomenally real, brutal book. These two, IMO, are Jack London's best books.


A Straunge and Terrible Wunder

By Abraham Fleming,

Book cover of A Straunge and Terrible Wunder

Why this book?

Speaking of ancient hell hounds, where does the myth of the demon dog – you know, black, huge, gnashing jaws ravenous for human flesh, glowing red eyes, the most famous example being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles—come from? Hell hounds pop up in legends and stories from all over the world: Cerberus from Greek mythology; almost every single European country including Garmr from Norse mythology and ye fierce blacke dogges of English folklore; all over Latin America; China; Japan; India; Arabia; Russia; even the United States.

This account of a demon dog stalking English churches in the time of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I is the earliest account I’ve found in English. The full title is A straunge and terrible wunder wrought very late in the parish church of Bongay, a tovvn of no great distance from the citie of Norwich, namely the fourth of this August, in ye yeere of our Lord 1577 in a great tempest of violent raine, lightning, and thunder, the like wherof hath been seldome seene. With the appeerance of an horrible shaped thing, sensibly perceiued of the people then and there assembled. Drawen into a plain method according to the written copye.

The good Christian folk of Bongay, north of London near Norwich, are a-worship when a horrible storm breaks on them, scaring them out of their wits. More so a huge and horrible black dog, “at the sight wherof, togither with the fearful flashes of fire which then were séene, moued such admiration in the mindes of the assem∣blie, that they thought doomes day was already come.”

It has for a few congregants all right, both here and in another town a few miles away. This hell hound doesn’t tear folks to pieces. He shrivels them up or burns them. The pamphlet ends with “A necessary Prayer” beseeching God to let good Christians “feele not the scorching heat of afflictions & miseries: we beseech thee!” Good luck. Hell hounds aren’t going anywhere as long as people like me keep writing about bad, bad dogs.


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