“Red” by Jack Ketchum

Dog is man’s best friend, provider of sloppy kisses and unconditional love. But what can man offer his dog in return? Food? Squeaky toys? …Justice?

Through his thrilling novel Red, Jack Ketchum (a.k.a. Dallas Mayr, if you drop the pseudonym) introduces us to a world in which justice and vengeance intermingle, in which action and passivity replace the moral binary of right and wrong. The story begins with Avery Allan Ludlow, an elderly, simple man who is troubled by a gruesome past. His present is likewise gruesome; within the first chapter of Red, Ludlow’s eponymous pet dog is shot in the head by local troublemaker Danny McCormack, seemingly for no reason. Ludlow refuses to let Danny and his two accomplices get away with what they’ve done. You think retribution would be easy, right?

Wrong. Although the townspeople support Ludlow’s mission, Danny’s father, the affluent Michael McCormack, is willing to defend his son through whatever means possible. Plus, the law is not on Ludlow’s side – a dog is considered property, and there is little that Ludlow can gain from a court hearing. But it’s a man’s right to protect his property, even post-mortem, and of course, Red was much more than property to Ludlow. Motivated by love for his dog and feelings of heartbreak from his past, Ludlow decides to take the law into his own hands, even if it means getting those hands dirty. But the McCormacks are willing to fight back, and as you can expect from a dog-killer’s family… they don’t fight fair.

Even for an animal-lover, it’s hard to stomach the extremity of Ludlow’s actions; he no longer seeks justice, but vengeance. He no longer wants Danny to be punished, but for Danny to be hurt. Without saying too much, Ludlow’s quest for vengeance causes many innocents and mostly-innocents to be caught in the crossfires, proving that revenge isn’t a cycle but a bomb blasting outwards, shattering all in its path along with its detonator.

I give this book four out of five cups of tea. I’m subtracting half a cup for the unnecessary, rushed romance between Ludlow and the much younger Carrie Donnel; I’m tossing the other half due to the unrealistic, widespread commendation of Ludlow’s actions. Beyond the antagonistic McCormack and Daoust families, only one character ever questions Ludlow’s quest for revenge, while the rest support (and even assist) in his mission. It’s one thing to punish a dog-killer; it’s another to do anything in your power to make him apologize. On that note, make sure to pet your dogs tonight, maybe buy them a treat or something else to chew on. After all, dog is man’s best friend, and if Ludlow is willing to turn vigilante for his, the least you can do is throw your own dog a bone.

Marisa

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