The Dog Hermit

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The suffering of little Jamie, the tot kidnapped in this mystery by David Stout, does not make for pleasant reading, even though the descriptions of his ordeal are the best-written chapters in the book. To cover the kidnapping, the Bessemer Gazette dispatches a seasoned reporter, Fran Spicer, an alcoholic who gets killed under what appear to be accidental circumstances. Will Shafer, his editor, arrives in Long Creek, the site of Spicer’s wreck and the home of little Jamie’s wealthy father, to take over what Spicer never had a chance to start. He meets an old buddy, who works for the FBI and who calls on Shafer to help him to read between the lines of the ransom notes. With the local cops possibly crooked and definitely uncommunicative, Shafer finds himself trying to figure out who murdered Spicer and what connection it has to the kidnapping. Meanwhile the mysterious hermit of the title rescues the child from buried confinement; yet his ordeal continues through the rugged, wintry forests of rural New York.

Shafer finds himself considering infidelity to his wife with the nurse who cared for Spicer at his death. She provides clues, and when Shafer follows up on them, another corpse is the inevitable result. In fact, so much about this novel is inevitable that one could substitute “predictable” in the above sentence, and it would be, unfortunately, still accurate. The only interesting development is the dog hermit’s rescue of the child, but that whole plot device depends on a decidedly two-dimensional character.

THE DOG HERMIT could do with a more vigorous plot and less inane talk between the various characters, who not only all sound alike but who also don’t say very smart things. Every one-sentence response or query has to have a proper noun at its end: “Depressing around here, isn’t it, Will?” “Any time now, Will.” “That’s him, Will.” (All these quotations are from the same page!) Shafer’s answers are just as bad: his conversation with the FBI agent sounds like dialogue between two retarded automatic teller machines. David Stout won an Edgar Award for an earlier mystery. If he continues in the vein of THE DOG HERMIT, he should by well-satisfied with one.