Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Book Review: 'Barking Dogs' by Terence  M. Green

2 / 5 Stars

‘Barking Dogs’ was first published in hardcover by St Martin’s Press in 1988; this paperback version (214 pp) was released in January 1989, and features a cover illustration by Brian Kotzky.

‘Barking’ is set in Toronto, 1999. Policeman Mitch Helwig is becoming more and more frustrated, and more and more despondent, by the fact that law and order is losing the war on crime. Violent crime is spiraling out of control, and the underpaid, ill-equipped, and undermanned police force is unable to staunch the bleeding.

Mitch decides to use extralegal means to bolster his own patrols of the mean streets: investing in a 'Barking Dog', a high-tech, portable lie detector with 99% accuracy. While the police force is officially prohibited from using the Barking Dog, Mitch soon finds that his clandestine use makes a difference. 

As does his coming into possession of a protective vest and a late-model laser pistol....

Armed with the latest weaponry, Mitch sets out to clean the scum off the streets of Toronto. But when Helwig’s investigations lead him to the operation of the ‘Archangel’, a Mafiosi boss who owns people on the police force, and the mayor’s office, the war on crime takes a dangerous turn. For the Archangel doesn’t take kindly to the idea of a beat cop leaning on his action…..

The cover blurbs for ‘Barking’ reference ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘Robocop’, and the book does indeed borrow plots and themes from both movies. However, author Green chooses to write his novel with a stereotypical, pulp-police procedural style, chock-full of clumsy metaphors and similes. At times Green’s writing is so steadfastly tough-guy that it verges on self-parody.

It doesn’t help matters when the middle section of the novel turns its attention to a burgeoning melodrama between Mitch Helwig and his wife; the action is placed on hold while the reader is subjected to passages centering on marital angst. 

Toss in too-frequent flashbacks, in which we learn about the special bond that Mitch and his former partner, Mario, shared – that special bond that comes only to the men in blue who risk life and limb for each other, every day they are out patrolling the city – and ‘Barking Dogs’ gradually collapses under its own awkward weight. By the time I reached the novel's climatic last pages, I was motivated by a sense of duty towards completing my review, rather than out of any engagement with the characters.

Unless you’re a reader who is adamant about taking in everything and anything with a ‘Robocop’ flavor, this novel can be safely ignored.

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