cover image Dogs of God

Dogs of God

Pinckney Benedict, Author Nan A. Talese $21 (354p) ISBN 978-0-385-42022-8

In this taut, muscular thriller set in contemporary rural West Virginia, short-story writer Benedict ( The Wrecking Yard ) hurtles the reader toward a chillingly apocalyptic climax replete with high-tech weaponry and old-fashioned treachery. Peopled with an assortment of New South grotesques, the story centers on Goody, a young bare-fisted fighter new to the neighborhood, and Tannhauser, a deranged, 12-fingered backwoods drug lord with a penchant for sadism. They and a host of other odd, not to say perverse, characters are memorably portrayed, due in large part to Benedict's deft use of multiple points of view. The down-at-the-heels atmosphere of the backwoods South is also convincing; the region's tattered history reposes in the land, and the characters both literally and figuratively stumble through it, bumbling onto an overgrown confederate cemetery, an eerie abandoned resort and subterranean, prehistoric chambers as they move toward their inevitable appointment with destiny. Benedict portrays Goody's loss of innocence and painful acquisition of wisdom in prose laced with Appalachian figures of speech, the down-home rhythms of ridge-runner dialect and an undercurrent of menacing violence. A few of the plot elements seem contrived (all dispensable characters neatly kill each other off), and the fates of several compelling characters are left up in the air, but by and large this is an ambitious and skillful literary thriller, not to mention a rip-roaring read. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Jan.)