Stray Dog Winter

David Francis, Author . MacAdam/Cage $24 (328p) ISBN 978-1-59692-315-7

This overwrought sophomore effort from novelist Francis (The Great Inland Sea ) finds young gay Australian artist Darcy Bright reluctantly traveling to Moscow in 1984 at the beck of his half-sister/cousin Fin, a fellow artist commissioned to paint the city’s “industrial landscapes.” Interspersing flashbacks of Darcy and Fin’s childhood, Francis does little to explain the deep connection, or even the anomalous sexual attraction Darcy feels for the aloof Fin; still, he’s helpless against Fin’s manipulations, which include her using Darcy’s portfolio to score her job. An innocent abroad pulled in different directions by strong-willed people, Darcy must also contend with expatriate Cuban Aurelio, a Moscow patrolman who rounds up hooligans and “homosexes.” After Darcy’s brief affair with Aurelio, the novel ricochets into thriller territory, layered with blackmail, political intrigue, sex, secret agendas and escalating violence. As the plot becomes more tangled, however, Francis’s impressionistic style and lack of restraint (“He removed Aurelio’s coat. It was heavy, like a shawl of dread”) stand in the way of clarity, rendering his breakneck plot more exhausting than page-turning. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/04/2008
Release date: 02/01/2009
Genre: Fiction
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