For the Dogs by Kevin Wignall

One of the most enjoyable aspects of book blogging has been the opportunity to interact with authors. Whether through email Q&As, reading their blogs, or exchanging comments on others blogs, it is enjoyable to get to know a little of the personal side of authors.

One such author I have had the privilege of interacting with is Kevin Wignall. Besides having a great surname, Kevin is a talented writer and successful author, and a thoughtful and interesting blogger (when he finds the time to post).

A couple of years ago I had stumbled upon People Die at a discount bookstore and picked it up as a good summer read. I was right, it was a good summer read. Although parts of it bugged me a little bit, I found it to be “a readable and entertaining story with a dark yet melancholy style and tone; a sort of part noir thriller part psychological exploration.”

At the time I made a note to read more Wignall and I have even checked out For the Dogs from the Library a couple of times. But for some reason I never got around to reading it – until now. This summer I decided I was going to read it. So I bought a copy and officially bumped it up the TBR pile. Once again I am glad I did. For the Dogs is an edgy, compact, and creative take on vengeance and love.

As I often feel compelled to do, allow me to use the Publishers Weekly plot summary:

Stephen Lucas, a recently retired, emotionally stunted hit man, emerges from his Swiss hideaway as a favor to old friend Londoner Mark Hatto, who hires Lucas to surreptitiously guard his daughter, bright, extroverted Ella, while she’s vacationing in Italy with her boyfriend. After Ella’s entire family is murdered, Lucas foils several serious attempts on Ella’s life, and the two of them form an odd, almost familial relationship. The boyfriend soon drops out of the picture as the hit man reluctantly helps Ella exact revenge on those who killed her family.

The book is short enough that I won’t take up your time getting into plot details, but the story starts off with a bang (literally) as Wignall introduces the hit job that starts everything with a captivating focus on Ben Hatto – the innocent seventeen-year old that pays the ultimate price for his father’s past. With an almost psychological and/or sociological perspective Wignall introduces the reader to the violent events that will ripple through the rest of the story; unleashing more violence and potentially destroying the lives of everyone it touches

What makes For the Dogs interesting, however, is not the cool yet literary style of Wignall as he weaves his hit man thriller. Instead, it is the emotional twists and turns of the characters. The book flap hints at these twists:

Ella is young, bereaved, and in danger.
Lucas is ruthless, brutal, and cold.

Think again.

Ella is bitter, determined, and dangerous.
Lucas is vulnerable and lovelorn.

Again, I don’t want to over-analyze the story because I want you to read it yourself. What I find interesting, however, is the way Wignall doesn’t allow you to put his characters in an easy box. He wants you to think about the motivations and the relationships involved in these potentially stock characters: the cold, ruthless, and emotionally detached killer; the vulnerable and confused target/victim drawn to the strength of her protector. But just when you think you have a handle on them Wignall changes things. And yet he does it smoothly and in a way that keeps you reading. I was amazed at his ability to pack so much punch into less than two hundred pages.

Graham Greene called his more genre orientated novels “entertainments.” I think this is a perfect term for Wignall’s work as well. They are first rate entertainment but, like Greene’s work, they also have a depth to them that leaves the reader thinking about the human predicament long after they have finished the story.

It would be easy to describe Wignall as just another genre writer, but it is obvious to me that he is about more than just cranking out a series of books about hit man. Rather, he is using an entertaining and provocative style to ask questions he finds interesting. He is probing the emotional and moral bounds by looking at the edge of society; at the extreme end of the choices we make.

If you enjoy your noir with both a literary flair and an emotional depth, I highly recommend Kevin Wignall and For the Dogs.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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