Skyscape, out now
Meet Atlanta Burns – if you’ve got a problem, she may be able to help. Or land herself in deep trouble. Probably both…
Chuck Wendig’s latest novel, originally self-published under the title Bait Dog (in case you’re thinking both the description and this review sound familiar!) is as much of a horror tale as his Double Dead vampire tales for Abbadon or his Miriam Black stories; it just doesn’t have the supernatural element that those two are based around. Atlanta doesn’t have super powers; she doesn’t know when you’re going to die. The only person whose death she has a pretty keen idea about is her own – and it’s likely to come quite soon if she continues the way she is going.
Atlanta is the person who can’t walk on by when there’s a problem. She knows that she’s likely to get hurt if she interferes in other teens’ fun, particularly when that enjoyment is being derived from sticking items up a gay boy’s backside; she is well aware that pissing off the local Mr Big isn’t going to help her wins friends and influence people. And she doesn’t give a damn. Well, she does, but she does it anyway, and that’s one of the key things about her.
Wendig’s idiosyncratic use of the English language continues in the two stories that form this initial outing for Atlanta – Shotgun Gravy, which sets up the key characters, and establishes the down and dirty milieu; and Bait Dog, in which Atlanta learns the disturbing truth behind the disappearance of local canines. Wendig obviously loves dogs, and captures the essence of the human/canine relationship, both when it goes well (as inevitably it does for Atlanta), and badly. It’s not an easy story to read if you are a dog owner (and there was something comforting about having my own terrier lying protectively over my feet when I was reading it), but dog fighting is a problem that is worldwide, and the reality of it is horrific.
By the end of Bait Dog, Atlanta’s situation appears to have changed for the better. Bet it doesn’t last!
Verdict: Raw and aggressive, this is another success for Wendig. 8/10