March 26, 1988

Murder & Mayhem

By Margaret Cannon

Barking Dogs is a weird and mostly wonderful inverted mystery by Terence Green, who is better known for his science fiction and fantasy short stories. In this first novel, he shows a sure hand for character and suspense as well as a fine grasp of the mechanics of the mystery.

The setting is Toronto in 1999. Detective Mitch Helwig is watching Phil Donahue on TV. Pope Martin, the first American Pope, is fielding questions from the audience. As His Holiness talks on, Helwig feels an occasional chill at his side. His Barking Dog is advising him that Pope Martin is lying to the flock.

From that opening, Green moves back in time, letting us see Helwig purchasing the tiny computer that can spot the merest hint of dishonesty. Then, very gently, we learn that the Barking Dog isn’t really legal for the policemen of 1999 Toronto. We learn that Helwig’s partner, Mario Ciracella, has been killed and that Helwig has private plans for vengeance. On the way, he picks up a few other modern conveniences: a laser pistol and a one-kilo shirt of body armor. Clearly, Helwig wants to be prepared.

Green has created a novel that is part cop story and part psychological chiller, and the surprise is that it works on both levels. As the story develops – and Green keeps the pacing slow so it can develop – we realize that Helwig is off the rails, and while we want him to survive, we are just a little bit afraid of this avenging angel. The story moves from the present, where Helwig’s wife has her own way of handling the changes in her husband, to the past, with Mario, a funny and likeable man who deserved better than to die for a doughnut.

As Helwig and the Barking Dog search the Toronto underworld for names, clues and information about Mario’s killer, his family, his job and his life are all at risk. The SF touches of Toronto in the very near future are really nice and the invention of the Barking Dog is terrific, but the truth is that Green doesn’t need them. This story of nice people under immense pressure is good enough to keep the reader riveted to the last paragraph.