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Dog Eat Dog
Jerry Jay Carroll
Ace Books, 304 pages

Johnson/Bruck & Moss Dog Eat Dog
Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll writes the daily "Lively Arts" column for the San Francisco Chronicle. He lives with his wife in San Rafael. His previous novels include Top Dog and the not-quite-classifiable Inhuman Beings.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Top Dog
SF Site Review: Inhuman Beings
SF Site Review: Top Dog

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

When I read Jerry Jay Carroll's genre-blending Inhuman Beings earlier this year, he jumped immediately onto my list of favourite new authors. Even so, when I saw that Dog Eat Dog was a sequel to Top Dog, Carroll's debut novel, I was doubtful. Could that weird mix of satire and fantasy be pulled off a second time, without seeming stale or self-derivative? Yes, it turns out: Dog Eat Dog is every bit as fresh, entertaining and funny as its predecessor.

In Top Dog, William "Bogey" Ingersoll, a bloodthirsty corporate raider whose huge fortune has been made by gutting businesses and putting thousands of people out of work, wakes up one day in another world, transformed into a dog. It turns out that he's been abducted by the wizard Zalzathar, the main representative of Evil in the other world. Zalzathar's management style, it seems, is a trifle inflexible, making it impossible for him to win his ongoing war against the angel Helither, leader of the forces of Good. Zalzathar wants Bogey's underhanded strategizing skills so that he can turn the tables. Bogey, playing both ends against the middle, is finally forced to make a moral choice, helping Good to vanquish Evil yet again, and wrecking all of Zalzathar's world-dominating plans.

When Dog Eat Dog opens, Bogey is back in his own body in his own world, a changed man. He's given up corporate thuggery, made his estate a home for stray dogs, and plans to give away his entire fortune to worthy causes. But he doesn't get to enjoy this new life for long. Zalzathar has followed him, and is now intent on two things: getting revenge, and fighting on new turf the battle he lost in his own world. To that end, he co-opts Bernie Soderbergh, a fabulously wealthy tycoon even more rotten and ruthless than Bogey used to be, and sets out to make him President of the United States.

Once again, however, Zalzathar has underestimated Bogey -- who, escaping Zalzathar's attempts on his life, sets out to destroy Soderbergh's candidacy in the most logical way possible: by supporting it. But Zalzathar still has a few tricks up his sleeve, and Bogey is only human. And this time there may not be divine intervention to save him...

Like Inhuman Beings, Dog Eat Dog is a bizarre blending of themes and styles, combining over-the-top parody, thriller-like suspense, and some pretty trenchant observations about God, the universe, the nature of evil, and the psychology of dogs. It's a delicate balancing act that constantly runs the danger of descending into mere silliness. But Bogey's sardonic, offhand narration, which makes a joke out of even the most chilling moments, provides just the right note of amused distance, and binds all the wild events together with a zany logic that's difficult to recount but makes perfect sense while you're reading.

Carroll is a skillful writer, with a precise, bare-bones prose style that packs as much story into a paragraph as other writers do into several pages. He's a funny one, too. The book is full of comic set-pieces and clever turns of phrase. "Plastic surgery had given Mimi's face a molded look, as if to cut down on wind resistance," Bogey says of a woman he encounters. And about executives with an addiction to exercise: "They walked on treadmills while doing three other things so that every moment was crammed to the fullest." Yet there's considerable seriousness here, layered beneath the humour and the throw-away lines. Angels and others speak deeply about theology and metaphysics. And the hilarious account of Bogey's nefarious "support" of Soderbergh is also a clever skewering of the out-of-control political campaign industry. (It makes perfect sense, actually. I wish someone would try it for real.)

The problem with this kind of crazy soufflé of a story, of course, is the ending. How do you wrap it all up in a satisfying way? Carroll doesn't quite succeed -- things are resolved just a little too quickly -- but he comes close. I don't know if Bogey will return for a third installment (which would surely make for one of the stranger fantasy trilogies ever written), but some room seems to be left for that possibility. I hope it materializes.

Copyright © 1999 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Arm of the Stone, is currently available from Avon Eos. For an excerpt, visit her website.

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