Friday, March 28, 2014

YE GODS! A Tale of Dogs and Demons

A Tale of Dogs and Demons
By Lynne Hinkey
222 pp., Casperian Books

Lynne Hinkey's (Marina Melee, 2011) second novel chronicles a tale of murder and mischief on the isle of Puerto Rico.

Jack Halliman, prolific mystery writer, has writer's block. That doesn't keep his live-aboard sailing yacht, Holey Ship, from requiring haul-out for regular maintenance at Puerto Rico's Club Náutico del Oesto. Jack ties off, sets foot on the dock, and looks down to discover a dead body floating in the harbor.

Thus begins the mystery, albeit one that might be easily classified as a crime caper with a touch of magic realism. 

Soon Jack finds himself part of the murder investigation, no surprise considering he's a crime writer and a former Miami police detective. The victim was a popular swimming coach—popular meaning "the men talk. The swim team fathers ... he may have been fooling around with more than one of their wives."

But a straightforward mystery this is not. It's two adventures for the money. Jack soon learns the citizenry is also in an uproar over the appearance of the chupacabra, a legendary beast that folks believe manifests on a regular basis to wreak havoc. 

The narrative thoughtfully includes a near half-dozen theories about who, or what, the monster might be. Take your pick: demons, the "embodiment of Teotl, a demon the Aztec priests called forth to torment the Spanish;" aliens, since "UFO and chupacabra sighting always coincided;" or "a good old-fashioned human-made mutant," courtesy of radiation.

That's a treat, but the story is better, because even if you're not the sort for fantasy monsters, the cast of characters manages to be both sympathetic, interesting, and realistic.

There's the mayor, one Félix "El Flaco" Reyes, in the midst of a reelection campaign and on the cusp of public disgrace because his 15-year-old daughter dallied with the dead coach. That might be kept quiet, but it seems she's also pregnant.

Eddie Corredor is the lead detective on the case, a character Hinkey depicts as gay. The author does a fine job here, making his acknowledged homosexuality a part of the character and the narrative without falling back on stereotypes.

It's Carmen del Torro and Señora Milagros who bring the magic to the narrative. The señora—milagros is miracle in Spanish—believes she's a "familiar," best described as a ghost's agent in this corporeal world, and she insists that Carmen, a young woman driven half-mad by her father's murder of her family and his subsequent suicide, is her successor. When it's time to move to her next life, the señora plans on returning as a tuxedo cat.

If you're not a fan of magic realism or if you think Hinkey is concocting an undigestible mess by blending magic realism with a crime caper,  you will appreciate the fact she doesn't flash dragons and shape-shifters but instead relies on the magic that dogs bring into this world. Let's say it this way: this is more a crime caper than a fantasy read.

Muggle is the sato (rescued stray) dog of Kiki Cristatello, daughter of an Anglo couple living on the island, and the magic isn't that overt, relying on the premise of "Belief in something, not what you call it, is what gives it strength." Hinkey does a solid job in recreating the angst and flights of fancy of a teenage girl with Kiki, one of the catalysts for the narrative.

Every hero needs a foil, and that's FBI agent and wanna-be writer Norbert Ellis, a guy who has "played by the rules, and here he was thirty years later, a midlevel agent with slim prospects for advancement and a stack of rejection letters for his amazingly complex and beautifully written novels." 

Norbert's been called in to consult by El Flaco—which means skinny, or thin, perhaps a comment on the mayor's intelligence—as a means of creating more publicity. The mayor wants to be reelected, sure, but he also has a new business, Monster Safari, Inc. which arranges tours to hunt the elusive chupacabra. 

Hinkey drives the narrative forward rapidly, with segments of a page or two and often less, from the point of view of a character. She's also adept at adding interesting backstory, including a decision that results in Jack earning the everlasting enmity of Norbert and spending a few years in the federal slammer. 

Mysteries are solved, of course, but Hinkey's ending is whimsical, and it cannot be discussed here without out spoiling the book, and I wouldn't want to do that because it's a fun read.

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