The war is over.
Ricky just wants to lick his wounds and learn what the new normal is going to look like for him, but his brother has gone missing. Now Ricky needs to team up with his wartime friends (and at least one dog he’d hoped never to see again) to find him, figure out what’s going on and save the world.
And the clock is ticking…
That is the “official” description for Blindspots. And it accurately describes the book, but I’m not really sure it captures its essence. This novel is tricksier to describe than any other I’ve written. I wrote it as a bit of an escape in 2020, in the midst of lockdowns, the beginning of a pandemic that was shifting my personal paradigms… it was exactly the book I needed to live at that time, but the result is slippery, spanning multiple genres without neatly falling into any one of them.
So I’d like to share the first chapter here to give a little taste of the novel here for free for anyone who is conflicted about whether it’s a book for them or not.
Spires and smokestacks. I’ve never actually counted, but I have a theory that the city skyline is composed of equal numbers of church spires and factory smokestacks. It hasn’t always been that way, when I was a pup the air was cleaner, the city quieter, but spires and smokestacks started to sprout up like weeds when the war began. Now that the war is over, half the churches have boarded up doors and the factories have fared even worse. Neither seems able to support themselves in peacetime.
I sidestepped a mutt, splayed out across a doorway, lost to the world. I didn’t need to see the stranger’s tags to know his story; I’d seen it all before. Too many soldiers didn’t know how to exist outside of conflict either.
That was the whole point behind Third Thursdays, actually. It gave some of us a touchstone, a purpose. A place to be every month, something to look forward to. Dogs who understood what it had been like, who would look out for us and notice if one of us lost our way. Especially since so many of us very nearly had.
The whole thing had been Jasper’s idea, which made it especially uncomfortable that he hadn’t been there tonight. Jasper had taken a pretty hard knock to the noggin during the war, and that made him forgetful at times, but there were things you forgot and things you didn’t. Third Thursdays were definitely something that fell into the second category.
Which is why I had excused myself early and was deep into Jasper’s neighbourhood. We’d been through a lot. Littermates, we’d left the farm together, gone into the war together and come out of it together. If he couldn’t count on me to have his tail, who could he count on?
Jasper lived in a part of the city that was more smokestack than spire. Actually, it was more ruin than habitable structure. At least two thirds of the buildings around here were charred up piles of rubble. Victims of bombs, rumbles, fires and weather.
I stopped at the corner, just as I had every corner that had come before, and lifted my leg. While I marked the spot I listened hard. There was a howling argument behind me, at least three blocks back, and to the left the low thudding bass of music came from one of the multi-level flats, but I didn’t hear anything I needed to fear so I moved on. I stayed close to the walls of what was left of the buildings, sniffing each doorway and listening at every corner.
It never really made sense that Jasper chose to live in this neighbourhood. His military pension was enough he could afford to stay somewhere that was, if not fancy, at least safe, but instead he chose here and spent a third of his pension on a magical security system. I’d tried to explain that he wouldn’t need the security system if he lived in a better neighbourhood, but the injuries to his head had affected more than just his memory. I’d never been able to make him understand what I was saying, and I got tired of him looking at me like I was the one with a comprehension problem. So we just stopped talking about it. And I didn’t come visit much.
Now I rather wished I had. More than once I’d almost lost my way, but thankfully had been able to pick up faint traces of Jasper’s scent and get back on track. When I finally found his building, I recognized it right off. It was grey stone and almost gothic architecture. Heavy. Looming. Depressing as hell. The very opposite of who he was.
The streetlamps were a shade of yellow that reminded me of bile. Their light was weak and seemed to empower the shadows more than beat them back. Inside, the tiled lobby floor was cold against my paws, and though I could see overhead lamps lurking in the shadows above me, not a single one contained a light bulb. The shadows in the corners were as dark as trenches at night, and just as capable of hiding a nasty surprise.
I stopped in the doorway and took great, long, sniffs of the air. I smelled several dogs, including Jasper, and the usual mixture of dust, urine and rat shit. Something was off but I couldn’t quite put my paw on what it was.
I took the stairs two at a time, happy to put the unsettling lobby behind me. On the second floor there was at least a light. Sure, it was only one light to illuminate the entire hallway, but it was better than the big fat nothing that had greeted me downstairs.
Jasper’s door was barely inside the light’s halo. I sat on my haunches and reached up to scratch at it, but as my paw brushed against it, the door swung open on silent hinges. The hackles on the back of my neck went up immediately. Something was not okay. Very much not okay.
“Jasper?” I called out. My voice a strangled whine, so I tried again, louder this time. “Jasper? You in there?”
No one replied, and I didn’t hear any movement but I couldn’t see inside either. The door wasn’t fully open, and even if it had been, the meager light offered by the hallway lamp was hardly going to be enough to illuminate the room.
I knew I shouldn’t go in by myself, but I also knew I was going to. There was no way I could recruit help from the strangers in this neighbourhood, and going all the way back to Kelly’s to get the rest of the gang would take too long. What if Jasper was in there, slowly bleeding to death? I didn’t smell blood but this building was weird, it could be playing with my faculties.
I listened hard, pulling my floppy ears back so they wouldn’t interfere with the sound. I heard a faint scratching from down the hall that was probably a rodent, but that was it. Nothing from inside Jasper’s room.
I nudged the door open with my nose.
The weak light from the hallway tried its best to creep inside, but there wasn’t enough of it to do much good. Still, though my night vision isn’t anywhere as good as Winter’s, it was more than enough to make out the broad strokes of the room.
It was empty of life and several huge, bed-sized pillows were strewn across the floor.
When I crept inside, ears back and tail down, I felt kibble beneath my paws. One piece was trapped between the edge of my paw and the floor, and as I put my weight down on it, it propelled out like a shot, bouncing off a wall and a window. The sudden noise was jarring in the heavy silence, and I jumped in surprise.
Then I lowered my nose to the floor and started sniffing everything. The kibble didn’t smell weird, so I flicked out my tongue and sampled it. Nope. It tasted fine too.
I licked and crunched my way across the floor. Of course I was worried about Jasper, but that was no reason to let good kibble go to waste, was it?
I’d made it to the back room when I heard someone out in the hallway. I stopped mid-crunch, swallowing down that piece of kibble whole, and dropped into a crouch. I crawled carefully through the debris until I was back near the door, and then I settled in and waited.
My heart thudded in my chest, but I knew what would help. I snaked out my tongue, snagging another bit of kibble on its tip and, like the one before it, swallowed it up whole while I waited. And stared.
I laid my ears back flat against my head and bared my teeth. A low growl began far in the back of my throat—I couldn’t help myself, though I tried. But hopefully the intruder wouldn’t hear it. Not yet. Not until it was too late.
A dog with a short, stocky body and wide set front legs pushed the door open with its short-faced head. When he sauntered into the room I recognized the bulldog immediately, and leapt out from my hiding place. “Fenton!” I exclaimed, tail up and wagging. “W… what are you doing here?”
I’d surprised him. Fenton’s eyes got big and wide, and he reared back, upsetting himself completely and falling over in a clumsy, awkward flop. I flinched, but didn’t insult him by trying to help, and Fenton soon had himself righted once more and was huffing and puffing as well as any ole steam engine.
“Why I—well, I never!” he harrumphed.
In most any other circumstance I would have laughed, and Jasper right alongside me. Trying to get a reaction out of the old bulldog was one of our favourite pastimes. My absolute favourite was when I could get him to say “What a bunch of twaddle!” while Jasper preferred it when we could reduce Fenton to wordless harrumphing and snorting. This wasn’t like any other circumstance though, because Jasper wasn’t here to join in the merriment.
I gave the old man a moment more to compose himself, snatching up a stray bit of kibble and chomping it down as I lay down beside him. “You w… w… worried too?”
Damn stammer always showed up when I was nervous.
“I wanted to check in on Jasper. See why he wasn’t at Kelly’s tonight.”
When I’d left Kelly’s, Meep and Moo had been out back relieving themselves, so I’d asked Fenton to pass on my good wishes and headed out. He hadn’t mentioned that he was worried about Jasper then. Of course, neither had I. But he must have left right behind me to get here so quickly with his short legs.
Honestly, I didn’t even know he knew where Jasper lived.
“Me too,” I nodded, and then nudged a pillow out of the way to see if there was any food hidden beneath. There wasn’t. I blew my breath loudly out through my nostrils. “Now I’m even more worried.”
“As am I,” Fenton said. He hefted himself to his feet and poked around the room. Wandering toward the back and then returning to where I waited near the door. “It was like this when you came in?”
I was tempted to reply sarcastically, but sarcasm usually went over Fenton’s head. Better not to use it in times such as these. “Precisely,” I said. “Minus a few bits of kibble.”
“How long since he’s been here?” Fenton’s sense of smell was good, but mine was better. I had always appreciated that he didn’t foff around with that, letting ego get in the way of getting the job done. Especially during the war.
“At least a day.”
“And how did you get past the security system?” he asked.
Oh. Oh damn. The security system. The magical security system that Jasper paid so much money for. Fenton must have read my face because he sat on his haunches and sighed.
“It was already disabled?” he asked.
This was even worse than I’d thought. There was no way Jasper would have left his den without setting the security system. Something was wrong here. Very wrong.
“This is such a fun book! I loved the little touches, like some dogs being addicted to chocolate. The world building is great. At first I was surprised the dogs lived in buildings and had houses and streets like humans, but that’s all explained.
Ricky’s relationships with Ari and Jasper are so sweet and heartfelt. Ricky is a great character, and the war buddy aspect to his gang was interesting. There’s a certain WWII noir feel to the book that I really enjoyed.
The inclusion of magic was a great idea and seamlessly blended into the world.
I loved the illustrations in the book. They’re really pretty, and it was nice seeing the main characters.
My only negative was that some of the bad guys were German shepherds! Haha.”