Dog Days/Deadly Passages (JournalStone Doubledown series)
Joe McKinney and Sanford Allen
Dog Days by Joe McKinney is the first of this two-part offering from JournalStone.
The day after Hurricane Alexis pounds the Texas Gulf Coast, 14-year old Mark and his family find their neighborhood flooded and damaged by debris. Mutilated bodies are discovered on a shrimp boat washed inland by the storm surge. Mark’s father, a police sergeant, is one of the first on the scene. A day later, the killer has struck again.
As the police investigate the gruesome murders, Mark and his friends embark on their own journey to find the killer. Is it a supernatural killer, driven by some bestial instinct to kill during the full moon? Or is it something no less frightening?
The first few paragraphs of Dog Days had me hooked. Anyone who has ever huddled in their house during a catastrophic storm, hoping the roof stays put, knows the feeling. When the storm is over, the world has changed. Everyone is stressed here – families ravaged by the loss of loved ones, marriages under strain, a community trying to deal with brutal attacks from both the weather and something darker.
I was happy to see a 14-year-old character making some spectacularly 14-year-old decisions. The tone of the character’s narration seems like an adult looking back on a past event. In a few spots the tone gets a little too adult and veers into finger-wagging. I particularly enjoyed that the big question as to the nature of the killer was never definitively answered. The author lets us draw our own conclusion. It’s a good read
Deadly Passage, by Sanford Allen, is, the second half of the book. This story deals with multiple horrors on several levels. The first horror we confront is a mysterious creature with a hunger for human blood. The second is the spectre of slavery and the third is the greed and cruelty of the men who trade in human lives.
George Bell, a legally free black man from Barbados has taken a job on a slaving ship moving “cargo” between Africa and the Americas. He hopes the coin he earns will allow him to tempt his lover to run from her plantation. He believes that if he has land and a profession, she will come to him. After the slave ship takes on its human cargo, mysterious deaths among the slaves perplex the crew and terrify the survivors.
As the creature begins to hunt its prey, the evil within the hearts of the captain and crew become as vicious as the African demon that plagues the ship. As Bell discovers, the white crew clings to hollow words and vicious brutality rather than listen to a negro, even a free man who had earned his worth as a member of the crew. They must stand together or die.
This was a hard story to read, but it was my favorite of the two. Bell’s transformation was a little too predictable, but given the subject, I wouldn’t have expected anything else. The author doesn’t shy away from the disgusting state of a slave ship or it’s inhabitants. The story may be a bit gory for some and a few scenes may have you dabbing a bit of perfume on your hanky to drive away the reek of the the cargo hold that you’re certain you can smell.
Both stories are a fast read and kept my interest over a weekend and a couple of lunch breaks at work. I’d recommend the e-reader version; it was entertaining but I wouldn’t want to take up shelf space with it later.