To the Dogs by Halfdan Hussey

Published:  31st October 2010
Goodreads badgePublisher: Createspace
Pages: 360
Format: ebook
Genre: Crime/Suspense
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

TO THE DOGS, a transformative Irish and Mexican crime drama, explores true power. A young man’s losses incite his fall from integrity into the world of crime where he fights to rise. And with his rise, he falls to the gutter, to the dogs, where also lies the power of redemption. In 1949, young Jack Niesen, who lost his father to WWII, takes responsibility for a horrifying accident on his family farm. Jack, unable to face the guilt, takes off and hits the road. Jack soon experiences his first taste of crime; and, thereafter he enjoys a passionate encounter with a beautiful woman. Eventually, he lands in the orchards of Northern California, a time and place where Mexican labor and the Irish are fighting for land and money. Jack fights for power in this world while his brother, remaining in the heartland and coping with his losses, seeks love and the inner journey. An affair with Irish tycoon Tiernan’s sister and a brutal murder of a Mexican work crew propel Jack into an unwinnable situation that worsens when the girl he met on the road shows up pregnant. A bloody climax threatens everyone. Jack’s sons, Mick and Marcus, grow up successful criminals yet very different people. A family betrayal drives Marcus away from Mick and towards the world his father left behind. A surprise encounter offers Marcus a choice that will determine his power, his future and more.

Note: I was provided a copy of this book for review.

This is a wonderful story that Hussey has written. As you read you pick up connections and understand the story in a casual yet telling way that keeps you engaged from start to finish. Starting in the middle of a scene we are introduced to Jack and his brother, his mother by his side and it is from there we are brought into Jack’s life, going where he goes and watching as he tries to transform his life.

Jack’s downfall is his inability to express his emotions properly; he does not deal with them well, something obvious from the early pages and still evident to a point in the last. There is a lot you can not like in Jack, you can certainly disapprove of his behaviour and even at times not understand it. But it isn’t until later in the story that you realise why he does what he does and what he is trying to achieve that you start to see him as a whole. Before you accept it and come to this realisation his behaviour seems a bit over the top and you really don’t get it, but by the end it becomes clear and you can’t help but feel sorry for him in a way.

Starting in the 1940s the story jumps through time from then until the present day, moving from the past to the present as we follow Jack’s life in the past, to his sons in the present. The jumps in time and hints at relationships and events make your mind work through theories and wonder what happened in between and how things came to be. Hussey makes you keep reading to find out, even early on there is a need and desire to get answers and to keep reading, hoping to find out what we want to know and discover just what has happened during these gaps in time.

I like Jack. As a character he is fairly strange when we are first introduced but in a way he grows on you. He is determined and you soon understand all his peculiarities which makes you admire him a little bit. The same is almost true for Mike and Marcus, with less to understand you still get to know them through their stories and how their lives have shaped who they have become and what impact that has had on how they see themselves and their relationship to their family.

Hussey’s writing style is marvellous, it doesn’t seem extra grand or very special all the time, but there are moments where you admire how everything clicks in place, and everything has its place in the story. There are other times it is almost profound in how it alludes to the future and it gives a sense of foretelling in a way, but more often than not it is profound and cleverly placed in the story. Hussey uses his words well and everything has a point, each word has a job to do, to tell us about relationships, about futures, and about who these characters are.

Hussey has a talent in being able to capture the scene with great storytelling and you are able to picture the actions and feel the emotions really well, whether they are good, bad, or somewhere in-between. He is a master in showing not telling as information is given to us in the story and in style, not just because the reader should know but because it makes sense. Things don’t need to be addressed directly if you pay attention to what Hussey is trying to tell us through his characters and through his narrative. The answers to questions may not even be given for another chapter or until the last pages and only when it is necessary. Hussey gives the reader a story in its entirety but it is also not a story the reader is being told exactly, we are onlookers in a way. What I liked was that there weren’t moments where the story stopped to explain the missing time or other facts, instead this information is drawn out slowly; through conversation, thoughts, casual references, and by the end you know the whole story and you finish reading satisfied.

If you don’t love this book for the story, and you really do after awhile, you can’t help but admire the skill in the writing. The way Hussey has constructed this story makes you ask questions, fills in answers to other questions you didn’t know you wanted answers to and you get caught up in the smooth style and the captivating characters. We are given three points of view interchanging throughout; Jack and Mick are third person, while Marcus is given first person point of view. It is interesting why Hussey has done it this way; certainly Marcus offers more of an emotional aspect than the others. He is definitely meant to be the odd one out, even if he is still similar to his brother and father.

This is certainly a story that makes you pity Jack, and even the boys to an extent and you yearn for things to have gone differently for Jack. Though even after seeing what he has done in his life you actually don’t blame him in a strange way, he was created by his mother’s absence nature and he wasn’t able to cope, making him unable to find comfort and relief in himself or others. This is his downfall and while you are sad for him as you read his story, it isn’t until the end that you really pity him.

With a narrative that keeps you hooked and a variety of characters who fill their roles so perfectly, there is little to not like about this book. While being a crime novel there isn’t actually a lot of crime, and what there is isn’t over the top or gory. It is real and practical, and only adds to the rest of the story and its characters. Hussey manages to make you root for these characters, admire them, and he makes the crime world nice somehow and makes you feel compassion and see the good guy in those who most likely don’t deserve it. It is a wonderful and captivating read.

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