Wen Spencer,
Dog Warrior
(Roc, 2004)

I've been reading favorable reviews of Wen Spencer's Ukiah Oregon books for a year or two, but hadn't read one until now because I didn't like the sound of this hero -- raised by wolves, unlikely abilities, fighting mysterious aliens. How could anyone make something fresh or interesting out of that? Well, you can't always tell a book by its cover or, apparently, its plot either. Spencer's novel is both original and entertaining. She does it the old-fashioned way, with likeable characters, good writing and an attention to realistic detail that makes the reader more willing to accept the story's fantastic elements. Spencer's use of the latter technique had me thinking of Stephen King -- not too shabby a model for writers in the genre.

Dog Warrior continues Ukiah's story, but takes primarily the viewpoint of Atticus, a brother from whom he'd been long separated. (You'll find that to be literally true if you read the novel.)

Atticus is out to buy a large quantity of Invisible Red, a new drug that may make you feel terrific but is often lethal. He stumbles across a (temporarily) dead body. It is Ukiah, whom he doesn't recognize because they hadn't seen each other for years. The coincidence of the meeting is a little easier to take when we learn both have been on the trail of the same drug. But especially for someone who hasn't read the previous books in the series, it's at first impossible to tell what's driving them. Is Atticus after the Invisible Red to resell it? And why is Ukiah also tracking it? We eventually discover they have very different motivations. Ukiah has been on the drug's trail longer and knows it is part of a terrifying plot that, among other things, provides the best explanation I've heard of why the big new highway project in Boston is taking so long to complete. It confirms the alien involvement long suspected by Beantown residents.

Spencer serves up a good mixture of science fiction and conventional mystery. In addition to the story of the strange brothers, there's a cult producing Invisible Red, a motorcycle gang dealing it and aliens out to take over the world. The SF elements have a weird, satisfyingly creepy feel to them that will appeal to X-Files fans. In spite of some holes in the plot, Dog Warrior is entertaining. Fans of the previous books will want this one and many newcomers will go back to the earlier ones. Those who are hooked will be glad to learn the aliens and Ukiah will be back. He didn't get 'em all.

by Ron Bierman
1 October 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.