In the world of Cadaver Dog, the zombies are already out and about. No exact timeframe is given for how long the dead have been coming back to life; sometimes it seems like it’s recent, other times it seems that they’ve been up and walking for a few years.
The story begins with our introduction to Angie Graves, a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails Search and Rescue volunteer who trains all types of service dogs – from bomb dogs to cadaver dogs. When Angie and her dog Waylon are called out to investigate a disappearing corpse, it’s soon discovered that the zombies aren’t your run-of-the-mill flesh eaters: they’re controlled by a giant wasp that plunges its stinger into the back of the dearly departed’s neck.
Angie is recruited to train her dog, Murder, to specifically track these wasps. Murder is a bit of a tough case, a dog who hasn’t really responded to Angie’s training before. But now, the two work together to track the wasps and try to stop the outbreak.
With so many zombie stories out there, it’s a challenge to come up with a new twist on the tired trope. It’s easy to appreciate the overall idea at work in Cadaver Dog, but for me, it fell a little short. These zombies don’t crave brains. They don’t want flesh. They don’t want to rip people to shreds. They’re merely vehicles for the wasps, so this is more a story about giant bugs than reanimated corpses. By having the bugs as the main threat (and I’ll admit, I’d shit myself if a giant wasp came buzzing my way), the role of the zombie is diminished – if you’re scratched or bitten, you won’t turn. Where’s the fun in that?
Our anti-hero, Angie, is a tough nut to crack though not necessarily in a good way. She’s often rude, blunt, self-deprecating and talks down to most everyone she comes in contact with, her justification being that she’s more of a dog person. That’s all fine and dandy, but her prickly demeanour makes it difficult to relate to her and, frankly, to even like her. She’s a much nicer person when hanging out with her dogs.
Actually most of the minor characters in the novel are pretty snarky as well – from the Animal Control director that wants to see Angie fail to the two Search and Rescue guys Angie is paired up with at the end of the story. Everyone in this book is pretty much an asshole. Except for the dogs, of course. Everyone loves dogs.
Essentially, the first half of the book is focused on dog training and the second half is Search and Rescue. This makes the book feel more educational as opposed to fictional, at times it felt like I was reading Dog Training for Dummies. That, paired with some awkward dialogue (at one point, a scientist character says: ‘The director simply does not understand pursuing this endeavor (i.e., tracking a wasp to its burrow) unless we can first prove that Murder can track a wasp.’) makes it difficult to fully submerge into this particular world.
All in all, Cadaver Dog gets points for originality (and for the dogs. Everyone loves dogs.), but the story itself fails to launch.
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