Jim's Reviews > Stray Dog Winter

Stray Dog Winter by David Francis
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Feb 21, 09

bookshelves: legion-of-vermin
Read in February, 2009

In my youth, I was obsessed with stories about innocent men wrongly accused and packed off to prison. After some adventures in Morocco as a young adult, this obsession morphed into tales of naive travelers getting in over their heads in foreign countries hostile to Westerners. Michael A. Fitzgerald's Radiant Days took up this theme beautifully in 2007 and now we have David Francis's Stray Dog Winter.

The first half of the novel flips back and forth between the story of Darby Bright, a young Australian painter who journeys to Moscow in the early 80s to visit his half-sister, Finola. The second storyline deals with Darby's youth and the curious events that led to Fin's mysterious arrival and more sudden departure from the Bright household in Victoria in southeastern Australia.

Darby Bright is unabashedly gay, making Moscow with its barbaric policies against "blues," KGB speak for "homosexes," a very dangerous place to be. When it's revealed that Finola might be up to more than she lets on, Francis slowly starts turning the screws, ratcheting up the tension. Is Finola in trouble? Is Darcy being followed? Why are there microphones in the seat cushions? Darcy's discomfort blossoms into paranoia and fear, forcing him to make some hard choices between family and fleeing for safety.

Francis writes with a kind of unhurried elegance that allows the reader a clear view of the characters even when they are entangled in webs of deception -- partly of their own making, partly a product of a truly terrifying autocratic regime. The descriptions of Moscow in the winter, particularly while Darcy is on the run -- alone, frightened, and hopelessly overmatched -- made me feel physically cold while reading the novel. One feels both Darcy's vulnerability and the KGB's dread power in equal measure. Though Stray Dog Winter is not a thriller per se, it is a book about the perils of sheltering secrets from yourself as well as from those you profess to love.

David Francis will be reading at Vermin on the Mount, an irreverent reading series in the heart of L.A.'s Chinatown on Sunday, April 5.

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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Rusty (new)

Rusty Great review, Jim. I'll be picking this one up.


message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Thanks, Rusty! It's a gripping read. Like Radiant Days, it doesn't start out that way but it's a journey worth taking.


message 3: by Beverly (new) - added it

Beverly Whew, well done, Jim. Wish I was still in L.A. for that reading. I'm putting this one on my list as well.


message 4: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Thanks, Beverly! It's a marvelous read that just keeps getting better and better. I'll have an interview with David Francis on the Vermin site next week.


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