Review

Dog Island

by Mike Stewart

On
the heels of his highly praised debut novel, SINS OF THE BROTHER,
Mike Stewart returns with another southern flavored mystery
involving the charming, laid-back attorney, Tom McInnes. In fact,
the two novels are closely intertwined, with both storylines
revolving around McInnes and his client, Susan Fitzsimmons, whose
husband was murdered in SINS. As DOG ISLAND opens, Susan phones
McInnes to ask him to help a runaway teenager who thinks she
witnessed a murder and is now hiding out in Susan's home. McInnes
is reluctant to revisit the Florida panhandle and the personally
tragic memories that are still very vivid and painful: the murder
of Susan's husband and the loss of his brother. But, of course, he
does --- and finds himself representing a problematic young girl
running from a troubled past and, now, a pair of cold-blooded
killers.
The
contrast of the somewhat Pollyanna McInnes and Fitzsimmons with the
truly ugly characterizations of the Bodine brothers, their cohorts,
and a particularly nasty killer who enjoys torturing victims, is an
unsettling jolt to the senses. In part, it's what makes Stewart's
mystery unique, even if some of the events seem a bit beyond the
realm of believability. As the action moves forward, other bottom
feeders enter the picture, creating a convoluted circle of
affiliations and rivalries with McInnes, Susan, and the girl caught
in the crossfire. Despite their conflicting agendas, smugglers,
Cuban revolutionaries, and all the other usual criminal elements
seem to have one thing in common --- killing this trio. To say that
McInnes and friends are experiencing an unusually rotten week would
be a monumental understatement. Before Stewart's ink is even dry on
the uneasy reunion of Tom and Susan, Stewart plunges them into
life-threatening circumstances and never lets up.
Despite Stewart's succinct style of writing, DOG ISLAND isn't
lacking in either complexity or characterizations. McInnes relies
heavily on the friend ship and the intimidating physical bulk of
his friend Joey, "a former shore patrolman, former Navy
Intelligence officer, former Alabama state trooper, and former
Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent." In one short paragraph,
Stewart conveys to readers all they need to know about Joey: he's a
formidable talent with an attitude. His girlfriend, Loutie Blue, is
a statuesque ex-stripper who has retired to an elegant old home in
Mobile, where they all take temporary refuge. But just like Joey,
there's much more to her than meets the eye. As McInnes observes,
"Loutie Blue was resourceful and intelligent and, under the right
circumstances, a disturbingly dangerous woman."
As
if the race to solve a murder and save the teenager wasn't enough
to cope with, uncovering the identities of those who are
controlling events as they unfold becomes paramount --- for the
characters and the reader. What appears on the surface to be a good
old-fashioned turf war is actually a much more complicated puzzle
of who is doing what to whom and why. In the final scenes, Stewart
polishes the storyline off with not one twist but two, leaving
readers with some tantalizing, unanswered questions. And those
pieces left dangling are actually what make Stewart's novel just
that much more interesting, giving us something to mull over until
the next McInnes novel --- or beyond.

Surrounding the intensity of the storyline, the shared history
of client and attorney looms large, creating an emotional impact
for the duration of the book. For some, their relationship may
stretch the limits of credibility a bit, but readers who enjoy a
little romance mixed with their mystery will undoubtedly adore Tom
and Susan. Likewise, the symmetry that Joey and Loutie bring to the
group, and each other, make them equally appealing. It remains to
be seen whether Stewart will continue with the pairing of these
characters in the future, but with DOG ISLAND he seems to have hit
upon an effective combination of colorful personalities, witty
dialogue, and nonstop suspense that most readers are bound to want
more of sometime soon.

Reviewed by Ann Bruns on January 21, 2011

Dog Island
by Mike Stewart

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0425182045
  • ISBN-13: 9780425182048