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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Page-turning Thriller, August 22, 2007
This review is from: Night of the Howling Dogs (Hardcover)
Night of the Howling Dogs: A Page-turning Thriller

In his newest novel, Night of the Howling Dogs, popular writer Graham Salisbury masterfully combines the atmosphere of superstition and spooky stories around the fire at Camp Halape, with Hawaiian tales and legends of the Big Island locale, and the almost spiritual setting (the mana of place so important in Hawaiian mythology) on the slope of an active volcano in a near "perfect storm" to build suspense and create a thriller based on a true story. Night of the Howling Dogs is certainly a new direction for Graham Salisbury. Whereas his previous novels have focused primarily on character, this book focuses on the natural setting and survival of characters in conflict with the elements of nature. This time the place and the people rather than the period of history (World War II, for example, in Under the Blood-Red Sun and Eyes of the Emperor) drive the action. The novel's plot is tightly structured. The conflict in the opening pages of the story pits narrator Dylan and the other "good guys" against menacing and mysterious "Mr. Bad Man" Louie and the challenge of camping in a remote area on the side of volcano Moana Loa the Big Island of Hawaii. The geological instability of the natural setting and the growing possibility of impending disaster become the focus barely one third of the way into the novel.

Salisbury seamlessly blends the elements of plot with supernatural aspects of the setting--such as tales of the night marchers, the importance to the Hawaiians of akua, or good spirits associated with an area, as well as the importance of sharks as protectors to those who feed and befriend them. Fred, the shark with the bullet hole in his fin, turns out to be not a danger or threat to the boys but more of an amakua, or family god who can help those in trouble (138). The title's reference to the howling dogs ties in with the Hawaiian legend of Pele, who "was once a goddess, an akua" and who now "has a home up in Kilauea, at the volcano, right above where we are now," as Masa tells the group of Scouts around the campfire (97). It seems Pele often appears as a small white dog, just like the one Dylan hears first then sees high up on the cliff above the campsite during the night. To add to the mystery, Masa warns the group, "If you see that small white dog, something's going to happen" (99).

Many aspects of the novel are two-sided: the lava which can be smooth pahoehoe or aa like "shattered glass"; the location at Halape where the action occurs is first "a paradise" and later "A Watery Grave"; initially the description of the boys' camp near "a thick green coconut grove curved around a white sand beach" beyond which "a sky blue ocean [sits] smooth and calm" seems idyllic, but later on, the surging sea destroys virtually all of this peaceful setting; the "crack "where the boys enjoy swimming is both "dark down there" yet "where the sun shined on it you could see shadows under every rock and pebble on the bottom" (44). Even characters have both light and dark sides: Louie first creates tension among the members of the group, but it is he who ultimately pulls the team together in their battle to survive.

The novel is filled with foreshadowing, too. Like the ill-advised choices of the solitary man on the trail in Jack London's famous "To Build a Fire," actions of several of the campers are "stupid," and Salisbury's readers wait to see when the stupid ones will regret their folly. From Tad's lack of caution in not staying with his buddy Zach, to Dylan's "I was stupid" not to bring a hat for protection against the sun, to Mike and Louie's pitching their tent too close to the high water mark, it seems nearly every member of the group is sufficiently careless to warrant disaster.

In Night of the Howling Dogs, Salisbury again emphasizes positive character values. He uses the natural disaster to bring together characters--at least for a while. When Dylan pleas with Louie for his glasses, "unless you want to carry me home because I can't hike out of here without [my glasses]," Mr. Bad Man Louis, sasses back "Hoo, sissy-boy, I going to join Girl Scouts before I carry you" (85). Later when disaster hits, ironically Louis ends up carrying several different characters when his help is needed. Salisbury also works in the importance of respect and the positive aspects of Scouting even though it may not always be perceived as the "in" thing for young teens to do; as Mr. Bellows says, "I know you get teased for it [Scouting] at school" (27).

Because the characters range in age from eleven-year-old Tad (and his mommy-packed back pack) to Louie, the independent, mysterious fifteen year old who wears "a leather cord with a shark's tooth and silver skull hanging from it" (11-12), this book will appeal to middle school readers as well as to young adults. I will certainly recommend this book to my 7th graders, especially those who enjoy adventure and suspense. The suspense kept me turning pages, too!
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 31, 2008 8:08:28 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 31, 2008 8:55:11 PM PDT
SonzTwin says:
Great review. I like the angle of "duality". To add to it, the menacing shark was actually quite benign, and the sky that delivered death (the boulders) also brought salvation in the rescue helicopter.
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