Hell Hound

October 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

houndHell Hound by Ken Greenhall


Like Elizabeth: A Novel of the UnnaturalHell Hound has a clue buried in its title, though it’s not as obvious as its predecessor. The story is about a dog, yes — a bull terrier — but the “Hell” of the title isn’t. It refers to the one who keeps him.

The story is told partly from the dog’s perspective, so we see how he — Baxter — thinks regarding the people around him. It’s dark, not because the dog is evil, or possessed; he’s simply a dog, driven by his own desires outside of society’s constraints. His identity is wrapped up in power and control, and he chooses to use it to his own advantage. We can’t blame him for his nature.

Hell Hound is chilling partly because Greenhall toys with our assumption that dogs adore us. We view them as pets, but we forget they’re animals. Hell Hound reminds us of what they are, beneath the trappings we put on them. He also reminds us how close we are as animals, paralleling Baxter’s motivations with our own. We can’t blame Baxter for his nature, because he’s a dog; humans, though, have evolved beyond that. Or so we believe.

The book’s main theme is that of sociopathy, not just in Baxter, but in the people near to him. The way Greenhall reveals the animals in humans, he’s suggesting that were we to remove the safeguards of society and civilization, we would be as sociopathic as a dog. As he presents his characters in the book, this isn’t hard to believe.

Also like Elizabeth, the story is told with an economy of words, but a wealth of atmosphere. Greenhall places words like a watchmaker places a gear: Everything is significant, and nothing is out of place. He uses a dispassionate voice to create dread, and he creates his plot in such a way that nothing is unexpected. We know where the story is going; we’re simply along for the ride until we get there, expecting the worst. As another reviewer put it, we’re dragged along by “the madness of pure unfettered rationality”, and it all happens in 150 pages.

Greenhall makes some astute observations along the way. They’re not reassuring, but they have a ring of truth, enforced by the events of the story. One particular example:

Carl had taken on an affection and a responsibility, but Sara was not sure there was virtue in that alone.

These gems are buried throughout the story, there to evoke the same sense of dread and nihilism as the plot itself.

Hell Hound is a fantastic book, but it’s dark. Readers looking for easy answers and happy endings should look elsewhere. Those who don’t mind a walk through graveyards and junkyards late at night, though, should seek it out.

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