Zelazny is a genius… although I have a sneaking suspicion his genius may be drug related. Where else would you come up with the idea of telling a Victorian mystery-humor-horror story from the point of view of a dog?
The first clue of the kind of upcoming weirdness comes from the dedication, which is to Shelley, Poe, Stoker, Doyle, Lovecraft, Bradbury, Bloch, and Terhune (dog breeder and writer). That means not only does the cast of characters include the watchdog Snuff, and his master, Jack, a man who is particularly talented with a knife, but a host of horror and mystery classics. The Great Detective and his sidekick are in the vicinity, investigating the sudden uptick in activity and maybe solve a murder or two. The Count drops by in his flowing, dark glory. The Good Doctor has moved into a nearby farmhouse looking for some quiet space in which to conduct various experiments using lightning. Is it any surprise he has a misshapen dwarf sidekick and an experiment man? And perhaps, in the vein of Bloch, there’s a bad pun or two–really, Zelazny, really??
The structure is the daily diary of a mathematically-talented watchdog, Snuff, as he and Jack prepare for a final confrontation on October 31 between those who would open a door to other worlds and those who would keep it closed. Spell and geographical preparations need to be made while strategizing against the other participants. I have to admire how Zelazny takes simple sentence structure to initially build believability in a dog narrator (although, to be fair, there are hints he might be more than canine), but by story end, he is at his usual level of sophistication and imagery. Actually, the sense-world of the canine rather lends itself to Zelazny’s imagery.
Underneath the spell-preparing shenanigans is the building of a serious conflict. Preparations make for strange bedfellows, and Snuff finds himself relying on Ms. Greymalk the cat. He also interacts with a variety of other animal companions to the main human(?) players.
Zelazny must of had a blast writing this. There’s amusing variations on a theme wandering through the month. Notable are the many disguises of the Great Detective, and the variety of injuries his companion displays. There’s a particularly fun ongoing riff using the Things that Jack and Snuff guard. The Things in the Mirror, Thing in the Wardrobe, the Thing in the Steamer Trunk and the Thing in the Circle downstairs are always trying to escape, but are kept under control by Snuff’s ferociousness. The Thing in the Circle has settled for deception as its escape strategy, and daily turns into some type of dog, hoping to tempt Snuff.
“Down in the cellar the Thing in the Circle had become a Pekingese.
‘You like little ladies?’ it asked. “Come and get it, big fella.’
It still smelled of Thing rather than dog.
‘You’re not really very bright,’ I said.
The Peke gave me the paw as I departed, and it’s hard to turn your leg that way.“
Why not five stars? Well, there is a section where Zelazny indulges in his trademark other-world building that didn’t seem to be particularly germane to the narrative. While a fun read, it just didn’t hit ‘5’ on my ‘must own now’ scale, but I’d rate it at 4 and a half stars. A lot of fun, worth a read or two and I’d certainly give it space if a cheap copy came my way–it could nestle up to the Amber series and his short story books I already own.
Four and a half monstrous stars.