The night dogs of the title of Kent Anderson’s novel are explained at
first as the dogs that roam the street of Portland, Oregon, scavenging
and attacking the contents of the city. Either born feral or made that
way, the night dogs are a danger to the residents of the city and as such
must be got rid of. This leads to the game the police officers of the
North precinct play, holding a count of how many each car kills when out
on manoeuvres, each time calling another car to verify the fatality.
Hanson is a police officer who tries to avoid these games. Having returned
from the Vietnam War he has found that he can’t end the fighting, and so
chooses to become a cop, providing the fighting with a context. He knows
that he is no different from the criminals he abuses and is abused by and
says as much.
As the story of Hanson’s tour of duty in Portland progresses, the difference
between those who fought in Vietnam and those who didn’t becomes increasingly
clear – everybody involved in the war is damaged. They are still fighting in
a jungle environment; they are still ready to shoot anything that they do
The plots carrying on over the Vietnamese backdrop illustrate Hanson’s
emotional support by Truman, the blind dog that he rescued, and his partner,
Dana, as well as his bond with Vietnam vet, Doc, with whom he served.
Doc has chosen the other route of continuing the war and is involved in
various non-specific illegal activities. When Dana is shot in the line of
service Hanson starts to lose control, taking the cocaine Doc supplies him.
Hanson’s battle with his memories, which he can’t leave behind and can’t
bear to face, have made him and others whom he must deal with night dogs
themselves. They can no longer function easily within society and race
through the streets, attacking people, cars, dogs and buildings.
What ultimately saves Hanson from staying in this state is the devotion
of Truman, the dog he saved from joining the night dogs. Truman’s trust
and uncomplaining loyalty stops him from being alone, and it is through
his concern for the dog that he ends up saving himself by leaving the city.
Reviewed by Vicky Nangle