An inspiring tale of a man and his dog

  • Posted: Saturday, January 26, 2013 11:02 p.m.

“Suspect,” Putnam (320 pages, $27.95)

Taking a break from his perennial characters of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, Robert Crais delivers a poignant, thrilling story about recovery, trust and how bonding with another living being can make us better people.

“Suspect” also is the story of a man and a dog whose tentative attempts to make a connection with each other will save their lives, both emotionally and physically.

The man in this case is LAPD officer Scott James, who was severely wounded and traumatized during a shoot-out in which his partner was killed by unidentified gunmen. Scott’s injuries and his emotional state would have allowed him to take disability retirement from the force. But he is determined to be a cop and find out the criminals responsible for his partner’s death, so he joins the police’s K-9 Platoon. As a K-9 cop, Scott reasons, he will have a partner but also “the freedom to be alone,” to not be responsible for human partner should something go wrong.

As Scott struggles with the training, so does Maggie, a German shepherd trained by Marines that was shot by a sniper, who also killed her human partner in Afghanistan. No one – not the trainers, the handlers or other K-9 cop candidates – believes Scott and Maggie will make it through the basic drills, let alone be able to work the streets. Both react badly to loud noises, let alone gunshots. But Scott is determined that Maggie will be his K-9 partner and that he can continue his investigation.

Crais deftly balances his human and animal characters. Scott’s grief and guilt over his partner’s death and his frustration about not being able to find the killers are palpable. Crais also illustrates how dogs can suffer from post-traumatic stress and the difficulties in their recovery.

Although Crais often shows the action from Maggie’s point of view, he never resorts to anthropomorphism, keeping the plot serious while illustrating how dog and human become partners. The scenes of the dogs’ training and their need to protect and serve are inspiring.

“Suspect” offers non-stop action as well as a homage to those people and dogs who serve in the military and police forces.

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