From the Publisher
“Rarely have I read so moving an account of the heroism of animals, the compassion of the humans who love them, and the transformational relation ships that can spring up between the two. This is a story that will continue to live with you long after you've turned the last page.” Gwen Cooper, author of the New York Times bestseller Homer's Odyssey
“Like angels, great dogs find us, then lead us home. Finding Jack is the story of a man who had lost his way, and with the help of a selfless, heroic dog, finds it again. A story of redemption, determination, and unstoppable love, Finding Jack compels us to ask the question: do we have what it takes to be a hero?” Steve Duno, author of Last Dog on the Hill
“Finding Jack is more than a novel of the relationship between a man and his faithful companion. It is the story of the bonds between man and dog, warriors and best friends. Finding Jack shows us the lengths that one man is willing to go to -- and the rules he's willing to break at the risk of his own life -- to save the life of another being. As a Marine who's seen his share of combat and rescued a dog from certain death in hell, I can relate to the many unspoken reasons for not only finding, but saving, Jack. This story is about humanity and doing what it takes to maintain your humanity in the face of depravity.” Jay Kopelman, author of the New York Times bestseller From Baghdad with Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava
“the novel is quick and captivating. Ultimately, it's not the sensational Hollywood-style action that will stick with readers, but instead the humbling, eternal friendship between man and dog.” The Christian Science Monitor
This debut is undone by improbable action scenes and glaring errors of fact, resulting in a sappy and unbelievable story. In 1972, 29-year-old Fletcher Carson enlists to fight in Vietnam after his family is killed in a plane crash. With the war nearly over, Fletcher and his platoon gripe about the futility of the conflict as they embark on reconnaissance patrols and impossible secret missions. During one patrol, the men find a wounded trained scout dog that they name Jack, nurse back to health, and adopt as their mascot. Jack repays them by sniffing out mines, booby traps, and ambushes, saving many lives. When it's time for Fletcher to head home, he can't bear the thought of leaving Jack to die in Vietnam, so he deserts and attempts to walk with Jack the 350 miles to Thailand, with Jack proving his mettle yet again after they encounter trouble en route. Unfortunately, unconvincing scenarios (sending relatively inexperienced troops on a special-ops type mission) and military inaccuracies (there is no such thing as a Phantom helicopter, for instance) dilute and distract from what could be an evocative story. (Feb.)
In 1972, a despondent Fletcher Carlson joins the U.S. Army after the deaths of his wife and daughter. Despite his almost-suicidal depression, he bonds with the men in his platoon and becomes a good soldier in the final days of the Vietnam War. While on patrol, Carlson and his unit are approached by a stray dog. Wounded and ill, Jack is nursed back to health by Carlson and his buddies and trained to help them on missions by detecting mines and snipers. When the cease-fire ends combat, Carlson discovers that the military considers dogs surplus equipment to be left behind. Distraught at the thought of yet another loss, Carlson decides to do what any dedicated dog owner would do: walk with Jack to the safety of Thailand, hundreds of miles to the west. VERDICT Loosely based on the actual canine units that served with the American troops in Vietnam, this first novel should appeal to fans of both dog and military fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/10.]—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ., Bowling Green
Soldier finds dog. Soldier loses dog. Soldier finds dog.
After his wife and daughter die in a plane crash, writer Fletcher Carson finds little to live for. After trying, but failing, to take his own life, he becomes inspired to enlist as a soldier and in the waning days of the war goes to Vietnam. There he's with a platoon called the Fat Lady (because the opera/war won't be over till she sings). On a dangerous reconnaissance mission deep in the jungle, the platoon unexpectedly (and somewhat unaccountably) comes across a badly wounded Labrador Retriever. Lt. Rogan, the platoon leader, orders Carson to shoot it, for he knows that sometimes dogs are cunningly wired to detonate and kill American troops, but Carson feels an immediate connection to the dog and refuses to obey Rogan's direct order, endangering the men and enraging the lieutenant. Carson rescues the dog and takes it back to the base, enlisting the help of a veterinary-school dropout to bring the dog back to some semblance of health. Although Carson suspects the dog, whom he names Jack, has been trained by Americans to sniff out trip wires and booby traps, he's unable to find the canine unit to which it had been attached, so he keeps it to protect his own platoon. Naturally, Jack responds by saving Rogan's life. When a truce is declared and the troops are scheduled to return to the United States, Carson finds to his horror that Army dogs are regarded as "surplus military equipment" too expensive to ship home. He finds the order to abandon the dog unacceptable, so he remains behind with Jack, promising to get him out by tromping 350 miles through Vietnam, Laos and eventually into Thailand. Along the way, Carson gets captured, Jack disappears, Carson escapes, Jack reappears and Carson (with Rogan's help) eventually makes it back.
A predictable plot with a sentimental streak a mile wide.
Read an Excerpt
Four days later, the Fat Lady was finally on its way to the extraction point. Drained both physically and mentally, they had gathered all the information they required and plotted the coordinates of numerous enemy bunkers, hooches concealing munitions and food supplies, at least half a dozen field bases, and a bridge that, once taken out, would seriously hamper the NVA’s supply line. Fletcher was startled at just how quickly Charlie was advancing and how strong he had become. He was on the ascendancy, dramatically so, and they all knew it. Despite his thousands of dead, the war was his to win. All they could do now was try to slow him down.
They had narrowly missed being intercepted by NVA patrols and had twice been forced to separate. In the end, they had conducted most of their forays in two squads: one headed by Rogan and the other by Wayville, who, before being assigned to the Fat Lady, was a fully fledged operational squad leader.
With only two kilometers left to hike, the men were quiet. Having survived a week in the enemy’s basement, they were anxious for fresh air. Mitchell, still at point, was completely wired and absolutely focused. He appeared determined not to let his guard down. He seemed to regard Charlie’s traps not so much as weapons of war, but more as personal affronts. He would shuffle forward a few steps, then stop, breathe deeply, scan the area in front of him, and then dart forward again. Sometimes he would rub his hands on the ground and lick the tips of his fingers. Fletcher wondered, with genuine concern, how he would ever adapt back to normal life.
As was typical toward the end of an assignment, Rogan dropped to the back of the platoon to shepherd his men from the rear. Within a matter of hours, their entire area of operations would be the subject of an intense bombing campaign. Most of the men they had stolen past, laughing and drinking cheap alcohol outside huts and bunkers, would soon either be dead or wishing they were. The thing about war is that you could be on the winning side before breakfast, but still be dead by nightfall.
The thought brought no joy to Fletcher.
“What is it?” Kingston asked.
Mitchell shook his head as if his eyes were deceiving him. “A dog.”
Fletcher turned to his right. In the distance, a yellow Labrador with its tongue lolling out the side of its mouth emerged from between the trees. The animal was moving badly, favoring its left side. What appeared to be a large cut ran from the top of its back down its front leg. Flies, like a black mist, hung over the wound. More disturbing, though, was a swollen mass of what looked like dried blood caked under its neck. “What the hell is a dog doing out here? Christ, look at him.”
Rogan briefly studied the animal, then gestured to Fletcher.
“Take him out.”
“You heard me, Carson.”
Fletcher was taken aback by the order. He watched as the dog slipped on the wet undergrowth and then struggled to get back up.
He looked weak and hungry. “What are you talking about?”
“Are you deaf? Kill the fucking dog, that’s an order. There’s something around its neck, probably a mine.”
Fletcher raised his rifle and looked through the scope. “It’s just blood and dirt.”
“This isn’t a debate. Take the shot.”
Fletcher followed the animal in his sights as it approached them.
In his first days in Vietnam, he’d spent some time at a base that had a dog unit attached to it. All the animals there had been German shepherds, but he had heard that there were many Labradors working as scout dogs throughout Vietnam, trained to provide early warning of enemy patrols, ambushes, mines, and traps. “I’m not doing it. There’s no danger.”
Rogan placed his palm over the top of his sidearm, but kept it holstered. “Take the shot.”
“You first,” Fletcher said, glancing down at the lieutenant’s hand.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? It’s just a goddamn dog!”
“He’s one of ours. The only Labradors in Vietnam belong to us.
He must’ve got separated from his handler. He’s a soldier, for Christ’s sake! Besides,” he bargained, “if I shoot, we’ll reveal our position—”
“I’m warning you. This is your last chance.”
“I’m not doing it.”
The Labrador was less than a hundred yards away and closing.
“Keens . . . take the shot,” Rogan instructed.
Arnold Keens, who’d been watching their exchange in disbelief, recoiled at the sound of his name.
“Your rifle, Keens! That metal thing strapped around your skinny neck. Use it! Take out the dog.”
“C’mon, lieutenant you can’t expect Arnold—”
“Shut up, Tucker.”
“But, lieutenant, I . . . I can’t. Wh- what—”
“Fire your weapon, son!”
Reluctantly, Arnold raised his gun and took aim.
“Don’t do it, Arnold. Let him come to us. He’s hurt. He recognizes our uniforms. He’s one of us. There’s no danger—”
“Shut your mouth, Carson.”
Fletcher turned to face the teenager. “Arnold, look at me. Please, don’t shoot him.”
“Discharge your weapon, or I’ll have you thrown in prison!”
Fletcher locked eyes with the young man and immediately realized he’d lost him. Arnold was scared to death and did not have the resolve to defy a direct order. Sorry, Fletcher, he mouthed.
The Labrador, sensing that something was wrong, stopped walking.
“Forgive me,” Arnold whispered, and squeezed off two rounds.
The first shot punched into the dog’s chest, and the second into the top of his front leg.
He collapsed onto his side and immediately tried to stand up, but his legs buckled under him. The wound in his chest, just below his head, was oozing thick black blood. Confused, he looked down and began to lick at the holes that were hurting him.
Something unraveled in Fletcher’s mind. He threw off his pack and launched himself at Rogan.
“Fletcher, no!” Travis yelled, scrambling toward them.
A look of surprise lit up Rogan’s face. Before anyone could intervene, Fletcher lowered his shoulder and hit him in the stomach. The force of the blow lifted him off his feet and sent him hurtling into a tree. Fletcher charged after him and started swinging his fists wildly, connecting with his face and chest. “You fuck!”
Wayville and Kingston quickly pulled Fletcher away. A thin rivulet of blood flowed from Rogan’s nose. “Have you lost your goddamn mind, Carson?”
Fletcher didn’t reply. He couldn’t. His mind was teetering on the edge of a breakdown. He had rarely felt such anger, such hatred. He turned away and ran toward the dog.
“No,” Gunther warned. “There could be traps.”
But his words were lost to the jungle. Fletcher could think only of getting to the animal’s side. As he passed Arnold, the young man held up his arm. “I’m sorry, Fletcher. Please . . . I’m so sorry.”
Fletcher struck out at his hand as if it was poisonous to the touch.
By the time he reached the dog, it was clear he was dying. His chest was heaving in an irregular motion. Blood from his wounds had formed a half moon around his body. There was blood, along with other fluids, draining from his nose. Kneeling down, Fletcher carefully placed his hand on the Labrador’s side to try to comfort him. As he touched his coat, the dog lifted his head and looked at him. Instead of fear, his eyes conveyed a look of sadness, a glimmer of betrayal. Fletcher felt his stomach tighten. “You were coming to us for help, weren’t you?”
The dog tried to lick his hand, but was slipping away.
Fletcher gently stroked the side of his face. “I’m so sorry, boy.”
Then, steeling himself, he withdrew his sidearm. With his hand shaking and his vision blurred with emotion, he took aim. “Close your eyes.”
The Labrador looked first at the gun and then back at him. Slowly, his tail swept across the ground.
“No,” Fletcher pleaded, biting down on his lip hard enough to draw blood. “Please.” He was about to pull the trigger when he heard a voice over his shoulder.
“Don’t do it,” Travis said softly, pushing the top of the gun down with his hand. “He deserves a chance to live.”