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Night Dogs

Night Dogs

5.0 3
by Kent Anderson

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Former police officer Kent Anderson, author of the memorable Vietnam War novel Sympathy for the Devil, returns with a powerful new novel about a Vietnam-vet cop who still carries the war inside himself. Searing and brutally honest, Night Dogs plunges us into the free-fire zones of our cities, where the legendary thin blue line is breaking down.



Former police officer Kent Anderson, author of the memorable Vietnam War novel Sympathy for the Devil, returns with a powerful new novel about a Vietnam-vet cop who still carries the war inside himself. Searing and brutally honest, Night Dogs plunges us into the free-fire zones of our cities, where the legendary thin blue line is breaking down.

The North Precinct of Portland, Oregon, is home to two kinds of cops: sergeants and lieutenants who've screwed up somewhere else, and patrolmen who thrive on the action on the Avenue. Officer Hanson is the second kind, a veteran who has traded his Bronze Star for a badge. War is what Hanson knows, and in this battle for Portland's meanest streets, he's fighting not so much for the law as for his own code of justice.

Hanson is a man who seems to fear nothing--except his own memories.  And it is his past that could destroy him now:  An enemy in the department is determined to bring him down by digging into his war record and resurrecting the darkest agonies of that nightmare time.  And Hanson himself risks everything--his career, his equilibrium, even his life--when the only other survivor of his Special Forces unit comes back into his life. Doc Dawson is a drug dealer and a killer...but he's the one man Hanson can trust.

Night Dogs is an extraordinary work from a powerful and authentic voice in American fiction. Recoiling from the violence that Hanson deals with every day, the violence that is in Hanson, readers will also understand the compassion that drives him.  A novel remarkable for its razor-sharp characterizations and dialogue, its freshness of observation, Night Dogs--and Hanson--will remain etched in the memory for a long time to come.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Kent Anderson's Night Dogs:

"The best cop novel I have ever read. There's never been anything like it."
--James Crumley

"Fiercely authentic and deeply disturbing...Extraordinary."
--Los Angeles Times

"Anderson makes his mark in Wambaugh country with his eloquent, literary voice and an anguished, haunting sensibility. Many novels have been written about the lives of cops and soldiers, but few have probed the American propensity for violence as well as this one."
--Publishers Weekly

"Night Dogs reads like Long Range Reconnaissance. If you come back alive, you'll be different. That's mastery."
--Carsten Stroud

"Night Dogs is not just a fine book, it is an important book."
--James Crumley

"Be warned--start Night Dogs before dinner, forget dinner, next comes glaring morning sunlight and muscle cramps. This is very good writing!"
--Janwillem Van de Wetering

"Kent Anderson knows that wisdom is mourning."
--A. A. Attanasio

"Every so often, you come across a crime novel that flat-out blows you away and restores your faith in the entire genre. Night Dogs... is one of those books. I think it's the best novel I've read, period, in the last couple of years."
--George P. Pelecanos

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It's been a decade between novels for the talented Anderson, but he displays the same power, grace and maturity in fictionalizing his experiences as a Portland, Ore., policeman that he did in dealing with his stint in Vietnam in Sympathy for the Devil (1987). His hero, Hanson, returning from the earlier novel, is now a cynical, reclusive yet dedicated officer who hides his sensitivity to the tragedies taking place around him behind a glib demeanor. His seemingly casual approach to the job inspires a vindictive, by-the-book narcotics officer, Fox, to go digging into Hanson's war background, only to discover some confidential FBI files pertaining to Hanson's time with the Special Forces in Vietnam. This conflict forms a bridge between Anderson's two novels, allowing the author to compare the violence of the Vietnam War to that of the inner city. Subplots include the death of Hanson's partner at the hands of a vicious petty criminal, a romantic misadventure with a woman policeman and a destructive, kinky affair with a woman who has a fetish for violence. Recurring throughout are pregnantly symbolic images of the night dogs, rejected animals that roam the ghettos in packs and are stalked and killed during an annual police hunt. Anderson makes his mark in Wambaugh country with his eloquent, literary voice and an anguished, haunting sensibility. Many novels have been written about the lives of cops and soldiers, but few have probed the American propensity for violence as well as this one. In a foreword, James Crumley rightfully heralds this as "not just a fine book," but an "important" book.
Library Journal
It is 1975, and Vietnam veteran Hanson, the hero of Anderson's first novel, Sympathy for the Devil (1987), is a street cop in Portland, Oregon. Through a series of increasingly disorienting episodes, he dispenses rough justice and doubtful order in the toughest and most degraded parts of the city. The stresses in post-Vietnam American society and Hanson's difficulty in resolving his experiences in combat lead him through some disturbing rites, as for instance the annual North Precinct feral dog hunt, in which officers compete to run over strays with their patrol cars. Drugs, guns, sex, and all the usual attractions of youth call to Hanson; eventually, the death of a close friend and mentor impels him to make his peace with life. Anderson's vision is undeniably powerful, but the relentless violence and dark atmosphere will put off the squeamish. Recommended for large public libraries. First published in 1996 in a limited edition by Dennis McMillan Publications, this novel is being given a full national distribution by Bantam.
-- Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Library, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
New York Times Book Review
A street cop in Portland, Ore., works himself into a hellish state of mind as he pounds his wretched beat in 1975, reliving his own nightmares as a Green Beret in Vietnam.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.80(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt


It's the mid-Seventies, and America's trying to ignore its ignominious second-place finish in the Southeast Asian War Games, a loss we suffered because we lacked a clear purpose, an iron will, and the necessary courage of the Vietnamese. The American Dream has taken a severe beating, and everything seems to have gone to hell. The rich are getting richer and more self-righteous, the poor more desperately poor, and nobody seems to remember the losses or the lessons of the Vietnam War. Caught between the hopeful hangover of the sixties and the looming eighties' decade of unrestrained greed, the various governments are as confused and indecisive as they were during the war, plus they have cut services to the bloody bone, and the streets are filled with the hopeless and the hopelessly insane.

The American center did not hold. Domestic relations have become disaster areas, neighborhoods free-fire zones, and the cities are fistfighting themselves to the death. Even our pets turn on us as domestic dogs revert to a more elemental stance, gathering in protective/aggressive feral packs, and sometimes must be destroyed, since the street cops can't shoot their owners.

Or so it seems, particularly to a young Vietnam vet police officer named Hanson. The only people who have even the vaguest notion of what's actually happening are the men and women in the trenches, the street cops.

As he works the mean streets of North Precinct, Hanson sees himself as the last line of defense, the thin blue line that prevents the criminal and the crazy from destroying the middle-class neighborhoods. Hanson also seems to be one of the few who actually care about the street people, as much caretaker as cop as he dispenses justice rather than law among his charges. On these streets, Hanson is the philosopher-king, mucking out the bloody stables with his bare hands.

Complicating Hanson's chores are the battles within himself. He hates liberals with an intelligent passion, partly because they don't understand the dynamic of the street and partly because he sees his own liberal heart as both foolish and weak. Like many men who ask too much of themselves, Hanson would love the relief of a connection with another human being. But he has enough trouble just talking to himself. So he relies on conversations with his cop partner, the occasional visitation from an old Vietnam War buddy who has moved from pain pills for his war wounds to dealing cocaine, and his irregular love-life, which revolves eccentrically around a woman who seems more depraved than the drug-addled streetwalkers on his beat. Mostly Hanson talks to his dog, Truman, a small wizened mutt he saved from a death at the pound after the demise of his ancient owner, against the advice of his cop cohorts.

It's a lonely life when the job is the only life, and when the job is bloody, confused, and dangerous, so is the life. But somehow Hanson survives. The street scenes are at the heart of this novel--moments of courage and compassion, snapshots of anger and understanding, scenes that flash on the brain like unexpected bolts of lightning. Through it all Hanson maintains his pride and sense of duty, but most of all he never condescends to the people on his beat. Throughout the novel, no matter what the anger, the violence, or the epithets, Hanson treats his charges with respect and dignity. They know it and return the favor. This is the way life is for a good street cop. And the way it should be. Hanson is the sort of police officer desperately needed on the street.

There has never been a police novel like this. The writing is as strong as the material: the minor characters are as brilliantly drawn as the best graffiti, the dialogue as solid as a brick through a plate glass window, and the prose as sharply precise as a linoleum knife across the throat.

Night Dogs is not just a fine book, it is an important book. It reminds us of important things, of a time too many people prefer to forget, the loss of faith and purpose after the war; and it reminds us that those people who live on the rough edges of society are people much like us, people with hopes and dreams, with disappointments and endurance; and they deserve the same respect we usually reserve for ourselves. Read this novel, enjoy, think, and rest easy in your domestic peace.

James Crumley
Missoula, October 1996


Every June 15th out at North Precinct, "A" relief and graveyard shift started killing dogs. The police brass and local politicians only smiled if they were asked about it, shook their heads, and said it was just another one of those old myths about the precinct.

The cops at North Precinct called them "Night Dogs," feral dogs, wild and half-wild, who roamed the districts after dark. Their ancestors had been pets, beaten and abandoned by their owners to breed and give birth on the streets. Some paused only long enough to eat the afterbirth before leaving the newborns to die. But there were others who suckled and watched over their mewling litters. Gaunt and yellow-eyed, their gums bleeding from malnutrition, they carried them, one by one, to some new safe place every few nights, out of instinct. Or out of love. You might call it love, but none of the cops at North ever used that word.

Survivors were lean and quick, pit bull and Doberman in their blood, averaging fifty or sixty pounds. Anything smaller eventually starved to death if it wasn't first run down and killed by larger dogs, cornered by children with rocks and bats, or caught in the street by flaring headlights after the bars closed. A quick death the only good luck those dogs would ever know before they were plowed into reeking landfills or dumped in the "Dead Animal Bin" behind the Humane Society gas chamber.

Night Dogs carried a scent of fear and rot in their fur, and the cops at North Precinct claimed they could smell them in the dark--stalking the chain-link fences of restaurant parking lots on graveyard shift, prowling supermarket Dumpsters or crouched, ears back, in the shadows of McDonald's dark arches. When the winter rains came and food got scarce, they ate their own shit and each other.

They waited for night in fire-gutted, boarded-up cellars of abandoned homes the neighborhood had used as garbage dumps, then set on fire and watched burn as they sat on their porches with quarts of Colt .45 and King Cobra Tallboys, waiting for the fire trucks.

Most of the cops would have let the dogs live their wretched lives, but too many were crazy, vicious from inbreeding, putrid food, brain damage. Some thought just the stress of everyday survival made them that way. Everybody had a theory, but in the end it didn't matter.

When Radio sent a patrol car on a dog bite, to "check for an ambulance," they usually found some kid too young to have been afraid. Blacks, whites, illegals up from Mexico, always lying absolutely still, trying to distance themselves from the pain that hurt them worse if they cried. Their eyes gave away nothing, pupils huge and distant in their bloody faces as if they had just seen a miracle.

Sometimes the dogs attacked grown men, even cops, as if they wanted to die, growing bolder and more dangerous in the summer, when people stayed out after dark, and rabies began to spread. It came with warm weather, carried by the night wind and nocturnal animals gone mad--prehistoric possums with pig eyes and needle teeth, squealing in the alleys. Rats out on the sidewalks at noon, sluggish and dazed. Raccoons hissing in the nettles and high grass along polluted golf course creeks. Feral cats, bats falling from the sky, dreamy-eyed skunks staggering out of the West Hills, choking on their own tongues, their hearts shuddering with the virus they carried, an evil older than cities or civilization--messengers perhaps, sent by some brooding, wounded promise we betrayed and left for dead back when the world was still only darkness and frozen seas.

Late one night at the police club, some of the cops from North were talking about it. They'd been drinking for quite a while when a cop named Hanson said you couldn't really blame the dogs.

Well hell, who do you blame then?

Someone back in the corner slammed his beer down.

Fuck blame. Just kill 'em.

What People are Saying About This

James Crumley
"The best cop novel I have ever read. There's never been anything like it."
Carsten Stroud
"Night Dogs reads like long range reconnaissance. If you come back alive, you'll be different. That's mastery."
A.A. Attanasio
"Kent Anderson knows that wisdom is mourning."

Meet the Author

Kent Anderson is a former police officer, a former Special Forces sergeant in Vietnam, and the author of Sympathy for the Devil. He lives in Idaho.

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Night Dogs 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book reflects the reality of street work as a police officer. Crazy, violent, repulsive behavior of both the good & bad characters leads the reader to believe in the author's actual experience as a cop on duty. Authentic dialogue, situations & settings are first rate!!! A must read for anybody fascinated with crime & degenerate behavior.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is FANTASTIC! Kent Anderson's writing makes you feel as if you are there. It's a hard book to put down!!! Wonderful book, I would recommend it to anyone! A+!!