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Yard Dog by A.G. Pasquella

Published in Canada by Dundurn on November 24, 2018

In the tradition of The Sopranos, Yard Dog is propelled by violence but fueled by characterization. Jack Palace is out of jail. A gangster named Tommy wants to get him back into the life, going on routes with his men as they collect debts. In the tradition of stories about aging gangsters, Jack is tired of the life. He’s at war with his sense of fatalism. Another character calls him delusional for believing that he’s not a gangster. He probably is delusional but his attempt to discern a faint line between right and wrong makes him an interesting guy.

It doesn’t take long for Jack to improve the way Tommy does business, but problems arise when Tommy wants Jack to collect debts that are owed to Tommy’s father, particularly a debt owed by a hit man who isn’t inclined to recognize Tommy’s authority to collect on his father’s behalf. A struggle for power dictated by mob politics threatens Tommy’s position as dueling mobsters wait for Tommy’s hospitalized father to draw his last breath.

One thing leads to another in this fast-moving story, and before the novel’s midway point mobsters are at war with other mobsters — or at least they’re at war with Jack, who can do more damage with a bag full of knives than most platoons can do with serious weaponry. Jack prefers knives because they’re clean and accurate; innocent people don’t get killed in the crossfire.

The plot in Yard Dog isn’t complex — lots of people want to kill Jack and he needs to solve that problem, sometimes by killing his assailants — but the point of a crime novel like Yard Dog is to raise the reader’s adrenalin level without making the reader leave the couch. The story easily accomplishes that goal. The ending is satisfying if not entirely unexpected.

Yard Dog isn’t a comedy but it has some very funny moments, at least for readers who aren’t disturbed by the humor of psychopaths. Some of the creative rants in which gangsters indulge made me laugh out loud. The story is also written with some heart. The fact that people find themselves in positions that require a certain amount of killing doesn’t necessarily make them incapable of feeling emotions or of following an ethical code. A.G. Pasquella imagines stone cold killers who have a sensitive side, killers who pursue revenge killings not from a sense of tradition but because they loved the people for whom they exact revenge. That doesn’t make revenge a morally sound choice, but it humanizes the characters who decide to pursue it. On the other hand, some of the characters are just being true to their violent natures.

Yard Dog features a few brief but graphic sex scenes. Readers who are disturbed by the thought of other people enjoying sex might want to find something else to read. Readers who are disturbed by violence probably won’t want to pick up a crime novel, much less this one. On the other hand, readers who enjoy an intelligent take on gangster fiction might want to give Yard Dog a try.


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