Book review: Waiting For Doggo

Mark B Mills

Headline Review, €19.40; ebook, €8.49

WHAT’S a man to do? Copywriter Dan doesn’t really know, but he’s determined to make the best out of his recent bout of bad luck. And what about Doggo, the compact, grumpy, white, virtually hairless mutt rescued from the Battersea Dogs Home?

Doggo is “just a dog, a small ugly dog. No, not exactly ugly, but you know what I mean — not overloaded with good looks, poor thing.” So writes Dan’s ex-girlfriend, Clara, who dumped Dan without so much as a by-your-leave.

Dan and Clara had been together for four years, and it’s obvious from Clara’s ‘Dear John’ letter that she finally realised she didn’t find him the most exciting of partners (“you’ll feel humiliated, of course, but it could be worse…”)

While it’s true that Dan isn’t Superman or Colin Farrell, or even an older version of One Direction’s Harry Styles, he’s the steady sort, the kind of person who abides by speed limits, who plays maths puzzles on his smartphone, and whose dress sense might require a design makeover.

Dan is a good guy and a decent bloke, yet there’s one thing about Clara’s letter that jars with his sense of fair play — The line about her not being able to prevent him from entering into new and fresh romantic encounters. “I can’t stop you doing what you want to do,” writes Clara with an underlying sense of adverse wishful thinking, “but if you sleep with Polly I’ll kill you. She’s young, vulnerable and in awe of you, but she’s also my baby sister, so ‘non toccare’, as they say in Italy…”

Clara only has herself to blame, thinks Dan, as he pulls his mobile phone out of his pocket and taps in Polly’s number.

And the problems continue: Not only has Dan been cut adrift from a lifeboat tethered to HMS Relationship, but his business partnership has been chopped in two — Dan’s Art Director, the so-named Fat Trev, has suffered a nervous breakdown, and a copywriter without an Art Director is like a dog with three legs.

Doggo has all his faculties (and limbs), but he also has something else — that unique canine quality which generates the type of empathetic relationship very few people can resist.

Oxfordshire-based author Mark B Mills (whose debut, The Whaleboat House, won the 2004 Crime Writers Association award for best novel by a debut author) has, for the moment at least, set aside his bestselling crime/mystery writing to construct a narrative that, while cosy and comfortable, maintains a level of truth that drags it out of the improbable areas of popular fiction.

The tagline/subtitle of the book is apt (One man. One dog. One big love) and implies precisely the kind of book that dog lovers will bill and coo over. Your reviewer isn’t anywhere close to being a dog lover (I know, despicable me), but even this curmudgeon can understand and appreciate the underlying factors that make this book about a man and his dog a relaxed, amusing read.

Where Mills casually succeeds the most is in creating characters that ring true — people here make mistakes, misjudge, lie, confess, are equally loveable and intensely unlikeable — and in plotting a less than complex, light-hearted but also emotionally rich storyline that you can believe in.

Of course, there will be people that will go to the ends of the earth to avoid books like Waiting For Doggo, but if your inner cynic can be put out to pasture for a few hours, there’s much to like here.


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