2017 was an incredible year for books featuring autistic characters. So much so that I did wonder how 2018 was ever going to compete. Yet here we are, not one month into the new year and we already have The Dog Thief by Marta Acosta: a unique thriller/mystery featuring a side of the spectrum previously unexplored and placed firmly in a range of genres which I never expected to see representation in.
Narrowing down the Dog Thief to just one genre is no easy feat, as what starts off as the perfect introduction to a crime/suspense story, quickly develops into a family drama with a touch of romance to boot. Maddie Whitney aka ‘Mad Girl’ is a dog rehabilitator in the small rural town of Coyote Run whose dismissive attitude towards anything which doesn’t walk on four legs and barks has recently lost her the love of her life: Claire.
After a failed attempt at trying to win back her once girlfriend, Maddie takes a short cut and stumbles upon the rotting corpse of an unidentifiable woman – an event which takes the girl who never wanted any attention straight into the limelight of the small town.
Maddie is an unconventional lead. Even as a representation of the spectrum, there are many things about her which I can’t relate to: she’s confident yet conflicted, she’s outspoken yet self-contained and she’s very aware of who she wants to be, however, often falls short of becoming that person as a result of her own self sabotage. Maddie is an outsider, a common theme in author Marta Acosta’s work, but even amongst the many characters on the spectrum which currently exist she is perhaps still an enigma. I mean, how often do you really see a 31 year old, bisexual autist in a book, where the plot revolves around something other than these components?
Maddie isn’t the only fascinating character in The Dog Thief though, as what would a crime/thriller be without its persons of interests? From Coyote Run’s new local vet to Maddie’s sister’s new boyfriend, every character is expertly crafted to capture attention, even when they are discussing something as mundane and obscure as fracking – a bizarrely common topic in The Dog Thief which, surprisingly, works to great effect.
I did have one issue with the supporting cast of The Dog Thief and this was that the one black character happens to hold a lot of information about the drug trade in the city, however, this really isn’t a key moment in the story, so I’m just going to pretend it didn’t happen.
The Dog Thief isn’t just a ‘whodunnit?’ though, as there are a number of great action scenes scattered throughout the novel, which will honestly get your heart pumping, as you to try to comprehend how Maddie will resolve the issue. Without spoiling anything, I have to commend a particular showdown early on in the book when Maddie finds herself face to face with a vicious attack dog. A moment which will without a doubt go down as one of my favourite moments in literature, as it not only contains exhilarating tension, but it also features the single best dog name I have ever heard – ‘Zeus’.
Sometime this pace can work against The Dog Thief, however, as there are times during group conversations where it can be difficult to follow who is saying what and though this issue is usually resolved, by a character eventually saying the name of the person they are speaking with, it sometimes meant I had to retrace the conversation back a page which, on occasion, affected the pacing of the book. On the other hand, there are many moments where Acosta’s fast dialogue flourishes and conversations are both heartwarming and heartbreaking, giving characters added depth in only a few words.
Even Maddie’s many, many dogs will feel like people you have known your whole life by the end of the book, with a core few of her canines becoming so realised that you can’t help but smile when you read their names on the page.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, amongst the many hats The Dog Thief wears, it is also a romance novel and it’s this area of the novel where Acosta’s writing really comes into its own. Maddie is at constant odds with her heart, her brain and her hormones and though this is somewhat a cliché’ to the genre, it works incredibly well – fast becoming an internal battle which, thanks to Acosta’s gorgeous descriptions of how Maddie’s views the world, can often leave you more perplexed than the mystery at the centre of the book.
In a sea of incredible young adult fiction providing us with likeable yet sometimes unoriginal autistic characters, The Dog Thief has taken preconceptions of how to portray autism and crafted a genre hopping narrative, as rich and diverse as the spectrum itself.
Currently only available on Kindle, The Dog Thief is out this Monday (January 15th 2018).
Carry on the Conversation
Are you planning on reading The Dog Thief? Let me know in the comments below! Also what books are on your to read list this year, I would love to know.
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Thank you for reading, and I will see you next Saturday, for more thoughts from across the spectrum.