Smith’s novel starts off with all the high tension of a professional dog meet. It’s the Eastminster International Dog Show, and the happenings are narrated by Elvis, an Airedale terrier (“the gentlemen dog of the terrier group”) and returning champion. He desperately wants to win this dog show because his Man needs the prize money in order to renovate and salvage the dog shelter where all of Elvis’ canine pals, especially one named Freddy, worship Elvis. They’re counting on him for their literal survival. The Airedale knows the pressure is on, but he’s confident of his chances—until his archnemesis (“she’s white, though her heart is black as onyx”), a standard French poodle named Chaussay, seems somehow to curse the chances of the other contestants in the show, arranging for each dog in turn to fail in their showing, leaving her and her snooty handler, Pierre, in possession of the prize—and sending Elvis home in the most bitter of defeats, certain that Chaussay’s treachery and his defeat have sealed the doom of his friends. There follows a long and fast-paced adventure full of plot twists in which not only do the shelter residents strive to right the wrongs of Chaussay’s schemes, but, surprisingly, they also strive to shine the spotlight on humble Freddy (“I always thought that was for ‘special dogs’ and that did not include me,” he thinks at one point, “I never thought of myself as special”). Smith’s novel joins the ranks of other dog-narrated stories like Richard Adams’ The Plague Dogs (1977) and Donald McCaig’s Nop’s Trials (1984) in that he dispenses completely with sentimentality or predictability in order to tell a hero’s journey story in which the hero isn’t quite human. He manages humor and suspense with equal skill.

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