"Finding Jack," by Gareth Crocker (St. Martin’s Press, 304 pp.)
In his debut novel, Gareth Crocker pays homage to thousands of unsung war heroes: dogs. Highly trained and fiercely loyal, canine soldiers risk their lives for their fellow fighters with little fanfare. Some 50 years ago, a reported 4,000 dogs served in Vietnam, where they sniffed out explosives and led troops to safety. After the conflict ended, however, only 200 of them made it home. The rest, labeled “surplus military equipment,” were left behind. From such distressing facts Crocker builds the premise of Finding Jack.
After a great personal tragedy, Fletcher Carson enlists to fight in Vietnam. There his nights are haunted by the past and his days by the horrors of war. When a critically wounded yellow Labrador limps toward his unit, Fletcher feels compelled to save him – against his lieutenant’s order. Jack, as he comes to be named, miraculously survives, and a bond is irreversibly tied.
Though speckled with dramatic and, frankly, implausible plot points (top secret missions, perpetually selfless protagonists, and a 350-mile trek through the enemy-infused jungle), the novel is quick and captivating. Ultimately, it’s not the sensational Hollywood-style action that will stick with readers, but instead the humbling, eternal friendship between man and dog.