Crais' 'Suspect' looks at human-canine bond
Shot twice, her handler Pete mortally wounded by an IED, the gravely injured Maggie, a bomb-sniffing German shepherd attached to the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan, covers Pete's body with her own in a futile but valiant attempt to protect him.
For Maggie, it's all about protecting her pack. To her, Pete is everything.
That's the opening scene in best-selling author Robert Crais' new novel, “Suspect,” a book he says is the most emotional he's written.
“Throughout the writing, again and again, during certain scenes, I would be sitting here at my computer blubbering like a baby,” says Crais, 59, from his home in Los Angeles. “It was an extremely emotional time for me.”
That's because he wasn't just thinking about Maggie.
Sixteen years ago, Crais' beloved Akita, Yoshi, 12, died in his arms. “When he passed,” says Crais, a life-long dog lover, “I just couldn't get another dog. It felt disloyal.”
Two years ago, during a pre-dawn hike through the canyons near his home, Crais, best known for suspense novels starring Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, began to think about bringing another dog into his life. “I started to think maybe it's time again, and as I started processing all that, I started wanting to read up on why it has taken me this long.”
So Crais began researching the nature of the human-canine relationship. That led to stories about military working dogs and how their bonds with their human handlers “were closer and tighter than most people could ever realize. I grew fascinated by that bond. It resonated with me. Yoshi was such a part of my life, and we, in many ways, were that kind of team.”
The purity of that bond, says Crais, inspired him to write “Suspect,” in which the traumatized Maggie, who, like human war veterans, struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, and Scott James, an injured LAPD detective also suffering from PTSD, work together to find the people who killed James' partner.
And while a number of nonfiction books have been published about the heroism of dogs serving with U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, few authors, if any, have made them heroes in their novels.
Crais was careful when writing about Maggie not to anthropomorphize her inner life. “It was super important to me to not make Maggie a cartoon,” he says.
Out of respect for the heroic work performed by military dogs, he says, he wanted Maggie to be “real” and his portrayal of her to accurately reflect how dogs perceive the world.
So, when he wanted to describe how she reacted to a detonated IED and gunfire, he says, “I know she's going to be onslaughted with scents, with smell impressions and with physical sensations and sound impressions. It was up to me to try to put together and figure out how these things would impress upon her, because those are the things that tail into her having PTSD and underlay everything else that's going to happen in the rest of the book.”
Crais hopes “Suspect” — which Booklist calls a “gripping and heartfelt thriller” — pays tribute to the nation's military dogs and raises public awareness about the challenges many of them face when they return home from war zones.
“First and foremost, I am a commercial writer,” Crais says, “and I hope to entertain people.
“But having said that, I'm in love with the relationship between humans and dogs, and the more I learned about what our military working dogs are doing, I wanted to, at least, share with people what an important role these animals have in all our lives.”
Crais might be ready to start a new relationship himself. “I'm thinking about getting a dog now,” he says. (He already has two cats.)
“I think writing the book opened a lot of doors for me. It helped me heal in a lot of ways. I think I reached a place where I understand that it wouldn't be disloyal to Yoshi anymore.”
And readers may not have seen the last of Maggie.
“I have this horrible weakness,” Crais says. “I fall in love with my characters. ‘Suspect' started as a one-shot, but I just love Maggie so much, and I love Maggie and Scott and what they have going.”
Carol Memmott is a staff writer for USA Today.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Previewing some of Western Pa.’s top Week 9 matchups
- High school football notebook: WPIAL might welcome another team next year
- Pittsburgh police warn residents about phone scam
- Quaker Valley plans to transform middle school library
- Notre Dame leads powerhouses in ACC; Pitt women picked 14th
- Penguins notebook: Team pays tribute to Ottawa shooting victims
- Police: New Ken drug suspect, Brandon Allen, used wrong name
- Plum 2015 budget includes wish lists that will be pared
- Manor officials expect to hold taxes steady for 2015
- Level Green man receives WWII medals
- Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School principal Abbott steps down