June 30, 2010


The Shocking Raid on Westminster
by Berkeley Breathed
217 pages, Philomel Books

Review by Melissa Conway

Flawed Dogs is by far the best new book I’ve read all year.

On a recent trip from one U.S. coast to the other, I spent all six take-offs and all six landings with my nose buried in the pages of one book or another, trying to concentrate on the words instead of the terror. Thanks to inclement weather that caused me to miss my last connecting flight, I had to stay over in Denver. On standby the next day, I found Flawed Dogs in the airport bookstore. It was the only one of the books I read during that trip to successfully distract me from my fear of flying.

I grew up reading Bloom County. Berkeley Breathed’s books sat side-by-side with Bill Watterson’s in the many family bookcases. Billy and the Boingers Bootleg, Babylon, Tales Too Tall to Tell—all were loved to the battered and splattered-upon stage. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew Breathed had written some stuff for the younger crowd, but I’d never checked it out.

My loss.

This book is written for middle-grade readers and illustrated in the author’s unique comic style, with both black and white pictures and full-page color inserts. But even though the illustrations give us insight into Breathed’s vision for his characters, I have to say the story is so well-written it could have stood on its own.

(Plot summary/spoilers below)

Sam doesn’t know it, but he’s a Dachshund so purely bred he’s got the ‘holy grail of Dachshundom,’ on his head, the Duuglitz Tuft. He belongs to the large, hairy (in chinchilla) Mrs. Nutbush, but through a series of hilarious hijinks, changes his own destiny. Fourteen-year-old Heidy is his true love, and after she leaves boarding school to come live with her emotionally distant uncle, she needs Sam as much as he needs her. Life settles down into peaceful, happy routine in Uncle Hamish’s big house with his assistant, Mrs. Beaglehole, and her fancy poodle Cassius. But Cassius is a jealous, vicious dog who sets Sam up for an unthinkable crime. Uncle Hamish is forced to put him down, but can’t finish the job. Instead, he calls some men to come pick Sam up, but before they show, Cassius tricks Sam into stepping on a spring-loaded animal trap. Sam loses a leg and spends the next three years at a research facility enduring unspeakable horrors. He escapes, and is rescued by the Rough-Handed Man, who straps a soup ladle onto Sam as a substitute leg. Unfortunately, the Rough-Handed Man’s kindness is short-lived. He’s got money trouble and needs Sam to bail him out—in the dog-fighting ring. While waiting to die in the ring, Sam sees a poster advertising the Westminster Dog Show, and the pampered pooch featured on the poster is none other than the traitorous Cassius. This gives Sam a new purpose: Sabotage the show! And he sets out to do just that with the help of a group of oddball dogs (and one disguised cat) from the National Last-Ditch Dog Depository. There’s Wee Willy, so small he has no problem indulging his favorite past-time, nose diving; Pooft, with the inflammatory rear end; Fabio the two-legged dog, ‘Ol Blue, who’s actually blue; Tusk, often mistaken for a ‘furry rhinoceros,’ Bug, ‘with a face overwhelmed with wrinkles, piano-wire hair, and bulging eyeballs;’ and Madam, the Great Dane who’s really a cat with remarkable sewing skills.

I cried by page eight and laughed like a loon only a few pages later. That’s the way it went. I was packed in like a sardine on an airplane, probably annoying the hey out of my seatmates by snorting, chuckling and outright guffawing, followed closely by sniffles and surreptitious eye swipes. Several times I had to close the book and blink up at the ceiling to stop the tears.

Really, truly good read.

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