By Shane McKenzie
Publisher: Rothco Press
Pub. Date: May 4, 2015
Rating; 5 out of 5 stars
McKenzie's writing is very visceral. As in his previous work, Muerte Con Carne, there is plenty of action and violence. Yet while Muertes Con Carne is clearly a horror tale, Mutt is closer to a suspense and crime tale and throws in a lot of human drama into its characters' development and emotions. Patrick is mixed race but is frequently mistaken as Mexican. Patrick is based on the author's own situation and speaks of his own dilemma as being judged as someone he is not. While the author is taking his queues from his own life, I am fairly certain the actual plot is not auto-biographical or at least I hope not! The fictional Patrick's situation is extreme but it works as an illustration of one of our own inescapable issues in our American life; being judged on appearance and race rather than for who we really are. Mutt is just as much a coming-of-age tale about growing up in race and class torn America as it is an edge of your seat thriller about gangs and violence.
That is why this book and the main character of Patrick moved me so much. Patrick is a normal kid who wants to be accepted and wants the girl. He is tricked into a lifestyle he does not want for a girl who may have other plans for him. In the midst of this plot we have great writing that brings Patrick and the gang of Los Reyes Locos to life. There is no sugar coating. Shane is sleeping with cobras and he knows it. The scenes of violence are intense but fits squarely into the story and we see Patrick's own terror and bewilderment as he experiences it.
It is that part of McKenzie's writing that senses the horror of life choices when it collides with the human-created horrors of society that makes me come back to his stories. Whether it is cannibal families as in Muerte Con Carne or homicidal gangs as in Mutt, the author goes deeper than the suspense and visceral thrills inherent in the tale and digs into the existential dread that one will find themselves in. I hope the author continues this exploration of the human side of dark social and racial themes in future stories. Even if he decides to just thrill and terrorize us I will be pleased. He does it so well. But he has the gift of social observation that does not ignore the individual psyche and I hope he uses it again.