California Literary Review

No Man’s Dog: A Detective Sergeant Mulheisen Mystery – by Jon A. Jackson

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April 22nd, 2007 at 5:44 pm

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No Man’s Dog: A Detective Sergeant Mulheisen Mystery
by Jon A. Jackson
Grove/Atlantic Inc., 355 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★★☆

A Writer’s Writer

In No Man’s Dog Jon Jackson weaves a curious juxtaposition between his long-time hero “Fang” Mulheisen, a soon-to-be former Detroit cop, and his nemesis of many years, Joe Service, an ex-freelance contractor to the Mob. Dumped into this cocktail of violence and mayhem are a ruthless, if at times seemingly confused, collection of drug dealers, international terrorists, rogue government agents, and the relentless fury of crime-moll Helen Sedlacek, whose father was way up on the family ladder until he was offed.

The book begins with Mulheisen’s aged mother, an inveterate bird watcher, nearly killed in an incomprehensible bombing at an orderly environmental protest. Just prior to the blast a mysterious stranger warns her to flee the area. Mulheisen quits the force to take care of her, but as she gradually begins to recover and to regain her memory, he turns his attention to tracking down the explosive criminals. Cops are cops and unsolved crimes are anathema to long-time members of the force like Fang.

The task force assembled to solve the case can’t decide if the bombing was aimed at the environmental group, or is the work of an international terrorist organization or even a drug cartel attempting to quiet a witness. Mulheisen is not a member of this lost group, but works on the fringes following his own leads and instincts.

This is a typical Jackson scenario, one that threatens to careen out of control and wander dark, incomprehensible avenues of plot. This will never happen. Jackson, who studied creative writing at Iowa State at the time Raymond Carver was there, easily and without apparent artifice moves each of his story lines through the narrative. At times none of them seem related, and it often appears that they never will be. Subtly at these moments of readerly concern, with precise timing, Jackson slips in awkward incidence, slight dialogue inference, delicate innuendo and the entire off-kilter mélange of intrigue begins to tie itself together.

Enter a gun-happy survivalist named “Imp” Luck. Was he responsible for the bombing or just an unwitting government pawn? And what about the volatile presence of Joe Service, the sometimes hatchet man for an elite group of federal agents acting above the law who call themselves the Lucani? None of this is enough for Jackson. Just as Service has been pitched into the clutches of the Lucani’s Machiavellian Colonel Tucker, an old mob contact warns Joe that someone he thought he’d killed is alive and probably wants to ice Service. And so it goes.

Jackson is one of the most respected authors in Montana, a state riddled with writers who seem to pop up on corner bar stools in every corner of the state, or stagger through cafes, Mini Marts and fly shops from Peerless to Yaak. It’s a dangerous place for those trying to make a buck writing, but Jackson has been more than holding his own for decades crafting wonderful books that include Grootka (perhaps his best novel), Hit on the House, Man With an Axe, Blind Pig, Deadman and his vastly under-appreciated historical novel examining the labor movement in Butte, Montana in 1917 called Go by Go. He’s prolific, but no hack. Writers of all genres read his books as much to study how he makes the difficult and complicated look easy (this is called skill) as for the pure enjoyment of each title – the plot twists, the eccentric yet believable characters, strong settings and competent dialogue as exemplified in this first meeting between Mulheisen and Imp Luck:

“A pilot? Were you in the service?”

“Not really, not the regular service. I flew for a private outfit, contracts in Southeast Asia, later in Central America. You won’t find it in the dossier but it was government work.”

“Sounds important,” Mulheisen said.

“It was important for me,” Luck said. “Kind of opened my eyes, gave me some kind of insight into how our government really works. But it’s not something I can discuss. Yeah, I’ve done a lot of things. Worked for the Forest Service at one time. Heck, I’m even an environmentalist.”st.”

Mulheisen smiles. He didn’t show his fangs much. “You are?”

Well, a naturalist of sorts, anyway. I don’t go along with most of these radical environmental groups, naturally. But, hey, I’m a bird-watcher, if not a tree-hugger, exactly.”

“A bird-watcher!” Mulheisen was surprised.

Within the context of the narrative these few words intimate and even reveal a lot – private outfit, government work, bird-watcher. There are even a couple of puns worked in. The entire book is filled with this kind of thing and done in a way that is so completely seamless that anyone reading just to get from A to B, to see who did what to who, will never be bothered, will never now that the various levels and subtext exist. Again that’s skill.

While No Man’s Dog may not be Jackson’s best novel, the book shows why hardcore writers consider this guy one of the best in the business.

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