First published back in February of 2001, British author Mark Morris’ novella ‘The Dogs’ was written for Barrington Stoke’s ‘reluctant readers’ series, aimed at providing particularly easy-to-read stories for those who have been put off by reading.
Life had become particularly cruel for young Alice Manly. After her parents were killed in a tragic plane crash whilst on their way back to England, Alice is shuttled off to the sleepy village of Clagston on the edge of Bodmin Moor where her Aunt Vanessa will take over the responsibility of Alice’s upbringing.
With the help of her caring Aunt and her two loving dogs – Holly and Pip, Alice finds her life very gradually recovering from the loss of her parents. In a hope of helping Alice to get over the terrible shock, her Aunt gives Alice her two dogs, allowing her to play with them whenever she likes.
But after more than three months had passed since her parents died, a local girl named Sally Marsden goes missing whilst out playing hide-and-seek. The local community, together with what constitutes as their police force, take to the nearby moors in search of the missing girl. But it’s sadly to no avail.
However, for young Alice Manly her life is about to be hit by further misfortune. Whilst the community is still in shock over the disappearance of the young schoolgirl, Alice’s two dogs also go missing. Distraught by the loss of her two dogs, Alice spends hours searching the moors for her canine companions. But once again, the search fails to locate those that are lost.
However, there’s something far worse than losing one’s loved ones. Something far more disturbing than never seeing those you care about again. Something that Alice, in her tragic life, is about to learn for herself…
As explained in Morris’ one page ‘Note From The Author’, the inspiration for the tale came from a friend who lost her dogs, which prompted Morris to ponder the “what if, after all these years, the dogs suddenly turned up out of the blue” question. With this somewhat simplistic fundamental plot premise decided upon, Morris has crafted a short but surprisingly atmospheric tale with quite a hefty bite to it.
Similar to the Fastback books from the 1980’s, Mark Morris’ ‘The Dogs’ was published by Barrington Stoke as part of their ‘reluctant readers’ series. The idea behind the books is to entice people who wouldn’t usually pick up a book, to read something short and suitably easy to read so as to accommodate these so-called reluctant readers. As such, the tale is more of a (lengthy) short story, utilising a purposefully large font and more basic language. Similarly, the book includes a number of black and white illustrations (by Roy Petrie), no doubt to help with the overall delivery of the tale.
Although somewhat simplistic and liner in its basic premise and plot, the story does still play around with some pretty darn creepy ideas, with the added weight of Morris’ masterful writing ability setting the scene and piling on the creeping atmosphere. And ‘creeping’ really is the word to use here. The tale creeps by, gradually working its way to the very core of the scare-factor where it unleashes a sudden (and still quite surprising) concluding tirade of horror.
Okay, so the actual writing is slightly restrained by the ‘reluctant readers’ requirements. Nevertheless, Morris has brought to life an increasingly chilling story, with plenty of teeth at the end, to really get to the bone whilst gnawing away at your innards.
A longer, more fleshed-out and far more involved version of ‘The Dogs’ was later included within the short story collection ‘Long Shadows, Nightmare Light’ (2011).
The novel runs for a total of 103 pages.
© DLS Reviews