First published back in February of 2015, ‘Jagger’ offered up another brutal and explicitly violent tale from US author Kristopher Rufty.

DLS Synopsis:
Clayton Fortner knew he was in trouble as soon as he saw his dog go down.  Problem is, he’d been arrogantly over-confident in the dog’s fighting ability.  And now Bruiser had lost.  But it wasn’t the mangled remains of his dog that was concerning Clayton.  It was that between Brock Shuller and his business associates, they had put twelve grand down on Clayton’s dog.  Shuller wasn’t a man to let down.  Clayton remembered what happened to the last person who lost Shuller money.  It was far from a pleasant way to go.

Luckily Shuller owed Freddy Cormack a favour.  And Freddy had always looked up to Clayton.  And so Freddy would have a word with Shuller and hopefully buy Clayton a little time in which he could somehow pay Shuller back his twelve grand.  Of course Freddy wanted something in exchange for this little service.  Something that Clayton had no choice but to give him.

Meanwhile, Amy Snider had been putting her best friend, Teresa Hawking, up to help distance her from her no good cheating boyfriend – Clayton.  Living alone on the rundown trailer park that she had inherited from her father, Amy was glad of the company of her friend.  Although she always had her one-hundred-and-eighty pound bullmastiff, Jagger, for companionship.  And most of the time it was still just the two of them.

However, after Shuller’s men pay Clayton a visit; beating and then dumping his naked body in the middle of nowhere, Teresa is the only person who Clayton can think of to turn to.  And despite her better judgement Teresa finds herself being dragged into the thick of Clayton’s problem.  

What Clayton needs is another dog.  One that will fight like no other dog and win back the money Shuller lost on his last fight.

After visiting a drugged-up nutter he knows named Stan, Clayton has an idea of how he might just be able to pull this thing off.  It appears that Stan’s developed a drug named Adrenasyl which provides a crazy synthetic version of hormones and increased muscle mass.  After trying the concoction out on one of his own dogs, the drug sends it into a violent rage before the crazed-dog’s heart explodes.  The dog just couldn’t take the drug.  But a bigger dog might just be able to handle it.

And then Teresa has an idea.  She hates herself for doing it, but she decides that needs to help Clayton.  And so she tells him where they can get a big dog from.  A  dog that could become a beast in the hands of those that know how to change a dog.  A dog she has easy access to.  A one-hundred-and-eighty pound bullmastiff named Jagger…

DLS Review:
Isn’t it funny how things seem to conspire at the most opportune times.  Just as I pick up Kristopher Rufty’s latest offering – a tale involving a massive bullmastiff turned into a violent and bloodthirsty beast for the purpose of dogfighting - at the exact same time all over our local news there are reports of a dangerous Rottweiler which is apparently on the loose where we live.  A savagely mauled dog that the police believe had been bred for illegal dogfighting and subsequently abandoned in our local area (Porthcawl).  Scary stuff!  And holy shit doesn’t it just give Rufty’s story an added bite of realism…as if it needed it!

So anyway, what we have with ‘Jagger’ is one scary-ass cross between Stephen King’s ‘Cujo’ (1981) and the true-to-life vileness that is illegal dogfighting ala Justin Rollins’ ‘Status Dogs & Gangs’ (2014).  Yeah, you can kind of guess where this whole thing’s going.  In particular, if you’re a dog lover then you may find quite a lot of the tale incredibly hard to swallow.  And what’s perhaps the grimmest aspect about the whole thing is that so much of the basis of it is so nauseatingly true to life.  There are scum out there who beat, torment and breed dogs for the sole purpose of dogfighting.  It’s grim reading at the best of times.  Stick that vileness into a brutal and utterly uncompromising horror novel and you’ve got yourself something that’s going to rip its way under even the toughest of horror-hardened skin.

The story itself is a very character-rich one.  The majority of the tale jumps between Amy’s lonely life and that of Clayton’s as he schemes to get the lost money back from his last dogfight.  Weaving together these two parallel running threads are a whole host of secondary characters – each with their own intrinsic role to play in how the tale will eventually pan out.  However, it’s with Kristopher Rufty’s consistent and wonderfully involved characterisation where the novel really wins you over.  In fact, each and every one of the characters, no matter how minor their part may be, has a well-established life and truly distinct personality of their own.

As you’d expect from Kristopher Rusty, or indeed a novel published by Sinister Grin Press, the tale is hard-hitting and utterly brutal in its delivery of the violence it delivers.  However, this is not gore for gore sake.  Yes there’s plenty of savage bloodshed and explicit violence on show.  However, every bone-shattering blow, every ripping of flesh, and every drop of blood has a point to it.  The story would more-than-likely fail without such an impactful and explicit delivery.  The reader needs to be shown the brutality of the dogfighting scum and the lengths they go to in order to create their beasts.  You need to witness the effects of what happens when a dog is made to become a monster.  And to be honest it makes for some damn grim reading at times.

Furthermore, Rufty purposefully highlights the strong bond between Amy and her beloved dog, and through this bond establishes a strong emotional link with the reader as well.  You feel connected to Jagger, emotionally invested in Amy and her life, and truly sympathetic to her eventual loss.  And then when Jagger is torn away from Amy by the very person she trusts, and slowly made into a hate-filled monster, it feels like a sledgehammer’s been swung straight into your gut.

There’s no getting away from the fact that this is a shocking read.  Not just through the explicit brutality of the violence on show, but also in its portrayal of how a couple of self-obsessed yobs can wreck so many lives so damn easily.  However, there’s not one part of this story that didn’t keep me gripped with where it was going.  The characterisation, the constantly escalating storyline, the utter brutality that’s flung your way – it all makes for one powerful and downright compelling read.  

This story makes Stephen King’s ‘Cujo’ (1981) seem like ‘Beethoven’ (1992) in comparison.

The novel runs for a total of 335 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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