The Hound Hunters
Adam Niswander

Hippocampus Press
Trade Paper, 302 pages, $20.00
Review by Sheila Merritt

Native American traditions collide with Lovecraftian entities from another dimension in Adam Niswander’s ambitious novel, The Hound Hunters. During the course of seven days, shamans of a dozen Southwestern tribes investigate odd local disturbances. This puts them on a collision course with cosmic canine creatures. While doggedly pursuing the hellish hounds, the mystic practioners go on a spiritual journey in keeping with their individual tribal beliefs.

They also must deal with Garfield Laurent, a powerful crime lord. Laurent aided by his mother, a New Guinea native skilled in the dark arts, unleashes the demonic dogs’ power. Laurent’s henchmen distribute a recreational drug which opens a portal to another dimension. What appears to the user as an amazing hallucinogenic trip, is instead a visit to canine purgatory. The dimension in which the hounds are stuck is a undefined region between our world and their previous cosmic habitat. They were held at bay until the release of the so-called “chaos drug,” which is combined with some nasty New Guinean rituals for potency.

Laurent envisions his future as Master of the World: All he has to do is give the dogs their day, and set the template for a few commands and a bit of obedience training. The hounds, in exchange, can go on their rabidly aggressive agenda of eating their way through mankind and establishing a new life for themselves on earth. Laurent and his malign magic mama would be spared the wrath, while ruling and reveling in the savagery. The dastardly duo would avidly embrace and slightly alter the lyrics of a pop song to: “Who, who wouldn’t let the dogs out?”

The novel is interesting in its Southwestern setting and local color. It has a message of unification: Tribes that once were rivals, competitors, and had historical grievances are more powerful when working as a unit. Each group can bring something unique and useful when fighting for the greater good. Even working with “the white man,” who has often been a figure of distrust, can be beneficial in helping to save the world.

Author Niswander writes of the various sub-cultures with extreme attention to detail. One of the problems with the book, in fact, is too much detail. Characters who are only in one scene have names. There are lots of names in the novel, and, since many of them are Native American, they are often difficult to remember. Once the initial sense of awe over the elaborate descriptions wears off, what remains is an irritation over the writer’s seeming obsession with minutiae. Given a multitude of characters, a different culture, and another dimension to process, the reader can feel taxed.

On the positive side, the hounds are scary and intriguing; H.P. Lovecraft and Frank Belknap Long (whose short story “The Hounds of Tindalos,” is in Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos) would approve. Author Adam Niswander has written two previous novels in the Shaman Cycle series, and has a feel and respect for the Southwest and its fascinating history and people. He gives a lot of insight and information about an extraordinary world. The difficulty is: Niswander pays so much attention to the smallest of details, and gives even the least important of characters a spotlight of attention, that he eventually loses the attention of the reader. This is a challenging book, in both the best and worst sense of the phrase.

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