London, 1940. Misty, the much-loved dog of the Dolan family, vanishes in the first terrifying air-raid of the war. She crawls into an access tunnel of the London Underground where she gives birth to two puppies, Bark and Howl, and later dies. The puppies are looked after by a one-eyed cat, Sheba, and Daniel, a traumatized survivor of Dunkirk, who lives in a derelict hut.
The book follows the puppies’ intertwining stories. Bark is caught by Michael who is involved with the WarDogTraining School. He thinks Bark will make a good tracker dog, able to sniff out people trapped beneath blitzed houses.
When Howl is hurt by a feral dog, Daniel looks after him and, gradually, they heal each other, and become very close.
I enjoyed finding out about the work of the WarDogTraining School during World War II. I had no idea that animals were so closely involved with war work – they even have their own medal for ‘acts of conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during war time’. The two puppies’ adventures are nail-bitingly thrilling. War-time London is very real: the fear and stoicism of Londoners coping with nightly bombing, the sheer drudgery of making-do, queuing for food and so on.
My caveats are that Victory Dogs has too many characters doing too many different things; it’s obviously a first novel. For example, the two main protagonists introduced in Chapter 1, Misty and her owner Jack Dolan, soon disappear completely from the story: Misty dies and Jack is called up. The real main characters, Bark and Howl, only appear about seventy pages in. The book would have benefited from simplification.
Having said that, I really enjoyed Bark and Howl’s stories when we finally got to them. Children of 8+ should enjoy this book.