Reviewed by Kevin Lucia
Until the Last Dog Dies by John Robinson
"...the perfect blend of classic Ellery Queen/Sam Spade detective fiction and Christian fiction."
Joe Box is not your typical, “meek as a lamb, turn the other cheek Christian”. A hard-boiled private detective who’s only recently been saved, Joe’s seen the darker side of life: he’s survived a harrowing tour of duty in Vietnam, been exposed to the dark underbelly of the world through his brief stint as a cop and his work as a PI, and he’s a man who’s lost much: his father to a horrible work-related accident and his young wife and unborn son to a tragic car accident.
His recent salvation has rescued him from years of darkness and drunken oblivion, but still – he’s got a lot of rough edges left. He’s got a bit of a temper, and the burdens he’s carried all these years would be enough to wear down even those of the most stalwart of faith – he’s a bit cynical, too. However, with the support of his church and pastor, an old war-time mentor, and Agnes – a caring woman who might just be the new love of his life – he’s growing. He’s not perfect, he’s no saint or missionary – but he’s a born-again Christian who is learning the power of a saving faith.
Hopefully, he'll live long enough to see Christ’s work on his life in full.
A dark specter from the past has reared its ugly head, from Joe’s time in Vietnam. A fiendish enemy thought long gone and buried has returned, with deadly intent: he’s picking off members of Joe’s platoon, one by one. Making their deaths look like accidents, eerily snuffing their lives out in the manner which each fears the most, this killer – who is exerting otherworldly, inhuman precision and skill – is working his way back in revenge, putting Joe and those he cares about square in the cross-hairs.
As Joe scrambles for a way to defend himself from this real world but clearly demonic intent, he searches his memories of the past for clues, anything that will help him understand his foe better. He also realizes his survival depends less on his wit and gun, but more on the grace of the God to whom he’s so recently entrusted his life. The fact remains, though: he’s being stalked by a cold-hearted killer who will stop at nothing to make sure Joe’s “pushing up daisies”. Will Joe be forced to take a life for only the second time since ‘Nam?
John Laurence Robinson’s character Joe Box is a revolutionary Christian character, in my mind, and his first adventure, Sock Monkey Blues, published in 2002, clearly paved the way for the development of current Christian fiction. Joe is irreverent, realistic, and tough: an honest portrayal of a new Christian struggling to reconcile his faith with his past reliance on his own human efforts. This novel is almost the perfect blend of classic, Ellery Queen/Sam Spade detective fiction and Christian fiction; it portrays honest truths about being a new Christian, but still exudes that “noir fiction” feel that crime story fans love.
Robinson handles multiple shifts in narrative well, going back and forth smoothly between the present and Joe’s flashbacks to both Vietnam and parts of his life, and personally, I enjoyed the Vietnam segments best. This is not a negative comment on the novel, but with the exception of the conclusion, most of the novel’s action is found when Joe and his buddies are tramping through the Vietnam jungle, pursuing the mysterious and elusive sniper who would someday turn the tables and hunt them. (I liked these parts so much, in fact, that I hope Laurence revisits Box’s days in Vietnam in the future – perhaps putting an entire story-line back there.)
I especially appreciated the reality of this novel: even given a Christian’s call to be meek, merciful, and to “turn the other cheek” evil never rests, evil shows no quarter. As I’m sure many born-again Christians serving as policemen or in the military will attest to, when the bad guy starts shooting, sometimes the only thing you can do is pray – and shoot back.
Lucia Kevin Lucia writes for The Press & Sun
Bulletin and The
Journal. His short fiction has appeared in Coach’s
Midnight Diner, The Relief Journal, All Hallows, Darkened
Horizons Vol. 3 & 4,
NexGen Pulp Magazine Issues 1 & 4, From the Shadows, Morpheus
Bohemian-Alien, Shroud Publishing’s horror anthology, Abominations,
Tyndale House’s inspirational anthology Life Savors. He’s
writing a novella for Shroud Publishing’s upcoming novella series, The
Hiram Grange Chronicles. He resides in Castle Creek, New York, with his
wife Abby, daughter Madison and son Zackary. He teaches high school English at
Catholic Central High School
in Binghamton, New York; and is finishing his Masters of Arts in Creative Writing
at Binghamton University. Visit him at his website and