Reviews > By John Guise, The Hamilton Spectator

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Picture 3In the quiet southern Ontario town of Cedar Hollow, something weird is happening among the farms and apple orchards. Cats are being found dead, a young boy is missing, a hitchhiker appears and a family is preparing for the end of the world. That’s the plot of Mad Dog, Kelly Watt’s first novel. Watt has created a story that grabs the reader through the main character-a fourteen-year-old girl.

To provide insight into the mind of the girl, Watt creates a plot full of possibilities the reader can conjure up in his or her mind. The story sounds simple. It’s 1964, and Sheryl Anne MacRae, 14, is abandoned by her mother – her father is unknown – and she is living with her uncle and his family. Her uncle Fergus, Cedar Hollow’s town pharmacist and apple orchard owner is a “Renaissance man.” Sheryl isn’t really sure what a Renaissance man is, but Fergus spends a lot of time talking about the end of the world, and how the family must prepare for it. He takes a lot of pills that he brings home from his job and smokes cigarettes and marijuana.

Sheryl spends her days reading Nancy Drew novels and cutting out pictures of dark-haired fashion models. One of them may be her mother, Fergus says her mother is a fashion model – she was Miss Home Hardware, and lives in Toronto. Sheryl desperately wants to run there and join her.

One day, Fergus brings home a hitchhiker named Peter Lucas Angelo. Peter resembles James Dean, and Sheryl quickly falls in love with him. Peter wants to move to Toronto to become a folk singer and Sheryl wants to run away with him. Maybe he can help her find her mother. Fergus and Peter take an instant shine to each other and soon Peter is being initiated into Fergus’s world of mystic Christianity and drugs.

Sheryl is having visions of strange people making animal sacrifices nd rituals with blood ad chanting. The visions only get worse when Peter is there. Are the visions psychic images as Fergus says? Are they just dreams? Or could they be a sign of something real that is happening to her family? Sheryl takes a cue from her favourite female detective, Nancy Drew, and tries to find out what exactly is happening to her and the whole MacRae family. What she finds will change her life.

Watt takes the reader into Sheryl’s mind using an interesting method of writing. She doesn’t use any quotation marks in her work. That makes every sentence in the book sound as if it is a though inside Sheryl’s head. the reder feels he is inside Sheryl’s mind seeing things she does nd untangling the events of the story with her.

Watt describes Cedar Hollow as a picturesque small Ontario town shielded from the race riots, anti-Vietnam war protests and other evils that rage on in the United States in 1964, only a short drive away. But Watt does not create a plastic world. She points out there may be a hole in the façade of the perfect town.

The only fault of this book is that the ending unfolds too quickly. Watt resolves everything in about 15 pages when Sheryl makes a decision that changes her life forever. The ending aside, Mad Dog is a great read and Kelly Watt is a new author to watch.