Review: The Trojan Dog by Dorothy Johnston

Title: The Trojan Dog

Author: Dorothy Johnston

Publisher: Wakefield Press [2000]


Length: 268 pages

Genre: Amateur sleuth

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating: 1/5

One-liner: A confusing, disjointed mess.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The book is set in 1996 in the lead up to the Australian Federal Election of that year. Amid fear that the government of the day would soon be ousted Sandra Mahoney is contracted to write a report on administrative out-workers for the department dealing with labour issues. Soon after she starts the woman who hired Sandra, Rae Evans, is accused of fraudulently obtaining $900,000. For reasons I still can’t explain Sandra decides that Evans is not guilty and sets out to ‘investigate’ the case (if you define investigate as blunder through a series of conversations and random acts of stupidity).

I struggled with this book thought can’t really explain why. Why I didn’t throw it against a wall that is. Probably something to do with the fact it was given to me as a gift.

It’s the most confusingly convoluted plot I have come across in a very long time. It felt as if someone had laid all the book’s paragraphs out end-to-end then rearranged them randomly before sticking them back together and calling it a book. Some of the several dozen story threads seemed to end almost mid-sentence while others went on interminably but in neither case there was not much advancement in the main story. The case hinged on computer fraud which required complex explanations of hacking and other techno-babble and the parts of the story dealing with these sounded as if they’d been translated from the Martian by a drunk babel fish. When we finally got to the resolution it was a complete non-event, I could barely remember having encountered the bloke who turned out to be the bad guy although I had long since given up caring ‘whodunit’ (in fact I kept forgetting what ‘it’ was).

Another problem with the book was what I took, by the end anyway, for pretentiousness but may have been poor copy editing. I’m way more interested in politics than the average person (I remember election years the way others do World Cups or Olympics) but for the typical reader (and anyone outside this country) I can only imagine that chunks of this book, especially the first third, would make no sense at all. It’s full of obscure references to the political landscape and is peppered with acronyms that I can’t believe anyone outside the Canberra scene would have understood then let alone 13 years later.

The characters were equally difficult to come to grips with. The book is told in the first-person voice from Sandra’s point of view which should have made it a personal story but didn’t. Sandra was vague and timid most of the time which made her occasional risking of life and limb quite unbelievable. Her reason for believing in Rae Evans was only ever hinted at and never explained why she went to such lengths to find out what really happened. Not that I need to like a character to enjoy a book but when everything else is going wrong too an unlikable protagonist is one burden too many so I found Sandra’s insipidity and shoddy treatment of many of the people around her very disagreeable and when at the end of the book she decides she is going to become a computer analyst I wanted to scream “oh really, so all I have to do to get a new job is call myself an air traffic controller eh?”

Sandra’s love interest is Ivan something-Russian and he isn’t her husband (a fact which should have added far more interest to the narrative than it did) and he is a caricature of all things geek. Most of the others who features in the book are so randomly discussed or involved with the story that I didn’t form any other lasting opinions.

I could actually go on some more but I’d probably start getting really rude and/or personal and I really try to avoid that on Reactions to Reading. I’m only cross because I feel I wasted a lot of time on this book and that isn’t the author’s fault because I could have stopped at any point.

Other Stuff

I was relieved when I read this review in the Australian Crime Fiction Database and realised I was not alone in my thoughts about this book because I was beginning to think I was completely mad. Well respected Aussie crime fiction reviewer Graeme Blundell says that Johnston’s series has improved considerably since this outing but I can’t imagine spending another moment in Sandra Mahoney’s company.

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3 Responses to Review: The Trojan Dog by Dorothy Johnston

  1. Jovenus says:

    I’m sorry you hate the book. Must be your lowest rating so far. Better luck next time!


  2. Bernadette – I’ve had reads like that, too. I don’t have a problem forgiving minor flaws, even major ones if the rest of the book makes it worth one’s while. But when everything in the book seems to go wrong, that’s a different matter. I was especially interested in what you said about the book’s references to local politics. I think that’s one important thing about anything one reads – too many obscure references and the reader has nothing to connect with and has to work far too hard to understand the book. I know that there’ve been other really negative reviews of this book as well- think I’ll avoid this one.


  3. Maxine says:

    Well, the cover is nice 😉 I sometimes had the experience with Janet Evanovich of having no idea who the baddy was when he/she was finally revealed. At first I found the books so funny the plots didn’t matter. But once the jokes had worn thin I found them just weak and tedious. (And annoying when someone who made a brief appearance on p 32 turned out to be the villain).
    It is annoying when one reads a badly written or otherwise scrappy/lazy book, especially when there are so many to read. Since discovering internet and blog book reviews/recommendations etc, I have had a much higher “hit rate” but even so I still read books occasionally that make me cross at wasting my time on the first 100 pages.


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