Fluke by Jame Herbert (1977)
James Herbert burst onto the horror scene with his first novel The Rats (1974), about intelligent rats attacking the denizens of London. It sold 100,000 copies in its first three weeks and spawned three sequels. Herbert's second novel, The Fog (1975), was about a chemical weapon that is accidentally releaced among the populace. His third book, The Survivor (1976) brought him squarely into the supernatural territory where he was best known.
One of Britain's best-selling authors, Herbert was presented with the Grand Master Award from the World Horror Convention in 2010 and was awarded an OBE that same year. In all, he published 23 novels, two nonfiction works, a graphic novel, and a scattering of short stories, in addition to various scripts and essays, before his death in 2013 at age 69.
It's Herbert's fourth novel that concerns us today, a true outlier in his body of work. Fluke is a man-into-dog novel. It is also a comic novel, an animal fantasy, a bildungsroman, a quest novel, and perhaps a murder mystery. The narrator is a dog, whom we follow from birth to adulthood in a series of adventures, including living with various families (something that never turned out well) to his partnership with an older dog -- Rumbo -- as they plot to steal food on the streets of London. As the narrator grows, he is dimly haunted by strange memories of being a two-legger. These memories strengthen until he realizes that he was once a man, slowly remembering his wife, daughter,and his mysterious death.
It's not until the middle of the book that the narrator gets a name -- Fluke -- given to him by a gang of crooks operating out of a junkyard where Fluke and Rumbo are occasional guard dogs. And it's not until the very last part of the book that Fluke finds his human family and the truth about his death. Indeed, most of the book is about Fluke's life as a dog and his slow learning of how to be a dog. Fluke and Rumbo are smarter than most dogs, something which strengthens Fluke's conviction that he was once human. And did I mention that dogs and other animals can talk to each other telepathically? Well, it certainly makes it easier for Fluke to learn about his environment, not to mention to narrate this novel.
Fluke ends on what some may consider upbeat. Others, perhaps not so much.
Basically, what we have hear is an afterlife, talking animal book, one that takes a huge suspension of disbelief to get through. It is entertaining enough to keep you reading, though, and Herbert's observations of animal behavior -- however skewed -- keeps you turning pages.
Fluke is either a very good book or a very bad book. I haven't decided.
(The book was filmed in 1995 with Matthew Modine, Nancy Travis, Samuel L. Jackson, Eric Stoltz, Ron Perlman, and Jon Polito. The movie altered some of the background in the novel and flubbed at the box office, yet it remains very popular and highly rated by most who have seen it. [The dog who played Fluke went on to become Air Bud.] An earlier movie, Oh Heavenly Dog, which came out three years after the novel and starred Chevy Chase, to my mind is an uncredited rip-off of Herbert's book. The man-becomes-dog-who-must-solve-the mystery-of-his-own-death plot has been around for a long time so I may be wrong about this.)