Stray Dog Winter
I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation, smart reviews for modern readers on Sirius XM Book Radio. The book is an Audible Indiefirst pick, Stray Dog Winter by David Francis.
Well my God, this was a great story. I came into work the next day raccoon-eyed because I simply had to finish it in one sitting, and that doesn’t happen much these days.
What set things in motion: Australian author David Francis took a train trip through Russia back in the 80s. Remember the 80s? We were all pretty sure the end was nigh, and while I have yet to be completely swayed that it’s not, at least now I’ll buy green bananas and I can sleep through the night. I think that’s one of the reasons so many of us in our 40s today acted like straight up fools back then — if it would all end tomorrow in a radioactive cloud of heat and light, why not max out the credit cards? (I believe Prince wrote a song about this very thing.)
Another thing we all thought was that Soviet Russia was an outer circle of hell, except cold. Turns out this one was pretty close to the mark, if Stray Dog Winter is to be believed. And while being a beautiful young gay artist may be perfectly fine for Darcy Bright in the warm glow of an Australian sun, probably the last place he belongs — and one of the most dangerous places in the world — would be Moscow in January. Seriously, doesn’t this poor kid read the papers?
Darcy is called to Moscow in the dead of winter during the coldest days of the Cold War by his mysterious and exotic older sister Finn. “Come to visit,” she urges, “It’ll be fun.” Uh, yeah.
So off he goes, certain that his youth, beauty and charm will form a bubble between his own precious self and harm. (Surely he knew there was harm out there? Border guards? Places called Lubyanka? Knives?)
What could possibly go wrong?
Stray Dog Winter walks an interesting path between familial drama, as Darcy learns some hard truths about Finn, and being a sort of gender-political-espionage thriller. I was literally ill with fear at Darcy’s predicament, and it just kept getting more dire. But there were flashes of kindness and humanity — for instance, keep an eye out for the man walking the whippet. Even in the harshest, cruelest place imaginable, everyone needs a little warmth.