Stone, Robert - Dog Soldiers (Secker & Warbug, London, 339p, 1973)

Dog Soldiers is concerned with the downward spiral of violence into which its three main characters are drawn into following their inept and ill fated decision to import 3 kilos of pure heroin into San Francisco. Marked as a dupe from the outset freelance journalist Converse cons his wife Marge and army buddy Hicks into joining the deal during an "in-country" stint during the fag end of the Vietnam war. All seems set to go smoothly, but once the drugs reach the U.S. heavy hitters move on in sending Hicks and Marge cross country whilst Converse is tortured and coerced into betraying those closest to him.

Evoking the Depression era classics of James M Cain Stone’s characters often seem powerless to resist the hand of fate. Having seized the moment with their initial agreement to smuggle the drugs they seem strangely self reflective, yet vacuous as events buffet them from one bad turn to another. Despite this somewhat deterministic bent the novel nevertheless retains its power to shock as when Hicks deliberately overdoses a dilettantish writer just to spite a hustler who has tried to burn him.

Although primarily concerned with the telling of the drug heist and subsequent pursuit Dog Soldiers also manages to bear open the festering wounds of the post 60s underground along the way. As a former Merry Prankster, drug addict and contemporary of Kerouac, Ginsberg, etc the author was probably in a very good position to perform a coronary on the scenes he had helped beget. Inaccurately, but often touted as a Vietnam novel Dog Soldiers may take its initial setting from that country, but spends more than three quarters of its length immersed in the cess pools of San Francisco, Los Angeles and various points between.

Stone’s treatment of the drug scene is harsh, but not unfairly or dogmatically so.

By the 1970s bloodied and brutalised hippies had been transformed into "freeks" far more likely to hit back than turn the other cheek and just as capable of devouring their own as anyone else. Similarly many radical groups had turned to expropriations with the concept of "liberating" money and goods firmly coming into vogue. Whilst many of these actions and the left’s enchantment with outlaw violence came as an inevitable outcome of repression there was also widespread exploitation of such trends by the usual hustlers and jackals that attach themselves to any movement. Manson may have represented an extreme, but he was by no means the only one manipulating the ideals of justice and freedom to his own vainglorious ends. With heroin related money flooding the scene and the dreams of the "revolution" far off Stone’s portrayal of rip offs, burns and murders around L.A.’s canyon scene is hardly far fetched.

"Marge woke up as soon as he closed the door. She had lodged herself in the space between the edge of the mattress and the wall.
‘Okay’ said Hicks ‘Let’s get high.’
She sat up with her hand shielding her eyes. ‘Is that a joke?’
He had taken the plastic wrapped package from the airline bag and set in on the chair. ‘No it ain’t a joke.’
He set a sheet of white writing paper across the telephone book and lifted a white dab from the package with a picture postcard of Marine World. She watched him raise the postcard and push the powder onto the sheet, flicking it with his finger to dislodge the first flakes. White on white.
‘We’ll need some works for you if you’re gonna be a righteous junkie. Maybe Eddie Peace will bring us some.’
He made a funnel from the back of the matchbook, took Marge by her damp and tremorous hand and led her to the desk.
He pared away a tiny mound of the stuff with the cardboard funnel and eased it onto the postcard’s blue sky.
‘I don’t know much about dilaudid so I don’t know what your tolerance is. Scoff it like coke and see if you get off.’
He moved the bag from the chair; Marge sat down and looked at the postcard.
‘It’s scary’ she said.
‘Don’t talk about it.’
She crouched over the stuff like a child and drew it into her nostril. Afterward she straightened up so quickly he was afraid she would pass out. She shook her head and sniffed. He made a second little mound for her.
‘Go ahead. Hit another one.’
She hit the other one and then sat stock still; slowly she bent forward and rested her head on the desk. Hicks moved the phone book out of the way.
In a few minutes she sat up again and turned to him. She was smiling. She put her arms around his waist; her tears and runny nose wet his shirt. He bent down to her; she rested her head on his shoulder. The tension drained from her in small sobs.
‘Better than a week in the country right?’
Holding to him, she stood up and helped her to the bed. She lay across it, arching her back, stretching her arms and legs towards its four corners.
‘It’s a lot better than a week in the country.’"
(pp 169-170)
(excellent guide to Stone’s books with links)