“The Dog Stars” by Peter Heller

Peter Heller's "The Dog Stars," is a tale of survival. But be careful when you label this novel; it’s a book that will surprise you.

Hig is a survivor of a flu-like contagion that claimed his wife as well as over half the human race in one fell swoop, leaving very few in its wake. Now Doomsday is ten years past.

A carpenter by trade "before before," Hig had a passion for flying, fishing and poetry. Lucky for us, this post-apocalyptic world is beautifully narrated through his poet's soul. Hig is a charmer, a man of his word with a wicked sense of humor and an acute sense of survival. His eyes are open to the world as only a poet’s can be, observing and absorbing any beauty left in the aftermath of the world’s tragedy.

Two companions survive and remain close to Hig: his loyal and beloved dog Jasper, and his neighbor Bangley, an authoritarian “Mission Impossible” type bad-ass with a gun fetish. They defend their small fort just outside of an airport in Colorado against scavenger survivors. As they endure, and take part in, grenade launches and machete attacks, they develop a deep and strange affection for one another.

The author shocks readers with unexpected bursts of action-packed scenes that keep the book moving at a suspenseful pace, without compromising the literary style. Heller has written a rare novel that combines readability with high-style prose, while making each compliment the other. The result is a book that rests easily on shelves with Dean Koontz, Jack London or Hemingway.

The prose in this novel is anything but conventional. It often is painfully beautiful as the story lapses into arching poetic verse when Hig is pushed to the very depths of despair, yet still he retains hope.

“The Dog Stars” illustrates the strength of bonds that can be formed between men, the fierce companionship between man and dog, and the inner-struggle of a survivor's guilt with gut-wrenching clarity.

Heller's sensitivity to nature and descriptive detail brings about an appreciation that will make readers pause, if only for a moment, to reflect on the majesty of their own natural surroundings. It's a tale of humanity after Doomsday, from an author who's not afraid to step out of his comfort zone.