The Dead Years (A Chicago K-9 Thriller, 1)

Image of The Dead Years (A Chicago K-9 Thriller, 1)
Release Date: 
March 5, 2024
Severn House Publishers
Reviewed by: 

“The Dead Years is probably best approached as a cozy for dog lovers who can tolerate a certain amount of graphic violence.”

When the dreaded Dead Night Killer resumes his brutal series of murders after being dormant for seven years, dog handler Cory Pratt is drawn into the investigation through his sister Crystal, a Chicago Police Department detective assigned to the case.

While his original victims appeared to have been selected at random, the killer’s new targets are connected to a recent Netflix documentary film examining his violent career. Working with his cadaver dogs Alice, a bloodhound, and Rex, a springer spaniel, Cory begins to gather the clues that will explain the murderer’s reactivation and his determination to wipe out everyone involved in the film.

However, Cory’s work soon draws unwanted attention as the Dead Night Killer sets his sights on him—and his beloved dogs.

The Dead Years is the first novel in a new series by Jeffrey B. Burton, previously known for his Agent Drew Cady thrillers (The Chessman, 2012) and his Mace Reid K-9 Mystery series (The Lost, 2022).

Aimed directly at readers who are fond of canine mysteries, the novel is a hybrid incorporating the look and feel of a cozy with elements of a police procedural.

The dogs are loveable, Cory is wracked with guilt over the deaths of his parents and pretty much everything else in his life, and the first-person narration reflects his relative youth and callowness (he’s 23 years old). For example, when describing Crystal’s partner, Detective Heppner: “we’d have called [him] a poopy-diaper throughout our initial years of elementary school; by junior high, we’d have dubbed him an asshole and been done with it.”

The police procedural elements are drawn from his involvement in the CPD-FBI joint-forces investigation and his sister’s attempts to solve the mystery.

Burton also chooses to narrate a fair portion of the story through the points of view of the Dead Night Killer, whose identity is kept from readers in the first half of the story, and also from that of the killer’s father, referred to only as “the father.”

It’s a common enough technique, but in Burton’s novel it tends to suck the marrow out of whatever suspense he’s trying to build in the story, and by the time the killer’s identity is revealed, we’ve already figured out who the father is as well. The drama at the climax of the novel, as Cory’s life is put in danger, then seems a little contrived.

As well, much of Cory’s back story, as well as that of the killer, is told in chunks of half-baked narrative that interrupt the flow to the point of occasional confusion. The death of Cory’s parents, for example, is related at least twice, complete with his all-consuming guilt, and the killer’s anger at having been abandoned by his father gets more than its fair share of back play.

While it won’t be everyone’s favorite bowl of puppy chow, The Dead Years is probably best approached as a cozy for dog lovers who can tolerate a certain amount of graphic violence, with some contrived inter-cop rivalry added to the mix. It reads well enough and will entertain its target audience.