Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Top Dog

Jerry Jay Carroll

Ace / Berkeley / Penguin Putnam

US Mass Market Paperback

Published September, 1996

ISBN 0-4441-00513-6

330 Pages; $5.99

Date Reviewed: 05-16-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Fantasy, General Fiction, Horror


Wall Street corporate raiders are about the last thing you expect to show up in classic fantasy world. But that's just the beginning of Jerry Jay Carroll's 'Top Dog', a very clever and urbane take on the hoary old-style fantasy. Yes, it has all the trappings of Tolkien -- evil sorcerers, good sorcerers, battles, villages. And yes, I'm probably not going to spoil much of anything if I suggest that good tends to prevail in these types of stories. What Carroll does in 'Top Dog' that's really different is to ensure that getting there is all the fun.

That's because the voice of William B. ("Bogie") Ingersoll is such a joy to read and so refreshing to hear. One must admit that world of fantasy and black-and-white exemplars of good and evil are not much in fashion for discussion by Wall Street raiders either. Pulled out of his body and into that of a large dog, Bogie is forced to deal with just about everything he despises, forced to feel just about everything he has managed to avoid. It's interesting to see how Carroll plugs this character into the story of an overreaching sorcerer vying for world conquest. Management of personnel isn't usually an issue in fantasy stories. But in 'Top Dog', it rapidly becomes one, because Bogie's good at it, and the troops are balking at those usually mandatory 'death charges'. "Zalzathar wasn't cut out for command. He was the middle-management type, better at following orders than giving them. I've seen a lot of his type."

This is only the first level of how Carroll uses 'fish out of water' to skewer both the fish and the environment it finds itself in. And while the action is set in a fairly standard fantasy world, a fair amount of Bogie's reflection is on his savage life on the Street. It's prepared him well for the challenges he faces in his new environment, not the least of which is the fact that he's a rather large dog. "Even so, I was getting sort of uncomfortable with the idea of dealing with the Mogwert. I had yet to come across anybody who had a good word to say for them. But to be fair, I hadn't heard their side of the story. And the bottom line remained, I had to get back. Sooner or later my luck was going to run out. This place was more dangerous than the streets of New York."

The bottom line here is that is an excellent prose stylist who provides a lot of thought-provoking entertainment, whether he's talking about pig-faced monsters who overrun villages or faceless suburban drones who overrun companies. This book may look like a namby-pamby fantasy, but it's got real teeth. 'Top Dog' is top-drawer entertainment.