“Dog Gone, Back Soon,” by Nick Trout. Hyperion. $15.
The thrill and the challenge of small-town veterinary medicine are all here, but so are personal relationships between Dr. Cyrus Mills and townspeople, some inside the financially challenged Bedside Manor and some on the fringes of the veterinary hospital.
Trout, a staff surgeon at the prestigious Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, obviously knows his stuff, both inside the operating room and in the corridors. Here he continues to develop the character of Mills, a veterinary pathologist who returns to his home town (Eden Falls) in Northern Vermont to take over the hospital following his estranged father’s death, in his best-selling novel, “The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs” (reviewed here previously).
Mills, a pathologist accustomed to working with dead animals in a laboratory environment and communicating chiefly with other practitioners, is on new turf in this plot that flows over six days and 324 pages. Now he’s diagnosing and treating live subjects in the hospital and owners’ homes while falling in love with Amy, a waitress at a local diner.
His staff of two includes a pair of stark contrasts – the dynamic and opinionated receptionist Doris and old-school Doc Lewis, a 73-year-old pragmatist who worked alongside Mills’ late father for years.
His father, Bobby Cobb, was revered in Eden Falls for his veterinary skills and forgiving bills. Trout describes: “He lived to fix sick animals. Ask the right questions, get your hands on the animal, trust your five senses, use your brain, your experience, your gut instinct, and don’t cut corners. Making money was never part of the formula. Connecting with the patient and the owner was all that mattered.”
And now it’s on Mills to right the Bedside Manor financial ship while serving up the folksy treatment manner of his father while facing stiff competition from the aggressive modern-day veterinary hospital chain Healthy Paws.
Trout packs plenty of emotional punch into this brief slice of life that tantalizes one moment and teeters the next.
Coming from a laboratory background, Mills finds it difficult to connect with some clients while having to make certain the practice remains financially afloat. But small-town honesty and candidness is everywhere as he and Lewis care for a wide variety of challenging cases and eccentric owners.
That mix includes Dorkin, a protagonist Healthy Paws office manager who longs to put Mills out of business; Dr. Honey, a gorgeous veterinarian at the same hospital who Mills dates briefly under false pretenses while using a pseudonym; an 83-year-old client Mavis Peebles who wants Mills to repair the tail of Crispin, a stuffed yellow Labrador retriever and former Bedside Manor patient she can’t bear to part with; Gabe, a young computer geek who repays Mills big time for services rendered; Stash, a labradoodle Mills befriends and keeps after his nameless “death-wish” owner meets his desired fate suspiciously in an auto accident.
“Dog Gone, Back Soon” flows nimbly with a beguiling collection of characters, an adventurous spirit and plenty of buoyant, playful camaraderie. Bring on the third installment of the Bedside Manor series. I’m ready!