Book review: Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson

by Ahalya on July 21, 2010


Note: I chose this book, because I love dogs and I live with one, so I am always tempted by books that are about dogs. If you do not like dogs at all (!) I still think that you will like this book, because it is an interesting, inspiring, non-fictional narrative about life in a search and rescue team. There’s a lot in this book to interest people who like mysteries, but be warned, there’s going to be a lot of dog in it.

On to the review:

Susannah Charleson volunteers in a
canine search and rescue team and when she learns the ropes she has to move on to the next stage, handling her own dog. For which she needs to train a puppy. Enter Puzzle.

Precocious, intelligent, talented, mischievous and extremely lovable, this is one happy puppy. If the blurb at the back of the book didn’t mention that Puzzle actually became part of the team, I would never have believed a naughty pup like her could ever get trained. But, she does of course. And she does a great job. (There were moments while I was reading the book when I decided I would just head up to Dallas myself and watch this amazing dog at work.)

Charleson is one gifted lady. She really understands the language dogs speak, she finds the right words to describe their every little action, and what’s more she writes it all really well. Not every writer can do this – putting into words the personality and motivations of a living creature. This is a talent I envy a lot (I have been living with my dog for three years and I still can’t put into words most of the things that he ‘says’ and does).

Scent of the Missing is a sort of primer about life as a team member (human or dog) in a canine search and rescue team. The book is about what the job means to the dogs and the handlers, how their deep partnership is forged, what they fear the most, how they feel when a search yields results, and what it is like when they cannot find what they are looking for. Missing children, Alzheimer patients, corpses, people buried under rubble after a quake… there’s a lot of human frailties described in the book, a lot about different kinds of relationships and how society deals with the frightened and the lost.

I loved every passage Charleson wrote about Puzzle, from the first time she sees the Golden Retriever pup tumble all over herself, to how Puzzle begins to lord over the other older dogs in Charleson’s house (except for the oldest dog who she learns to respect and treat with unusual gentleness and seriousness) and then how she passes the gruelling tests that make her a reliable member of the canine search and rescue team.

What I like most about the book is how real everything is. There is nothing that Charleson exaggerates. She does not set out to show how heroic her team members are. She looks at her own life dispassionately, and does not hesitate from admitting her own weaknesses and errors in judgment. One of the most beautiful moments in the book is when Charleson is unwell and admits that she is afraid of being unable to keep up with her high energy dog through intense searches. What follows next in the book, is life-affirming. According to me, love is a lot like a good dog. It finds you, gets down to your level, stays with you, and gives you the strength to get through your lowest low.

Did I mention I loved this book?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Booklover July 22, 2010 at 1:49 am

You sure sound like a dog lover as well as a book lover 🙂 Nicely written review.

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sonia July 23, 2010 at 11:18 am

Sounds like a good book. I especially like the fact that the book relates as is without deifying the dog or the dog-lover in anyway. And I loved the last sentence of your review. Very well said.


Aditya August 25, 2010 at 9:48 am

hey nothing new for a long time! Please post something!


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