Dog Soldiers

ISBN: 0330370960
ISBN 13:
By: Robert Stone

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Reader's Thoughts


I guess I have discovered that I don't like books about middle-aged malaise ("White Noise", "The Moviegoer"), but I appear to like books with no truly likable characters and no neat and tidy resolution ("Blood Meridian", "Dog Soldiers"). I thought Cormac McCarthy came out of nowhere, but I can see that he probably read some Robert Stone. "Dog Soldiers" is the unhappy tale of a drug deal gone horribly wrong. John Converse is a writer who decides to take up narcotics trafficking while in Vietnam. He sends several kilos of very pure stuff off with a Marine friend, Ray Hicks, to be delivered to his wife Marge in Oakland, CA. Who do you sell Heroin too if you have no history with dealing drugs or any other type of crime? John had some "friends" who apparently turn him in to a corrupt cop, Antheil, and his lackeys. They are waiting for Hicks right when he makes the delivery to Marge and things go to pieces from there. None of the characters are without flaws. Converse is likable enough, but weak and weaselly. Hicks has a bad habit of killing people. Marge is a junky who leaves her young daughter with a stranger (inexcusable as a father) and readily cheats on John. And those are the good characters! The bad ones are corrupt, psychopathic, fake ... The only character I had real sympathy for was Deiter. A former Drug Guru during the height of the Hippy 60's. He reminded me so much of Kesey or Timothy Leary. They thought they had some new ticket to spiritual awareness, to some enlightened existence, but ended up as "Doctor Dope". And I thought that no Boomers actually criticized their own generation, but there it is. I definitely enjoyed this one.


A brisk literary thriller (it won the National Book Award), the kind that isn't really written today. It confirms in my mind (though I didn't have much doubt) that the 1970s were a period of general malaise. It also helps me affirm my decision not to traffic heroin.


Dog Soldiers by Robert StoneIf you search for Dog Soldiers on Google you get results with a 2002 movie, not based on the book.On Goodreads the search results in a book, but not by Robert Stone. I had to add a new entry for the book, with the associated pride that I am the first on Goodreads to have read it.An yet this book is included on the TIME 100 best books list…not only that, but the book is great, I loved it.It has everything: Love, war, deception, drug dealing, Humor-lots of it, enticing characters, wonderful dialogue, gay sex, Nirvana talk, weird going-ons…TIME’s description:Get This Book“A weird current pulses through this book. The tale of a heroin deal gone very bad, it’s also a merciless picture of America at the ragged end of the Vietnam era. John Converse is a journalist preparing to head home from Saigon when he’s persuaded to join a dope-smuggling scheme. Once back in California, he’s ambushed by a pair of ex-cons in the service of a corrupt federal drug agent who wants to pocket the drugs. The hapless goons, who also indulge in occasional sex with each other, drag Converse on a trek across the Southwest in search of the strung-out intriguers who are actually holding the stuff. Those would be Converse’s wife Marge, who’s blandly stupefied by prescription drugs, and his sad-sack confederate Hicks. Do we need to tell you it all ends badly? Or that the heroin is a stand-in for Vietnam? It’s the poison that came home, like the war, to pollute an already bleak and sawtoothed social landscape. Bleakness is all in Stone’s world, which is unrelenting and unforgettable.”

Ben Jaques

I'm sorry Kevin, but I didn't like Dog Soldiers. I finished it today on a flight from Washington back to Boston. I was thinking as I flew, what is it about this book that just didn't work with me. I thought that maybe it was the fact that I couldn't relate to the characters or that I didn't like them or didn't understand how they think. But, I know there are many books with unlikable character or characters that I don't understand. Somehow I manage to love these books. I don't know. I don't think that I care for books about running heroin. Or books where characters are referred to by their last names. There was something very much of it's time about the book, a grimy hard edge that just seemed weird. I guess being alive a living 40 years after the dystopian period that is described in the book takes the bite out of it. The world may look like it's going to hell, but we're still around.


Interesting book to have won the NBA. Very much an adventure story, and doesn't have the scope I associate with Nat'l Book Award winners. We begin, pretty much, in Vietnam, but the novel isn't about the war (it isn't meant to be), and we quickly return to the US (California), and things ensue. Very much a Vietnam-aftermath novel. I guess there's your scope. Still, very rough-and-tumble, very cat/mouse, very Hollywood. Reminded me of True Detective, actually. Similar in a lot of ways. This was good, but definitely not as good as Children of Light. I guess I can give Robert Stone a break now.


A puzzle and a mystery. A book about three kilos of heroin smuggled stateside from Vietnam. A drug deal gone bad. A chase. A second deal gone bad and then a third. The real bad guys win and the sorta bad guys sorta win by some of them outliving all these bad deals. I thought I hadn't read it, but the last third was sure awful familiar. I wonder what that means. In the reality of this book it means something. I'm mostly pleased with this read, but it does reference lot of Catholic practice that I'm ignorant of. See my comments for other remarks in transit.


This is Heart of Darkness put in the Vietnam War times and fueled by the addiction and money profits of smack. I liked the hard-nosed attitudes and trancy prose. Rather grim at times.

Carmen Petaccio

"In a manner of speaking, he had discovered himself. Himself was a soft shell-less quivering thing encased in a hundred and sixty pounds of pink sweating meat. It was real enough. It tried to burrow into the earth. It wept.""It was a seduction. The shit would seal some chaste clammy intimacy; there would be long loving talks while their noses ran and their light bulbs popped out silently in the skull's darkness.""Men rolled in the road calling on Buddha or wandered about weeping, holding themselves together as though embarrassed at their own destructibility.""His fatigue hung the desert grass with hallucinatory blossoms, filled the ravines with luminous coral and phantoms.""'It tolls for thee, motherfucker,' someone cried, and there was echoing, half-hysterical laughter.""There were things that lived in wounds.""You know what's out there? Every goddamn race of shit jerking each other off. Mom and Dad and Buddy and Sis, two hundred million rat-hearted cocksuckers in enormous cars. Rabbits and fish. They're mean and stupid and greedy, and they'll fuck you for laughs, they want you dead."


My biggest critique is that the dialogue in this book reads a bit like young adult literature. The character development was backwards as all the periphery characters always seemed much more interesting than the main. Converse is a fraud, a five cent Holden Caulfield. Although I was completely turned off by the jarhead Hicks' zen samurai persona, he does have his moments of intrigue. Marge, the most likeable person, is non-existent once she is introduced to heroin. Actually, I might say Antheil is the most interesting and somehow likeable person and yet he is in the book the least. Eddie Peace, KJell and Dieter are all also fascinating characters with stories left untold at books end. The storyline does take some interesting turns, especially once the two sides of the busted drug deal come face to face on a Manson-esque ranch outside of Los Angeles. But why build up "Those Who Are" and then give such little depth to the group? Is this the group that is supposed to make Converse fear for his wife? At one time I am sure this was seen as pretty revolutionary literature. Now, I believe that some of the plot has been appropriated by countless films depicting drug deals, henchmen, crooked drug agents and so forth. Perhaps, if I had read this when it was first published I would enjoy it more.


Extra good. A classic beyond noir. The writing, dialogues, characters tone, storyline are awesome and original. Revolutionary. Counter-cultural. It received the American National Book Award for fiction in 1974. The blurb includes a review from The Observer which says: "It can be read as a Conrad-like moral fable about Vietnam's legacy of corruption to America, or simply as a Ross MacDonald-style thriller". I found it more in the Conrad side, since I can't find any Ross MacDonald connection other than being set in California.I found about this book as well as about Cutter and Bone thru the literary references dropped here and there in the pages of Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series. Two winners out of two so far, so I'll continue paying attention to Mr. Taylor's (Bruen's) recommendations.Just a few samples of the prose and tone of the novel:“I met a lady today," Converse said, "who told me that Satan was very powerful here.""Check it out," Ian said. "Don't dimiss anything you hear out of hand.” “Don't be afraid to ask for a rise, Sagittarius. Your boss always pay you less than your work is actually worth!” “He sat desiring the girl - a speed-hardened straw-colored junkie stewardess, a spoiled Augustana Lutheran, compounded of airport Muzak and beauty parlor school. Her eyes were fouled with smog and propane spray.” “The richest fuckin' people in the richest country in the world - you gonna tell them some little guy in a hole in South America can have something they can't? Like shit, man. If the little guy in the hole can be a revolutionary, they can be revolutionaries too.”

Patrick McCoy

Dog Soldiers is not what I expected. After seeing the paperback on my father’s bookshelf so many years ago, I thought it was a novel about being a soldier in the Vietnam war (ala the excellent The Things They Carried). Instead, it is a sort of counterculture noir thriller version of The Treasure of Sierra Nevada. It’s about a Vietnam journalist who decides to smuggle heroin into the country and sell it off. But it all goes awry as crooked federal agents become involved as his former Marine buddy Ray Wise goes on the lam with his wife and three kilos of uncut heroin. It’s got a lot of references to the era from which it was spawned: “turned on,” “right on”, “freaks,” etc… But it is a compelling character study of some very different types of people, as well as reflection of the times. I heard that it was made into a film called “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” which was one of Nick Nolte’s first starring roles-I would like to see it sometime to see how it translates to film. It was a very dark, fascinatingly

Philip Fracassi

I like wartime books and the stories of survivors - people who cut lives out of the wasteland that a foreign occupation can create. The best example of this, in my opinion, is King Rat by James Clavell. But unfortunately it can also be very tired. This book is an example of a wartime-themed drug-deal gone bad twister that just comes off as weak, annoying and poorly executed. You hate all the characters, you feel sickened by the violence and morality beat-down rather then entranced, and by the last 1/3 of the story you just want someone to rip the book from your hands and shred it so you don't feel bad about not going to the end, because as much as I hate not to finish a book, this one was a real chore and the thought did cross my mind a few times.I think Buffalo Soldiers might be a nice alternative if you're looking for something similarly themed.


Set in the early '70's as the Vietnam War was winding down, Converse (a guy, not a shoe)is supposedly a journalist, but in reality has gone to Vietnam mostly as a tourist. As he gets ready to return home, he gets involved with a deal to smuggle a large quantity of almost pure heroin back into the states, and he has reason to think that the CIA is covertly sponsoring the plan.Converse recruits a former soldier, Hicks, to get the dope back into the States and hand it off to his wife, Marge. Marge is supposed to hand it off to others per arrangments Converse has made. However, once the drugs are in the states, things go wrong, and Hicks and Marge end up on the run from a couple of thugs and a government agent. Converse returns home to find the deal is blown and is soon in desperate trouble himself.Even though most of this book is set in the U.S., it's really about the effect that Vietnam had on America. Once your government has unleashed large scale death and destruction on another country for murky reasons, keeping your own moral compass seems naive. Get what you can, do what you want, and don't worry about the consequences. It explains most of the 1970s. But the book is a cautionary tale about this view. It says that if you go this route, beware. You've bought into the law of the jungle, and there are a lot of predators out there. Just because you think you're ready to live outside the law because you saw some bad shit and think you've jettisoned the conscience that comes with your place in society, that doesn't mean you're ready to deal with the people who never had one to begin with.


I always wrote Stone off as a post-Hemingway tough guy writer (which on some levels he is), and really wish someone had slapped me and forced one of his books into my hand. He uses the stark storytelling of Hemingway with the dark forebodings of Conrad and the apocalyptic humor of Nathaniel West. This novel travels through the same anxieties of Pynchon’s Gravity;s Rainbow( with a bag of heroin replacing phallic rocket technology) but with more naturalistic prose, on the edge borderline demented characters in a society seemingly on the edge of exploding into total savagery (whether in Vietnam or California). Lots of allusions to government corruption and the Manson family, this is the novel of the dark heart of early 70’s America, but its concerns seem if not more so, at least as pressing in our new "merciless age"(to quote Bowles).

Warren Olson

Had this book/author recommended and as a fan of books based in South East Asia was looking forward to the read. While not denying it is well written and I imagine an accurate description of places/people/events of the time ; I found it just a little too disjointed and failed to finish it. I was left with the feeling that while no doubt talented, perhaps the author had sampled some of the merchandise his main character was dealing in while writing !

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