The move to a new luxury home and the arrival of a new designer pet should spell happiness for property developer Derek Rains and his family. However, the pet in question is a Xoloitzcuintli, a rare breed of hairless dog mythologized as the creature responsible for guiding the souls of the dead into the next world, and it is definitely not keen on being domesticated. When the dog attacks his son, admittedly after being provoked, Rains is forced to find it a new home, but due to his lack of paperwork and the dog now having a record of violence against humans, the only viable option seems to be the pound.
However, when Rains overcomes his misgivings and takes the dog to the local pound, he finds that the Xoloitzcuintli has a peculiar effect on the other dogs present, causing them to bark uncontrollably and show signs of violence. As he can’t leave the dog there, Rains starts to drive him home again, only to momentarily lose control of the car and crash into a deer. While Rains watches the deer lying in the road, the dog approaches the injured creature, locks eyes with it, and appears to drain its soul as it dies. Thoroughly freaked out, Rains decides to abandon the dog in the wilderness, which sets the animal on a deadly collision course with a nefarious dog-fighting ring, local residents, and society at large.
From there on out, XOLO follows the Xoloitzcuintli as he takes advantage of his new-found freedom and seeks revenge against humanity for all the wrongs that have ever been perpetrated against canines. Other dogs soon join his cause and together they embark on a murderous rampage as they set out to free all their brethren from captivity. While the humans they encounter do attempt to fight back, they only rarely get the better of the pack, and the danger and tension ramp up at a rapid pace as events build toward a bloody collision of human versus canine on Halloween night.
For all his supernatural powers, the Xoloitzcuintli is still a dog at heart, and his rapid descent to canine-style gangland violence is explained by the internal monologue Peter Hurd provides for him, particularly in terms of his initial abandonment by Rains. In fact, he remains a strangely sympathetic character throughout the book, even when biting off fingers or ripping out throats. The humans generally come across far less well, often being embroiled in their own petty squabbles and intrigues. A strong atmosphere of nervousness and barely pent up aggression overhangs much of the story, constantly suggesting that something more extreme is waiting just round the corner, and it’s often hard to know if the animals or the people are responsible for it.
XOLO is a rip-roaring, action-packed, and delightfully gory horror story that positions man’s best friend as humanity’s deadliest enemy and has a lot of fun with the ensuing conflict. A true underdog in search of revenge tale (tail?), it offers danger, suspense, and a more than slight chance of rabies. If you thought Cujo had attitude, wait until you meet Xolo!
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