“Scent of the Missing” demands work from the reader, but work so enjoyable and overwhelmingly “not put down able” that we don’t mind the work at all! Seemingly slow and tedious, the first two chapters needed rubber golf shoes for me to find their grip. AND – it was worth every second in the sand trap! The true story of Susannah Charleson, a pilot, and her calling for SAR (volunteer search and rescue with a dog partner) follows her journey with Puzzle, the golden retriever puppy she trains.
The book sizzles with courage and attention to detail, while maintaining an empathy and concise deportment that shook me to the core. Susannah herself inspires with the story of her 6 month induction into SAR with more than rigorous training: learning to scale her fears while rappelling off the top of buildings, following experienced trainers through the roughest terrain in the country, and difficult training sites that mauled and terrified experienced trainers and Susannah alike. And then comes Puzzle, Marley with a little more fluff (and brains). Susannah’s fight to train her 10 week old puppy to rescue lost humans, to find cadavers and respond to water rescue and to enter 9/11 type disaster sites inspires as well as reads like a water snake on prey. After chapter two, I experienced all the emotions that Susannah felt – ennui at waiting all night on an “assignment”, learning to be the leader in her pack of Pomeranians as well as to crafty pup Puzzle, overcoming innate fears and the horror of death, both in finding humans and in finding herself.
Compelling effortless prose with a reality that bites, we enter Puzzle’s world of secret scent and job; her willfulness as a puppy, and Susannah’s determination to learn Puzzle’s signals and the world of puppy while maintaining control. As a pilot, Susannah understands navigation, wind movement and listening to fine tuned instincts. As Puzzle’s leader, she has to learn what Puzzle’s nose tells her and to teach Puzzle commands that can keep them alive while making it fun for Puzzle. However, it is in the hours and hours of training that Puzzle and Susannah endure that teaches us, along with Puzzle, patience, endurance and determination. Sometimes harrowing, always thoughtful and honest, Susannah depicts the real world of SAR and the men, women and dogs who overcome impossible odds to assist others.
As Puzzle and Susannah grow into their roles, and pass their rigorous rescue certifications, their essence as partners blooms also. As Susannah describes their search for the shuttle fragments and human remains of the tragic Columbia space craft that disintegrated over Texas, emotion trembles and catches from every page. Human and dog tragedy, human and dog joy, and an inexpressible love for making a difference resonate and change the timbre of our thinking. I stayed up all night reading, and want to WUFF WUFF with Puzzle for more.
A HAVE TO READ for anyone who loves and respects dogs. A MUST READ for anyone who thinks of SAR volunteers without thinking. Another Book of the Year, and a tribute to all who work in the field of saving others. AND one of the Review Broad Best of the Year tributes.
All I can say is I hope Susannah and Puzzle find another book within to share with us. I want more of this amazing twosome. LOVED IT!!!
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Overall: Five HIGH PAWS for this extraordinary book, finely written and poignantly portrayed.
Review by Broad “A” – Ava