The first thing everyone notices about Christopher Irvin’s Ragged; or, The Loveliest Lies of All (Cutlass Press) is Matthew Revert‘s cover, a houndish-dog with long, floppy ears standing straight up wearing a vintage suit. And that’s okay. In a Do Some Damage interview with Scott Alderberg, Irvin says:
I bought a cover from Matthew Revert. The cover—which is the cover for Ragged, however it had a placeholder title of “Cork Warrior”—had gone unused from one of Revert’s previous projects… I had no idea what I’d use it for, but I messaged him right away about purchasing it. The idea of an anthropomorphic dog (who would turn out to be Cal) ice fishing on a lake (a setting which would morph to a river) blossomed immediately, but I tried to bury it in the back of my head and focuses [his current project].
The cover struck me as well and even though I hadn’t read any of Christopher Irvin’s work prior to picking up Ragged, his reputation a talented writer is known with works published by Shotgun Honey and 280 Steps. From the opening few pages where Winifred wanders the Woods as she “felt the infection spreading from the bite with each pulse of her heart, corrupting her blook and tickling her brain”, I bought into Irvin’s anthropomorphic animal world.
I immediately fell in love with Christopher Irvin’s setting: the Woods and the Fells. But it’s the characters that give Ragged its vibrancy and life. Cal, the recently widowed father of two pups, tries to come to terms with the fever that hangs on the periphery of his world and teh responsibility of protecting his two young sons from the possibility of the family being banished. Populated with catfish, badgers, toads, raccoons, and other many animals, the Woods is at a crossroads, a caravan delivery that links them to the outside world has yet to arrive and rumors of the disease are growing.
There is much that is great about Christopher Irvin’s Ragged; or, The Loveliest Lies of All from Cal’s history and a mystery which surrounds but doesn’t overtake the novel. It is chapters like the one at the bog watering hole called Karl’s Drinkery that make Irvin’s book come to life. Here all the animals small enough to make it through the entrance way stop by to catch up on gossip and drink a thimble or two of grog. This scene, like many others, displays Irvin’s skill at building a world rich in detail and oddly believable.
When I thinking about writing this review, click-bait headlines danced about but I quickly dismissed them as I realized all books a product of their time and all great genre books offer the reader the chance to escape the troubles around them. None of this, of course, is new, and though it is seldom achieved, Irvin does so. Checking all the boxes of a book that should be read, Christopher Irvin’s Ragged; or, The Loveliest Lies of All is beautiful and this is absolutely a time you can judge a book by its cover.