A wealthy father's priorities are called into question when his young daughter is kidnapped and held to ransom for £2m.
Unconditional love, sacrifice and loyalty are all themes in this very engaging read from Lurgan author Edward Johns.
When Jessie is plucked from the comforts of her beautiful home by an incompetent and malevolent group of masked men, a world of torment unleashes itself upon her middle-class parents.
Despite her incarceration, a precocious Jessie remains upbeat and resourceful - never allowing her predicament to discourage her fight for freedom.
Enter the canine hero 'Murdo' who comes to Jessie's aid and helps her outwit the haphazard criminals who are hellbent on collecting the ransom at any cost.
Jessie and Murdo embark on an occasionally funny, other times sinister hide-and-seek game with the 'Monsters' as Murdo refers to them throughout the narrative, while Sara and Dave Bryant liaise with top police detective Monroe in a battle to get their beloved daughter back.
Whilst aimed at a teenage audience (Murdo can understand human language and also enlists the help of Reggie, a sparrow and Rusty, a rabbit along the way) the novel also deals with the serious issues at play - the adults' turmoil and the realisation that dawns on the father of what in life is really important.
Although Jessie can only communicate with Murdo through hand signals and her expressions, we are given an insight into his psyche. Not just a dog, Murdo - a name bestowed on him by Jessie for his strength of character - sees rescuing Jessie from evil and delivering her home as his life's mission and puts his life in danger to do so.
The author even makes a note on the cruelty of human nature through the dog's eyes: "He was an independent spirit, reliant on no-one; he had shunned brutal mankind and its misanthropic masses, had sworn never again to be in its debt, be dependent on its sparse goodwill ... "
Murdo almost even takes on a human form as one of the kidnappers comments: "It's as if he's taken all the thought processes from the canine world and intermingled them with the human and chose the best from each."
This is a tale of man versus beast - though in this case 'beast' would be a more fitting term for the kidnappers - innocence against corruption and hope over despair. There are many illuminating moments such as when Murdo realises his purpose and Dave Bryant's epiphany, near the novel's climax, that the one thing that had motivated him all his life was also the one thing that could ruin his life and tear his daughter away:
"Losing his daughter to the one gauge of success - money - hadbeen the sole cause of guilt which now overwhelmed him. It was a void which money could never fill, and for which he could find no compensation or peace, and hisguilt had now manifested itself into hatred for his enemy and his own selfish desires."
While dealing with serious issues, this is overall a light read and has many amusing scenes specifially where Jessie and Murdo try to get around the language barrier and the secret dialogue between Murdo and other wildlife that join in the rescue effort to bring our female heroine home.
An enjoyable, touching read with a moral message.