Nick Trout, M.A., Vet. M.B., just might be the new James Herriot. A board-certified veterinary surgeon at Angell Medical Center in Boston, he specializes in orthopedic and soft tissue surgery. But since 2009, he’s also been writing books about life as a veterinarian.
His first was “Tell Me Where It Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing, and Hope in My Life as an Animal Surgeon,” followed by “Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles” in early 2011 and “Ever By My Side” later that same year. All have been extolled as great reads with an interesting perspective on the very real world of veterinary medicine.
For his fourth book, he turns his writing chops loose on a piece of fiction – “The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs” – released in paperback by Hyperion in February.
A novel “always felt like the next logical step, a perfect opportunity to use my hilarious and heartwarming experiences with remarkable animals and their variously zany, desperate and demanding owners while bending the facts and details to fit a story I wanted to tell,” he writes on his website. “Here was my chance to heighten the comedy, crank-up the drama, toss in a little romance and solve some tricky medical mysteries.”
If you put any stock in the reviews of Publishers Weekly and the Library Journal, he succeeded.
In a “starred” review, Library Journal says: “Trout’s charming novel strikes just the right balance between humor and drama. The cast of characters are delightfully entertaining… Highly recommended for anyone who has ever had a beloved pet.” Publishers Weekly says: “Smartly written… reminiscent of the work of James Herriot.”
In the story, veterinary pathologist Cyrus Mills finds himself the inheritor of his passed-on and estranged father’s failing veterinary practice in rural Vermont. His plans to sell the practice as quickly as possible are sidelined by a better understanding of the financial underpinnings of the business – or lack thereof. Without the resources to let it go without any financial gain, Cyrus decides to try to make a go of it – at least long enough to get it into the black so it can sell it for a return.
So, he needs to keep the doors open.
His very first patient is a Golden Retriever whose owner wants to put down “Frieda Fuzzypaws” because she’s incontinent. Despite Cyrus’ lack of clinical practice experience and most recent work on the not-still-living, he grapples with the owner’s request – well, demand. Soon enough Frieda is a fixture of unknown duration in his so-called living quarters upstairs from the clinic, despite Cyrus’ dislike of hair on the couch and the necessary outings for the dog to relieve herself.
Thus, he begins to see patients of Eden Falls – and their owners.
On his second day of work at Bedside Manor for Sick Animals, he meets a Siberian Husky with a serious skin problem. “Doc Lewis has been trying to fix up Kai for months and I can already tell you’re no Doc Lewis. Or Doc Cobb for that matter,” Mrs. Silverman hisses at Cyrus.
With Lewis’ help and advice, such as “Round these parts people prefer honesty to pussyfooting and bull, if you get my meaning,” and by teasing out knowledge long unused in his pathology work, the inept practitioner is able to diagnose Kai and give the poor dog some relief. But it takes giving away some dog food to his cranky owner to get the job done.
It’s not just sick animals and a range of unusual personalities Cyrus must deal with. Being back in Eden Falls “promises nothing but flashbacks, ghosts, and whispers behind cupped hands.” And then there’s the weather: While Frieda’s taking care of business, “I, on the other hand, am miserable – shivering as the biting wind paralyzes my face, convinced that the tip of my nose has already succumbed to frost bite.” Having lived in Charleston, S.C., for almost two decades, he pines for its “warm, briny breeze, the sound of lapping waves, or the smell of magnolias.” To top it all off, there’s his dad’s old truck. “It’s mostly rust with patches of black here and there” and “the muffler is held in place by bungee cords.”
The tale takes an interesting turn when a copy of a newspaper article about Cyrus’ loss of his veterinary license in South Carolina is anonymously hand-delivered to Bedside Manor. And another when he not only performs his first kitten birth, but delivers a human baby as well.
It’s not all work for Cyrus, though. When he ventures out to the local diner, he’s immediately attracted to his waitress, who had one blue and one brown eye, and his mind wanders around the facts of heterochromia. Trout’s sense of humor leaps off the page with: “The unexpected buzz in my pants takes me by surprise. It takes a second to realize it’s actually the vibrating pager in my pocket going off.” How can you not laugh out loud at that?
While Herriot’s stories are packed with anecdotes about animals and their owners, Trout pushes a lot more plot into his first novel. It’s not one story after another after another. Enough is going on in Cyrus’ own life that the animals aren’t the focal point like they are in Herriot’s works. And for those of us who enjoy seeing a character’s metamorphosis, this makes Trout’s novel quite different from Herriot’s books.
For those who appreciate change, but like it to come quickly, the entire book takes place in six days. Apparently Cyrus needed to rest on the seventh.