Dog Soldiers deals with the fall of the counterculture in America, the rise of mass cynicism and the end of the optimism of the 1960s.
California has moved on from the Summer of Love to post-Manson paranoia. Converse, a once-promising writer now unable to do more than observe, waits for artistic inspiration as a correspondent in Vietnam. Symbolic of his moral corruption is his decision to traffic in heroin, which the 1960s counterculture never embraced as they did marijuana and LSD.
Converse involves a former friend, Ray Hicks, in the smuggling deal. Hicks will hide the heroin on the Merchant Marine vessel he works on when he ships from Vietnam to Oakland, California and deliver the dope to Converse's wife, Marge, in Berkeley. The novel's primary complication unfolds when Hicks arrives in the States and realizes that he was discovered before he arrived and is being aggressively followed. Unsure whether Converse was double-crossed by his suppliers or Converse himself betrayed him, Hicks elects to go on the run with the heroin, taking Marge as insurance. The novel's action follows Hicks and Marge's evasion of Converse and his suppliers, and Hicks's attempts to sell the dope, south through California to the desert.
Once an all-American Marine, now a lone wolf, Hicks is a survivalist and an autodidact trying to apply in himself Zen Buddhism, martial arts and the philosophy of Nietzsche. Marge is a painkiller junkie and guilt-ridden mother who takes tickets at a porn theater because it is ironic; she presents herself as an advocate of freedom, both sexual and of speech. She had agreed with Converse to do the heroin deal. Their pursuer may intend to arrest them and keep the drugs off of the street, or allow his associates to kill them and keep the swag for himself, but no one can tell for sure. His thugs may be merely well-informed drug thieves or legitimately on the fringe of the law enforcement world.