Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery - Spencer Quinn

Guest reviewed by the fabulous Melissa Paul--a dog lover and avid reader who likes to try out different literary genres. She does not normally read detective fiction or romance novels, but will pick one up from time to time. You can see her other reviews here and here.

Summary: An exciting new mystery series debuts with this first Chet and Bernie novel. Chet the Jet is a dog who failed K-9 school (cats in the open country played a role in his demise), but now he is a dedicated PI and works with Bernie, owner of the Little Detective Agency. The story is told entirely from Chet’s point of view, which will delight dog-loving mystery readers, but the book is also an excellent PI tale, dogs aside, as Chet and Bernie investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl whose developer dad may be up to no good. Chet may not understand things like maps (he doesn’t need them, as he can sniff his way home), but he is a great sleuth who finds the girl and solves the case. The always upbeat Chet may well be one of the most appealing new detectives on the block, but conscientious, kind, and environmentally aware Bernie is a close runner-up. Excellent and fully fleshed primary and secondary characters, a consistently doggy view of the world, and a sprightly pace make this a not-to-be-missed debut. Essential for all mystery collections and for dog lovers everywhere. (From Booklist*Starred Review*)

My Review: First a disclaimer: I am not a lover of detective novels. However, I always enjoy an interesting narrative perspective, particularly that of a dog. Quinn does an excellent job of capturing the canine voice and I found myself in hysterics over a section of the book involving a barking session between Chet and some neighborhood dogs.

For me, that was the best part of this book: the originality of Chet. If my dog could talk, Chet’s words would come out of his mouth. This was a fun little plot to follow, for the most part. However, the author lost me when he began to send Chet on some far flung and pretty unbelievable adventures and towards the end when the likable pooch (who is so likable because he reminds you of all dogs – loyal, food oriented, and living in the moment) starts thinking like a human, premeditating his actions and reasoning the need to chew through some ropes that are tying Bernie’s hands together. That’s where I found myself saying out loud a few times, “oh come on! A DOG wouldn’t do that!” Booklist cites, “a consistently doggy view of the world” but I couldn’t disagree more and that inconsistency is one major fault with this otherwise well written character. Either Chet is a dog who thinks like a dog or he is personified with human thought and reasoning; the switch from one to the other mid-story was a huge distraction to me.

On the plus side, there were a few moments where I was thinking that the story was going to turn unpalatable; however, Quinn expertly provided the anticipation of this without actually taking the tale into ugly territory. Chet’s brushes with danger enhanced the suspense.

The plot dragged a bit at times and I had the “whodunit” figured out about halfway through, but it was still an entertaining story. Quinn did throw out a few bones for future fiction fodder so I’ll probably check out another “Chet and Bernie” story down the road to find out what happens with the PI duo.

My Rating: 3 ½ bones for the inconsistency and some unnecessary profanity but an otherwise amusing story.

If I had to sum this book up in one phrase it would be: A barking fine time for a light read.


MindySue said...

I have a hard time with books where the animal is a narrator. All those Brian Jacques (Redwall, Mossflower, etc) books, just creeped me out. Keepign that in mind (and the fact that I rarely read mystery, this book probably isn't for me...but it definitiely seems original.

Heather said...

Mindy, you should try The Art of Racing in the Rain. The dog narrates but it isn't a mystery story and it's not at all creepy. It just may change your mind. :)


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