KathyHare.com 

A Journalist's Archive

Dog On It
Spencer Quinn
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

Move over Holmes and Watson, there’s a new crime solving duo on the scene. They’re a bit of an odd couple; one loves the hair on his back while the other grabs a razor to shave it off before a date. One worries about “cash-flow problems,” while the other doesn’t really understand the term but knows it keeps his partner up at night pacing the floor. Meet Chet and Bernie.

Chet, the narrator of the story, is an everyday mutt with an extraordinary ability to spin a good tale. His doggy observations about human behavior range from insightful to downright hilarious. Bernie, a detective down on his luck, took pity on Chet after he was booted out of a K-9 police academy. Chet doesn’t understand why he was expelled. After all he’s a great leaper, he can follow a scent, and he’s darn good at sniffing out drugs. But he sheepishly admits it had something to do with an incident involving a cat and few drops of blood. However Bernie understands it’s not always easy to work within the constraints of the law; he left “Metro PD” six years ago himself. Together Chet and Bernie make a formidable team tracking down wayward spouses, missing children, and even the occasional fugitive.

“Dog On It,” by Spencer Quinn is the first novel in a series entitled “A Chet and Bernie Mystery.” I hate to call it cute for fear of losing male readers. So let’s just say Quinn has found a unique voice – Chet’s. Selecting an animal to narrate a mystery series is a gimmick an author could soon regret, but the trick works for Quinn because all of his characters, especially Chet, are so believable. Chet is no Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. He barks at inappropriate times, and he might get the urge to chase a squirrel when he should be hunting down the bad guy. But he does know when to use his canine talents, whether it’s biting through ropes so Bernie can free his hands, or leaping onto the chest of a bad guy who is holding a knife. Ok, so he may go overboard when it comes to biting down on an offender’s leg, but no one other than the criminal seems to mind.

An interesting aspect of reading the first book in a series is watching the author build the foundation for future stories. Bernie is a bit of an underdog himself – the type of character readers want to root on to victory. He’s a war hero, a West Point graduate who spent a lot of time in the desert. But Quinn doesn’t give away many details about Bernie’s military history in “Dog On It.” Nor will readers discover why Bernie’s police career or marriage ended, but I’m sure Quinn will fill in the blanks in future mysteries. And there’s also the tiniest bit of romance blossoming between Bernie and Suzie Sanchez, a reporter from the Valley Tribune. I expect their relationship to continue with Sanchez becoming a major character in the series.

Quinn keeps introductions short, giving readers little time to become comfortable with the main characters before jumping right into the mystery. That’s ok; Chet’s doggy insights into human behavior make it easy to catch up. It doesn’t take a dog’s keen sense of smell to tell that Bernie had too much to drink when he stumbles in the front door. Chet has seen this type of behavior before, and he would give Bernie an earful, if only he could. But Bernie’s not so intoxicated he can’t pull himself together to handle a case when it falls into his lap. While Bernie is staggering through a game of catch with Chet, Cynthia Chambliss pulls into the driveway.

Chambliss is concerned because her 15 year-old daughter, Madison, didn’t come home from school. Bernie tries to reassure Chambliss that it’s not unusual for a teenager to get side-tracked, he’s certain Madison will be home by morning. But Chambliss insists her daughter is a straight-A student who never gets into trouble. She believes Madison must have been kidnapped and offers Bernie $500 to start searching for her immediately. During a quick inspection of Madison’s bedroom, Chet finds a baggy which leads Bernie to conclude Madison is probably a normal teenager, instead of the innocent child her mother described. Sure enough, Madison turns up the next morning with a story about going to see a movie. However a few days later Madison is missing again and this time the evidence makes Bernie believe that she may have become involved with a dangerous element.

Quinn packs enough drama, suspense, and action into “Dog On It” to keep the most hard-core mystery reader interested. There are two-bit drug dealers, Madison’s suspicious father, and Russian gangsters. Midway through the mystery a case of identity theft throws a curve ball into Bernie’s investigation. But with a little backtracking Bernie and Chet catch up with the bad guys in an underground mine.

What truly sets this book apart from other mysteries is the humor. Chet is just dog-gone funny! If Quinn can continue his great balancing act, blending canine observations with suspense, his mystery series will be a great success. Quinn’s next book, “Thereby Hangs a Tail,” is due out in January. I can’t wait to ride along in Bernie’s old Porsche convertible as the duo solves that mystery. I’ll be in the back seat, because Chet likes to ride shotgun.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
Article Copyright © 2009 Bluestack Consulting, Inc.
All Rights Reserved