Monday, 27 February 2017

Book Review: Dog on it (A Chet and Bernie mystery) by Spencer Quinn

Review: Dog on it (A Chet and Bernie mystery) by Spencer Quinn
Published in Australia by Arena Books, imprint of Allen & Unwin, 2009
Spencer Quinn online and on Amazon

This book caught my eye purely because of the cover. I loved the illustration style and the look on the dog’s face. When I read on the back blurb that the story is narrated by the dog, I was sold. Stephen King’s recommendation didn’t hurt either.

Chet, the dog, lives with his human, Bernie Little, owner of the Little Detective Agency. They’re both ex-police. Chet was heading to the top of his canine class, but there was a rogue event in his final exam. That’s how Chet and Bernie became a team. Chet and Bernie have money – sorry, cash-flow – troubles, a cranky ex-wife, and a kid whom they both adore and who adores them, but whom they don’t get to see as often as they’d like. Bernie drives a beat-up, old Porsche convertible, like good PIS should, and Chet always rides shotgun.

Mostly, Chet and Bernie do divorce cases because they pay (most of) the bills. But their speciality is missing persons. In this story, they’ve got a kid who may or may not be missing. Can Chet and Bernie afford to stay on the case a) if there isn’t actually a case, and b) they’re not being paid for it?

I really enjoyed the narration by Chet, the dog. Humans and their worlds get described a lot in terms of their scents; Chet tunes out of the boring descriptive conversations to have naps; and we get to see Chet’s observations on tiny human reactions during the questioning of suspects.

The bond between Chet and Bernie is beautifully shown. We get to see exactly how Bernie is feeling through Chet’s eyes:
'Bernie nodded, the proud confident nod, my favourite. “They call him Chet the Jet.”'
In a moment when someone tells Bernie he can’t possibly be a parent to ask the question he just asked: 'The expression on Bernie’s face changed again, went cold for a moment, and then just nothing. I hated seeing that just-nothing look on Bernie’s face. I went over and sat at his feet. He didn’t seem to notice.'
Chet, you lovely boy.

If I’ve got the smallest bone to pick, it’s that Chet’s first encounter with the bad guys is initiated by the bad guys in a move that logically doesn’t make much sense to me. It moves the plot along, of course, in that Chet gets to see and smell the bad guys, but can’t tell Bernie about it. But I just gave that bone to the dogs and kept reading.

The action keeps romping along. At a couple of points in the story, Chet is separated from Bernie, and the stakes are truly ramped up for Chet as he has to deal with a human world in trying to get back to Bernie. It’s all the more nerve-wracking because Chet describes events in a way where he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, but we, as the readers, do. My heart got well and truly stuck in my throat at too many points in Chet’s adventures.

My next step: sniff out the other books in the series.

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