Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery

Dog on It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery
by Spencer Quinn

Publisher's blurb:
Chet might have flunked out of police school (“I’d been the best leaper in K-9 class, which had led to all the trouble in a way I couldn’t remember exactly, although blood was involved”), but he’s a detective through and through. In Dog On It, Chet and Bernie investigate the disappearance of a teenaged girl who may or may not have been kidnapped, but who has definitely gotten mixed up with some very unsavory characters.

Readers will be instantly captivated by Chet’s doggy ways and his endearingly hard-boiled voice. Full of heart and occasionally prone to mischief, he is intensely loyal to Bernie, who, though distracted by issues that Chet has difficulty understanding—like divorce, cash flow, and child custody—is enormously likeable himself, in his flawed, all-too-human way. There’s genuine suspense and intrigue, combined with humor and deep insight into the bond between dog and man.
This is another book read with Donald.  It was a good thing it was a read-aloud book (much of the reading done on road trips), because if I'd been reading alone, I might not have finished it.  It's not that the book is really bad... but rather, it's not especially good.

The strongest point is definitely "Chet's doggy ways".  People who have lived around dogs will find themselves chuckling knowingly or nodding in recognition, because, yes, dogs do this or that.  The main characters (Bernie and Suzie) are somewhat likeable, as well.  They seem like decent people. 

Now for the "not so good":  The mystery is definitely nothing special.  I haven't read many (any?) modern niche/cozy mysteries of this kind, but I suspect this is about on par with the bulk of them.  The mystery isn't what you're really there for (or if it is, you're in for a disappointment); it's almost an afterthought-- a delivery system for the inside jokes of soap-making or knitting-- or in this case, dog-owning.

Other things:

Chet has super-canine (as opposed to super-human) abilities.  A smart dog understands a lot more than most people realize-- but Chet is some sort of dog genius.  His grasp of language is astounding! There probably wasn't an easy way around that, because the story is told from his point of view.  It would be very limiting (if not impossible) to tell a story from a realistic doggy point of view. However, there's a time or two when Chet does things that seem unrealistic beyond his uncanny language comprehension.  It's just a little silly.

Some of the action sequences require a substantial amount of the willing suspension of disbelief.  Action sequences in text rarely impress me.  (Sometimes they can't even impress me when they're presented on the screen.)

Earlier, I mentioned that the "doggy ways" are the best part of the book.  I stand by that, but I will add this caveat-- some of those doggy ways are stretched to their limits, repeated multiple times over the course of the novel.  You could possibly argue that this was intentional.  Chet's a dog with a dog's different style of memory.  So he repeats himself.  No big deal; lots of people do that, too!  Still, it gets a little old after a while, and I wonder if it continues into the other books in the series.  

I was a little surprised to find a few instances of foul language in this book.  If not for that, it could have been fine for even children (as far as I can recall, at least).  Well, maybe kids wouldn't be interested in the references to money trouble, divorced couples, and child custody... (Honestly, I wasn't that interested in those things, either, and I'm supposedly an adult, even though I feel about the same as I ever have...)  Since it's all told from a dog's perspective, it might be more interesting to kids than the average cozy mystery...  I suppose I ought to stop being surprised by all the cursing in modern novels.  I can't help it, though; I remain easily surprised.


The thing that bothered me most about this book was when the groomer found a lump on Chet.  I hate that word "lump".  I don't even like it when used to refer to gravy.  I may have a slight word-phobia about it, even...  It just really, really bothers me.  So when I saw it in the book, I was hoping it would turn out to be nothing more than scar tissue from one of his injuries (knives, cars, wildcats... guns?).  "Gosh, Chet was injured recently-- probably while he was missing.  This will somehow provide a clue that leads to the conclusion of our boring mystery!"  But then the note fell into the recycling box... and it was never referred to again... and I figured that, oh boy, one of the sequels will deal with Chet battling cancer.  I do not want to read a book about a cancer-stricken dog.  I don't like depressing, real-life problems of that magnitude in my reading, thanks all the same.  I may not be able to banish them from real life so easily, but by golly, I don't have to read novels about them if I don't want to.  (And I don't.)

I did a little Googling to try to find out if that storyline does pop up in subsequent books in the series, but I didn't find anything, so I'm not sure... If it never comes up again, it's odd that it wasn't edited out.  Also-- unless something happens to the groomer in month or two following the end of the novel, wouldn't she talk to Bernie about it when she came to get Chet for his next grooming?  Something like "Why didn't you call me back?"...  It's weird. 

End of SPOILERS.  

Anyway, this is a decent enough book if you like cozy mysteries, private eyes, and dogs, but I'm not sure when or even if I'll get around to reading any of the sequels.