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Monday, February 14, 2011

Book review: Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

I'm not usually a fan of mysteries that humanize animals. Our species has a long history of interpreting animals as limited humans--they must have our motives, our values, our sensory ability. This leads to grievous errors in understanding our fellow species. When ethology was a new and exciting science, we were amazed at what could be learned by simply shutting up and watching without expectation or judgment, then trying to figure out why animals do what they do. In my zoo mysteries, I present the critters as authentically as I can, with all the superpowers nature bestowed on them and nothing more.

But I'm going soft and making an exception. Spencer Quinn wrote Dog On It in the first-person voice of a big, goofy, K-9 flunk-out named Chet who is partner to private investigator Bernie Little. Yes, Chet understands human speech and far too much of our behavior. On the realistic side, his nose rules, he's obsessed with food and easily distracted by a cat or golf ball, and he doesn't solve crimes as much as enable Bernie's efforts.

Bernie is an appealing sleuth, the other characters are clear and distinct, and the plot and romantic sub-plot have sufficient twists and turns. A teenage girl goes missing--runaway or snatched? Does her father know more than he's saying, or not? It's set in what is apparently a fictional version of Southern California or maybe Arizona.

The real fun of this book, however, is the amiable style and Chet. Charming. A lovely read.

I liked it, too, says Murphy.


Kim Knifke said...

If anthropomorphism is good enough for "Leakey's Angels"........Spencer Quinn's Chet & Bernie series make me laugh out loud, & I can't wait for the next one. His depiction of Chet's inner dialogue mimics my experience with the canines I have known & loved in my lifetime. I'm tempted to check out an audio version, but fear it won't be as good as my own imagination.

Ann Littlewood said...

Is it anthropomorphism if it's about anthropoids? Well, yeah. Anyway, I do share Spencer Quinn's interpretation of canines and he makes me laugh too.

Anonymous said...

Count one more fan of this book. Chet had exactly the “wants to help, but oh! There’s something to sniff, or a nap to take!” attitude we know and love in our dogs. If the mystery were hidden dog treats Chet could probably stay on the trail.

There’s a fun mystery series by Susan Conant, about a dog writer and her Malamutes, that’s worth a try also.

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