DOG ON IT by Spencer Quinn

For our inaugural Featured Author segment, we are proud to present Spencer Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of the Chet and Bernie Mysteries series.  Over the next few weeks, we will review each book in the series and feature Q&A with Quinn.  In the coming months we’ll be celebrating novelists from all genres with reviews of our Featured Author’s previous releases and interviews and reviews that coincide with the author’s newest book launch.

First up in the Chet and Bernie Mysteries is Dog On It.

 

Dog On It
Spencer Quinn
Atria Books
ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-8583-1

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Although I’ve recently become more of a cat person, I can acknowledge that members of the species have their inherent limitations. Mine, for example, spends much of his day sleeping; and, though he enjoys exploring the outdoors, Boots generally does it all at his own pace. Basically, I wouldn’t ask him to solve any crimes for me. He probably wouldn’t appreciate the scheduling conflicts that kind of added effort would create.

Not the case for Chet, Spencer Quinn’s perfectly conceived canine hero (and narrator). From the moment he comes on the scene alongside his “partner,” private detective Bernie Little, Chet wields the verbal tone a hardened crime fighter — but what makes him a really wonderful character is the fact that Quinn never forgets to let him be the dog he is. We meet him thus:

I could smell him — or rather the booze on his breath — before he even opened the door, but my sense of smell is good, probably better than yours. The key scratched against the lock, finally found the slot. The door opened and in, with a little stumble, came Bernie Little, founder and part owner (his ex-wife, Leda, walked off with the rest) of the Little Detective Agency. I’d seen him look worse, but not often.

He mustered a weak smile. ‘Hey, Chet.’

I raised my tail and let it thump down on the rug, just so, sending a message.

From there on, anything goes, as Chet and Bernie prove to be the perfect duo — not just because of their complementary sleuthing skills (as Chet says, Bernie is the “idea man”) — but because their bond of cross-species friendship is so pure.

Their first journey in print begins amidst utter confusion, after a frantic woman pulls up to their home to claim that her teenage daughter has gone missing. The daughter, Madison, ends up walking home later that night, seemingly having never been in danger — but after she disappears again, Bernie, with Chet at his side, knows that it’s time to start digging into the case.

After a parking lot run-in with an unknown troublemaker in a blue car leaves Chet injured, we get a first taste of the shady gang behind the crime. Bernie gains some early clues after tracking down a drug-dealing thug who witnessed Madison’s kidnapping (and putting a little old-fashioned beat down on him), but when Chet finally spots and attacks the assailant in the blue car, he gets himself captured and hauled off to the gang’s desert hideout. Although he can’t yet free Madison, Chet is able to find his own way out of danger after escaping the compound, fighting off a wild mountain lion, and hitching a ride with some wayward bikers. And, remarkably, he never stops being cute along the way — whether it’s gobbling up a burnt hamburger, or letting his tongue hang out with unrestrained joy as he rides shotgun in Bernie’s Porsche or hangs off the back of a motorcycle.

As the Little Detective Agency sifts deeper, they begin to realize that Madison’s father Damon, though divorced from her mother and without any custody of her, seems just sleazy enough to be involved in her disappearance. And as Chet notes, it doesn’t help that Damon pals around with a snooty, lazy cat named Prince.

Of course, both man and dog are up to every challenge they face, and, as in any great mystery, there are many. Bernie fights off the demons of his past marriage, as he sparingly sees his own son while working to save Madison, and he ends up enlisting the help of Suzie Sanchez, a local reporter (and love interest) who gives him a bit of the romantic runaround before discovering some vital clues. Chet finds his way out of more than a few dangerous tangles, does plenty of barking, and longs for another treat. After shootouts, hostage encounters and a classic car chase, both partners face brushes with death — and both escape by the tips of their fingers, or their paws. But after all is said and done, it ends just like Chet tells us always does: with his jaws clamped around the pant leg of the perp.

And, of course, even in the midst of pensive focus or the most dangerous mortal combat, Chet is always a big, lovable hound. He is never without quirks, and his doggy charm is the most important part of what makes Quinn’s debut such a huge success. Dog on It is full of typically adrenaline-packed crime action — but that wouldn’t have been enough to make for a great read. The fact that, at every turn, Chet and Bernie are on equal footing, fighting for each other as hard-boiled buddies, is what will keep the book in your hands. That’s the true skill of Quinn’s authorial ear: it lies within that paired narrative, and it quickly becomes clear that you’re never going to become sick of these two. And no matter how great of a crime fighter Chet is, you’ll always find more fun in his faults — like when he’s just about to find a deep philosophical link between Damon’s failed marriage and Bernie’s.

I knew men could cry — had seen Bernie tear up that time Leda came and packed up Charlie’s stuff; did I mention that already? At that moment I came close to making — What would you call it? A connection maybe, a connection between Bernie’s situation and —

But it didn’t happen. I spotted a Cheeto under the bed. Munch munch and it was gone.

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