I think we readers each have a genre we fall back on for relaxation and pleasure. Me, I love mysteries. I want a detective for whom I can root, a plot which leads me to unexpected places, a central puzzle which isn’t too difficult or too simple to solve before the end, and a view into a place I might not ever actually get to visit.
When I find a good mystery series, I like to read them in order. However, my introduction to Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie Mysteries was his fourth, The Dog Who Knew Too Much. Happily, Quinn has established a world featuring two compelling detectives, (canine and human), a cast of other characters who would be at home in a John Ford film, an intriguing setting (the Valley, in an unidentified Western state), a well-developed plot, and a highly enjoyable narrative style which makes no previous introduction necessary.
I also love dogs, and so I’m partial to Quinn’s narrator, Chet, a mixed, large-breed dog. Chet’s been working the PI gig with Bernie ever since Bernie rescued Chet after he failed K-9 school. Chet’s devotion to Bernie is unerring, but it’s based on respect as well as love. Bernie possesses a great deal of integrity and courage, but he’s also humble. Seeing Bernie through Chet’s eyes offers a splendid opportunity to see what a terrific detective and man Bernie is.
Bernie, while a great PI, is not very good with money. After Bernie turns down slick George Malhouf’s offer to (a) take a job with Malhouf’s security firm and/or (b) sell Chet, Bernie is forced to take a job as as a bodyguard for Anya Vereen, a sexy divorcee. Anya is concerned about meeting her ex-husband Guy at parents’ weekend at Big Bear Wilderness Camp where their son Devin, age 12, is a camper. Guy is an “investor” with questionable associates, and Anya thinks Bernie’s presence will prevent Guy from trying to rekindle any romance with Anya. Bernie tells his girlfriend Suzy Sanchez, a reporter for the Valley Tribune, that he’s taken a bodyguard job for the weekend (although he omits telling Suzy that his client is one hot tamale). The next morning, a Saturday, Bernie, Chet and Anya head up to the mountains. Upon arrival, the camp director Ranger Rob informs them that Devin’s still on a three-day canp-out with four other boys and Turk Rendell, their trip leader. Yet, when Turk returns, he has terrible news: Devin wandered away from their campsite, and has been missing now for over a day and a half. Anya nearly collapses but Bernie, an experienced hiker, and expert in missing children cases, quickly organizes a search, insisting that Turk hike with him and Chet, an expert tracker, back to the campsite. Big Bear Wilderness Camp was established as a way of “preserving authentic Western self-reliance,” and it’s a good thing that Bernie and Chet are well-practiced in that particular department. The “New West” is every bit as dangerous, exciting and unpredictable as the Old West was. The terrain is rough and the villains are perfidious. The search for Devin involve Chet and Bernie in murder, old mines, corruption, money laundering, drug dealing, extortion and blackmail.
This is an action-packed story, but the narrative contains a great deal of humor just by dint of having the story told from Chet’s point of view. Quinn allows plenty of room for Chet to reminisce about previous cases, discuss what he’s learned about human beings, or wax rhapsodic about the joys of being a dog. Chet’s enjoyment of his life–swimming in a lake, breathing clean mountain air, tasting clear spring water, eating steak, working the case, and, foremost, being Bernie’s partner–is inspiring. I was reminded that it is the journey, and not the destination. How lucky I am that I can take 3 other (previous) journeys with Chet and Bernie, as well as look forward to future ones!