Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Spencer Quinn's Dog Detective Series: A Doggie Treat

(reflections on DOG ON IT and THEREBY HANGS A TAIL, the first two novels in a series by Spencer Quinn.)

On one page -- 42 in the first edition of THEREBY HANGS A TAIL -- I counted six aspects of this series that have made every page a pleasure to read.

First, when the narrator is a real dog's dog like Chet, the German Shepherd, you get deliciously ironic moments.  He thinks that he knows more than he does:  "I was in the picture, understood the whole enchilada just like Bernie" (i.e., the P.I. who owns Chet).

"Enchilada" sends Chet off on a tangent, and we get another delight of the series.  It's just like a dog to run off the track after any fleeting thought.

Meanwhile, Bernie is waiting for a small private plane to appear.  By now, Chet's ears have been bothered by the buzz of its approach for at least a page.  But only now does Bernie say, "I think I hear something."  Chet's enhanced senses bring us some angles on a story -- sounds and smells -- that we don't usually get.

But it's Chet's attitude that makes these books so delightful.   Like any healthy dog I've known, he seems to find pleasure, at least interest, in just about every thing that happens.  A limo approaches, "leaving a golden trail of swirling dust" in its wake.  Chet comments, "Things were so beautiful sometimes I just wanted to gaze and gaze."

And through all this, it's still a legitimate crime novel, with its cast of interesting human characters, such as Adelina, a woman who causes detective Bernie's jaw to drop on page 42.

So reason number six is that Bernie is a sympathetic guy, and Chet's admiration and devotion to him are boundless.  The reverse is also true.  It's like reading about young romance (puppy love?), fun and funny and sometimes heart - breaking when one of the pair is in danger and separated from the other.

A seventh reason, as lagniappe:  According to Quinn's official bio, his favorite authors include two that I've been reading this past week, novelist Graham Greene and poet Philip Larkin.  Anyone who likes those two, and dogs, has got to be good.

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