Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Dog Who Knew Too Much: Fun with Feeling

Three novels into a series, Spencer Quinn keeps playing within the limits of his form.   I'd say "formula," but that carries disdainful connotations, and I'd rather emphasize how fun the books are and how I admire his fresh story-telling within the framework.  Besides, he built the frame.

Image from the cover of THE DOG WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
The frame consists of detective Bernie Little accepting a job from a dubious client, learning quickly that there's more to the job than meets the private eye.  What makes the series remarkable -- and, did I mention, fun? -- is its narrator, Bernie's dog Chet.

I've written before how delightful it is to get the story through Chet's eyes, nose, ears, and highly distractable consciousness.   A prime example in this book is a moment of gun-slinging action when Chet is primarily interested in a scrap of bacon.

This particular story's core event involves an adolescent boy, and Quinn seems to have struck a rich vein of narrative here, for he seems to know adolescents as well as he knows dogs.   Pudgy twelve-year-old boy named Devin is missing from a camping expedition.   Maybe because I work with children in that age group every day, I was moved  by the scene where Bernie and Chet interview one of the boys who shared Devin's tent on the night of the disappearance.  Frightened at first, the boy gains confidence in an interview technique that might be described as "good cop, good dog."  Afraid of retribution, the boy gets up the courage to tell how he participated in bullying Devin.  The boy halts when he remembers suddenly seeing Devin's face in flashlight.  He is ashamed to have seen a boy crying "like that."  Later, Bernie takes care to ensure that Devin won't remember his ordeal solely in terms of helplessness and fear.

With the introduction of a puppy identical to Chet, conceived on the memorable last page of the series' first story, Quinn hints where this series may be headed some years down the road, when Chet -- I don't want to imagine it -- may be too old to continue.  A good series can travel with us through time the way a flesh-and-blood companion does. 

Like Haydn, who created the form of the modern symphony and then wrote over a hundred, may Quinn keep delighting us with his variations. 

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