Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Sound and the Furry: Paws for Reflection

Reflection on THE SOUND AND THE FURRY by Spencer Quinn, latest in the Chet and Bernie detective series.  (Atria, division of Simon and Schuster, 2013.)

When a one-eyed bayou matron asks detective Bernie Little if he believes in heaven, Bernie answers, "I think it's right here...But in very small moments."  One page later in THE SOUND AND THE FURRY, Bernie hands a Slim Jim to his dog Chet, our narrator, who pauses to reflect, "What was all that talk about heaven and small moments?  Totally over my head... but for some reason I remembered it while I was downing that Slim Jim" (219).

That's as close as Chet gets to reflection, and as close as any book in this immensely fun series gets to theology, but it rings true.  Even during an ordeal underwater that has the reader panting for breath, Chet keeps up his own spirits, fighting for life moment to moment, wondering at his own endurance, the beauty of the moon: "And all around me sprang up tiny moons, bobbing on the water as far as I could see in every direction, beauties piled on beauty" (205).  Soon, from the moon, he hears Bernie's voice, "Doin' good, Chet, doin' good" (209).  These are moments of appreciation and love that sustain Chet through a hellish experience.

The author Spencer Quinn (pseudonym for Peter Abraham, a writer of suspense and YA mysteries) plays an extended game with us, moving the story forward on two tracks.  There's the Chet track, an exuberant and discursive inner monologue.  Then there's the Bernie track, moving the detective plot forward through canny questioning of people involved.  For instance, in Chapter Three, Bernie pushes for the straight story from his client Vannah, why she's hiring a detective in L.A. to find her brother-in-law in LA,, while Chet pushes under the desk to get at a bag of Cheetos.

The two tracks give us two kinds of language.  Much of Chet's narration dwells on telling observations of human body language, "one of my specialties" Chet tells us (279).  For instance, at an implied insult,
Bernie's head bobbed back the tiniest bit, kind of like he'd been hit.  He hadn't been hit ... but just the same I got ready to do something about it, hard to explain.  And at that very moment, I also felt Bernie's hand on my collar.  My brown collar, in case you're interested:  black is for dress-up. (31)
The Bernie track gives us repartee, as an appreciative bartender notes, "back-and-forth of witty nature" (53).   For example, after Bernie offers an addict fifty dollars for information, this exchange ensues:
"[Now] you're clean?" Bernie asked.
"Clean enough," said Mack.  "Maybe not squeaky."
Bernie lowered his bottle, gave Mack one of his direct looks.  "I'm paying for squeaky." (95)

In such dialogue, what's missing is more important than what's there, and it's not always just funny, as in this exchange between Bernie and drug dealer Cleotis, who has just recalled receiving $550 from the missing person at 9:10 p.m. the previous Saturday:
"You're very precise," Bernie said.
"This is a business," Cleotis said.  "I keep records."
"In your head?"
"It's that kind of business."
Bernie gave him a look.  "Someone like you --"
"Don't even say it," Cleotis said, the vagueness gone from his eyes now; in fact, they were a little too bright, in my opinion.
Bernie nodded. (152)
In the drug dealer's threatening silence, we get the self-knowledge and self-loathing that would have been diffused in some rant like "don't tell me I'm smart enough to be in a legitimate business.  You don't know the circumstances that brought me to this."

About the plot, I'm afraid that I was too wrapped up (or just rapt) by all those small moments of heaven that I didn't keep track of its ins and outs concerning shrimp, oil, and a gang from Texas.   But I appreciate the story for bringing us Chet's first exposure to the Mississippi River, New Orleans, rain, and an alligator.  It's typical yet delightful for Chet, facing the vast maw of an amphibian about to swallow him, to feel satisfaction at recognizing it from Animal Planet.

You've got to love a narrator like that!  Seriously.

Note:  See my reflection on Oblivion, a novel written by the same author under his true name, Peter Abrahams.

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