Book Review: Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

10/25/2009

Dog On It Spencer Quinn Book ReviewDog On It, the first of a series of Chet and Bernie mystery novels by North American author Spencer Quinn, is an invigorating story of companionship and challenge that invokes the senses and tugs at the heartstrings of young adults and dog-lovers alike.

Narrated by Chet, the police-trained dog that was eliminated from the final round of police training for an act that we can only assume was out of Chet’s character; Dog On It provides an entirely new point of view. For the first time, we are given the chance to step away from those things that we understand most clearly and see the world from a dog’s point of view.

While Chet may not understand the human behavior and the idiosyncrasies we all maintain on a daily basis, his understanding of the world relies entirely on his senses and strong canine intuition. Bernie, the down on his luck detective, seeks refuge in his relationship with Chet, speaking to him as if he were his human detective partner and often asks questions with the hope that one day he may offer a response. While Bernie struggles to find his next paycheck the disappearance of teenage Maddison gets Bernie back on track, both fiscally and emotionally.

Former Williams College graduate, Spencer Quinn- a pseudonym for Peter Abrahams, writes from Chet’s point of view with an insight you’d expect from a canine expert. We’ve all wondered, at some point, what a dog was thinking or feeling and Spencer Quinn gives us the opportunity to cease those curiosities.

We cannot help but wonder how Spencer Quinn becomes the dog’s voice in the novel and find that it must be a result of his living in Cape Cod with his wife and beloved dog Audrey. His knowledge of canine thought and dog-like behavior is uncanny, leaving the readers with a profound new sense of understanding of their own pets.

The first few chapters really delve into Chet’s psyche. His every movement is narrated. From the comfort of laying under the table up against a cool wall to the smell of a braised rawhide setting his senses wild, the reader is left with the answers to questions any dog owner has ever wondered- what is going on in my pooch’s mind right now?

The story opens in suburbia, somewhere West of New Mexico, with Bernie’s inebriated entrance late one night. After the divorce, Bernie found himself desperate. Although late coming home, Chet forgives him and indulges in a nice scratch behind the ears just the way [he] likes it.  We begin to feel for Bernie’s loneliness as Chet describes what he sees and smells. The smell of alcohol on his breath was difficult to mask, although he probably wasn’t trying, Chet explains. By the time Maddisons eccentric mother pleads for Bernie’s help, we are almost thankful that something has ceased the endless sorrow and desperation in Bernie’s life.

The mystery begins with the disappearance of young Maddison and her uncharacteristic involvement with unsavory characters prior to her disappearance. In contacting The Little Detective Agency, Bernie Little’s own detective agency, Bernie is given another chance to make his life a success- regardless of how much his former wife took with her.

Private investigator Bernie Little and his canine counterpart, Chet tackle the challenge of finding the gifted student after her last encounter with a drug dealer and only after making contact with the drug dealer, Ramirez, does Bernie find evidence that her disappearance is entirely unrelated. During their investigative adventures through the desert following leads, Bernie and Chet end up in the most precarious of situations with unlikely foreign individuals with thick accents, undistinguishable in nature.

The story follows the typical mystery guidelines, however, the canine twist sets it apart from all other mystery novels we’ve seen. The novel, meant for adult readers, may be better suited for young adults and pet-friendly readers, as the canine voice and intelligence is far below the common adult. Though unchallenging a read for most adult readers, the story and perspective lends itself to becoming one of the most unique novels of 2009.  Aside from several references to drugs and guns, Chet’s otherwise juvenile-speak would be a great story for young adults looking for exciting new variations of fiction mystery novels.

Quinn’s first effort at a first-person, canine narrative is brilliant. Not only are we forced to see the world through the eyes- and ears and nose- of a wise canine detective, but we are also forced to step out of the human perspective- in return, gaining more knowledge than we expected. The obviously studied perspective of our underrated pet pals is impressive and comforting because for once we can feel a deeper connection with our pets. For those of us who have, or ever have had, a pet, Dog On It is a great novel for expanding our narrowly human perspectives on life.

Reviews by noted publications such as Publishers Weekly claim Dog On Itwinning debut…that fans of classic mysteries are sure to appreciate.” And its 7th place standing on the New York Times best-seller list in March of 2009 is clear indication of success. Chet, although a fictional character has adapted to the virtual realm and has his own Facebook fan page, Twitter account and website at www.chetthedog.com. His following is primarily one of dogs and dog-owners; uploading photos and comments from dog-fans nationwide. The following itself is evidence enough of how involved readers become with Chet’s character.

Dog On It is great because we don’t become too involved in the trivial human challenges in life which is a true respite from the dramatic and otherwise exaggerated best-selling novels in its company. A lovely Private Investigatory tale – or should I say tail.