“Dog On It – Chet and Bernie Mystery #1” by Spencer Quinn

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“Do On It” was original, funny and an absolute must-read for dog lovers.

Told entirely from the point of view of Chet, a large, mixed-breed dog with mismatched ears, who, for reasons we never quite get to, didn’t make it all the way through his police dog training but who is now partnered with Bernie, a large, divorced, ex-cop, ancient-Porsche-driving PI.

The story is wrapped around the investigation of the apparent abduction of a teenage girl who is missing but for whom there has been no ransom request.

Bernie knows that something is wrong and is determined to find out what. Chet is right there with him. Bernie does the thinking part and Chet does the grab-the-trouser-leg-and-don’t-let-go part.

Seeing the world through Chet’s eyes is what makes this book special. Spencer Quinn clearly knows dogs. He captures that ability for sudden, irresistible urges to chase or smell that can distract even the most focused dog. He lets us see how concentration fades in and out, how some memories slip away yet certain smells or sounds become embedded in the psyche. He shows how aggressive growls and stances can happen even before a dog knows he’s reacting to something and he captures a dog’s irrepressible optimism.

Chet’s vocabulary is limited but he is a natural raconteur. He starts many tales that he doesn’t finish, comes back to tales he’s told before and punctuates many stories with: “We, Bernie and me…”. He finds humans, even Bernie, limited in strange ways but still often worthy of love and devotion.

At one point, Chet and Bernie become separated and Chet’s life is in danger. He is not truly conscious of this until the very last minute, yet I found the whole thing almost unbearably tense. I couldn’t have borne an “Old Yeller” moment.

Bernie’s character emerges strongly as the book progresses, giving me a kind of double-exposure view – once as Chet sees him: the human with the second-best smell in the world, who can make things happen, solve puzzles and silence whole rooms of people, even if he does have a strange obsession about water – and once as the ex-cop now struggling PI that the rest of us might see.

I also enjoyed the relationship between Chet and his best canine friend and close neighbour, Iggy. It’s very much a dog thing, characterised by exchanges like:

“Iggy barked. I barked back. He barked. I barked. He barked. I barked. He barked. I barked. Bernie said, “Chet! Stop that.” I tried to stop.”

In the first hour or so of this book, I wasn’t really won over, but I stuck with it and was soon carried along by characters that I cared about (some of them even human) and a plot that was just twisty enough and tense enough to keep me wanting to know what happened next.

This is the start of a series of Chet and Bernie books. I’ll be back for more.

 

 

4 thoughts on ““Dog On It – Chet and Bernie Mystery #1” by Spencer Quinn

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