I’m a sucker for books with dogs in them, especially when the book is told from the dog’s point of view, but it has to be done well and by someone who knows dogs.
Peter Abrahams, who writes as Spencer Quinn, is a dog guy who knows how to write. I’ve been a fan since I listened to ‘Dog On It’ the first Chet and Bernie mystery as an audiobook. Sadly, I can no longer get audiobook versions of this series in the UK so I read the second book, ‘Thereby Hangs A Tail’ as an ebook and still had a lot of fun with it, so I decided to stick with the series. I’m glad I did, because ‘To Fetch A Thief’ is the best book yet.
Chet is always the hero of his own story although he and Bernie, the PI he lives with, work as a team to bring down the bad guys. Bernie does the talking and the thinking while Chet does the interesting things like the sniffing and the chasing and the grabbing hold with his teeth and not letting go until the bad guy is cuffed.
In ‘To Fetch A Thief’, Chet and Bernie go undercover in a carnival to solve the mystery of the missing star attraction. Someone has made Peanut the elephant disappear.
The book is populated with larger than life humans, even by carnival standards, that I could cheer for or hiss at with equal enthusiasm. The plot is far-fetched but moves fast enough not to give you time to think about anything except what will happen next.
The best thing about the book is getting to live inside Chet’s head for a while. Chet’s pretty smart for a dog but that doesn’t stop him being 100% dog. He lives for finding food, following new smells (you would not believe what an elephant smells like) and for bringing down the bad guys with Bernie.
As the whole story is told from Chet’s point of view, the success of the book depends on how well Spencer-Quinn writes Chet. Personally, I love it. Spencer-Quinn captures Chet’s joy and optimism in a way that’s contagious and that makes me laugh without ever belittling Chet. Here’s an example of how Chet thinks. He listens to this piece of dialogue:
“Colonel Drummond said you can buy an elephant for ten grand.”
“Colonel Drummond,” said Popo, sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms over his chest, “is one of those people who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
This is Chet’s reaction:
The price of everything and the value of nothing? I turned that over in my mind. It turned over a couple of times and then went away.
Here’s an example of how Chet and Bernie work together. Bernie has made a breakthrough and is driving the bad guy’s Semi with the bad guy as his prisoner:
We drove through the darkness, Bernie at the wheel with the gun in his belt, me in the shotgun seat, Jocko on the floor, maybe a tiny bit uncomfortable. “Any food on board, Jocko?” Bernie said.
Good question. Could I think of a better one? No.
“I got nothin’ to say,” Jocko said.
“Is that the kind of loser you want to be?”
“We take down a lot of losers in this business,” Bernie said. “Ends up there are only two kinds—losers who want to keep losing and losers who want to cut their losses. Guess which ones get the most jail time.”
I thought about that and was pretty close to making up my mind when the whole problem kind of went away, and I felt better. And that better was on top of how good I was already feeling, back with Bernie.
I love that, when Bernie says ‘We take down a lot of losers…’, the ‘we’ he’s talking about is him and Chet. That Bernie sees them as a team just as much as Chet does speaks well of both of them. And I love that Chet almost follows a thought through and then lets it go to appreciate his own happiness.
Then there are the discoveries Chet makes, like this one when bullets shatter their car’s wing mirror and window.
Hey! Mirrors were glass? And windows, too? I came close to having a thought about that.
And then there’s the way Chet’s emotions arrive somewhere before his thoughts do, like this scene at the end of the book:
Some sort of strong emotion began appearing on Suzie’s face. A breeze sprang up behind me. I looked back. My tail was wagging like crazy. I must have been happy about something.
If you’re looking to escape from everything and live in a better place for a few hours, pick up this book and take a ride in Chet’s head. You’ll feel better for it.