Dogs are natural sleuths, especially scent dogs like my chocolate Lab Rosie. She is curious about everything. Her inner monologue on a walk: That bush smells different today. Hey there’s a silver wrapper in the grass, maybe it will taste good. Oh yum, a banana peel! Squirrel! What’s in that bag? Does that person getting out of his car want to pet me? Wait, I don’t want to go that way. Look, there’s a bug on the sidewalk. Where’s it going? Is it food? Hey, I’m not done eating that…
But you don’t have to know a dog like Rosie to enjoy the crime-solving antics of Rosie’s favorite dog sleuth Chet the Jet of the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn (aka Edgar Award winning author Peter Abrahams). Chet is a K-9 school drop out and the faithful companion of down-and-out private investigator Bernie Little.
Cozy mysteries with animal sleuths are not uncommon. What sets this part-cozy-part-hard-boiled mystery series apart from others in those genres is that the P.I.’s cases unfold in the first person narrative of Chet the dog. Author Spencer Quinn does an excellent job imagining a canine inner monologue while leaving all the deductive reasoning to Chet’s human partner Bernie. If Rosie could read, I suspect she would find Chet to be a very relatable protagonist.
“What is it, Chet?”
I smelled all kinds of things, but that wasn’t the point. The point was those smells brought back a memory of this grate and what had fallen in: one of the sharpest memories I’d ever had, so sharp my side hurt.
“What are you barking about?” Bernie got down on his hands and knees and peered through the grate. “Can’t see a goddamn thing. Can you?”
Nope. But I didn’t have to: I knew what was down there. I pawed at the grate. Bernie gazed at me, then went to the car and came back with the flashlight. I loved the flashlight, how it poked holes in the dark, and always got a bit excited when we were using it.
“Stop charging around like that.”
I stopped, returned to the grate. Bernie was kneeling again, shining the light down through.
As you can see, the tone of the series is warm and humorous, but there is a brush of darkness that adds depth. Like any fictional detective, Chet encounters real danger and adversity. Chet must outsmart some truly evil villains while navigating a world of humans and machines that is often beyond his ability to understand. Even well-meaning humans can be a danger to a dog. In DOG ON IT (the first book in the series), Chet has a very close call with death when he is separated from Bernie and put in an animal shelter. No one wants to adopt him, and Bernie doesn’t know where he is.
A cold place, with lights that were much too bright shining on machines I didn’t understand. The lawn mower is one of the worst, and these, not much like lawn mowers, somehow looked as bad. I turned back toward the metal door: closed.
And Chet’s relationship with Bernie is rich with emotion while not straying too far from Chet’s doglike thinking.
I knew men could cry—had seen Bernie tear up that time Leda came and packed up Charlie’s stuff; did I mention that already? At that moment I came close to making— What would you call it? A connection, maybe, a connection between Bernie’s situation and—
But it didn’t happen. I spotted a Cheeto under the bed. Munch munch and it was gone.
If DOG ON IT sounds like your kind of read, you’ll enjoy the other Chet and Bernie Mysteries too. Even the titles are fun!
Thereby Hangs a Tail; To Catch A Thief; The Dog Who Knew Too Much; A Cat Was Involved (Prequel, short story); A Fistful of Collars; The Sound and the Furry; Paw and Order; and Scents and Sensibility.
What animal sleuth mysteries do you like to read?