You know going in that Spencer Quinn’s mystery novel, Dog On It aims to please. There’s the punning title; there’s the title’s goofy typeface; there’s the cover illo featuring (you soon learn when you check out the blurb) the story’s protagonist and narrator, the dog Chet.
So does it please? Oh, absolutely! Or, to be fair, if you are the sort of dull, crabby, ice-hearted Squidward Scrooge who wouldn’t think a mystery told by a dog is funny, you’ve had plenty of warning that Dog On It is not a treatise on Kierkegaard. If by some chance you had distractedly picked up the volume, you’ve already dropped it and fled.
As for the rest of us. Well, your pleasure in Dog On It depends on whether you sign on for the trip. You’ll know in a page or two whether you want to play this writer’s game; An Arizonian private eye has a pet police dog who is also, more or less, his partner and who — though unable to speak to humans except by barks, growls and tail wags — speaks to the reader, telling the story of how Bernie, the P.I., gets to the bottom of a missing person case. Me, I signed on and enjoyed the ride. It was as fun as reading a kid’s “chapter book” when you were a kid. You just keep turning the pages.
The mystery is okay, the suspense pretty suspenseful (and relieved a lot by the knowledge that “Spencer Quinn is working on his next Chet and Bernie mystery.” i.e. Dog and human survive the alarming circumstances Quinn puts them in.), but what kept this simple soul zipping along was the author’s resolutely maintaining the canine perspective.
Here are some passages I highlighted.
Watching Bernie dine with (Chet fervently hopes) his new girlfriend, Suzie:
“They clinked glasses. I loved that, clinking glasses, the sight and the sound, but mostly how no glass got broken. How did they do it? My adventures with glass never turned out that way.”
Here are some more:
“She wrung her hands. Hands are the weirdest things about humans, and the best: you can find out just about everything you need to know by watching them.”
“The woman looked confused; the confused human face is almost as ugly as the angry one.”
“The Hound of the Baskervilles was on the screen. I’d seen it more times than I could count—which was two in my case: me and Bernie, for example—but the way that hound’s howl kept scaring the pants off all those people never got old. If I could only howl like that…Hey! maybe I could.”
Here are the two Doggisms that sum up the Chet’s perspective:
“The truth was that humans didn’t turn out to be the best judges of other humans. We, meaning me and my kind, were much better.”
“Things have a way of turning out for the best: That’s my core belief.”
And they do. Very little violence — even the baddest baddies only receive flesh wounds, and a bite or two. The scatology you can expect in a tale told by a dog is no more than necessary to establish Chet’s point of view.
Dog on It
A Chet and Bernie Mystery
by Spencer Quinn
(Atria Books, Hardcover, 305pp.)