When Marilyn, my editor at Shelf Awareness, recommends a book, I pay attention. As you might guess, the woman has impeccable taste, especially after all those years of reviewing. She has referred to the Chet and Bernie series by Spencer Quinn in several emails, so I decided to sniff them out recently. As a dog person, a mystery lover and a reader who appreciates fresh, funny, smart narrative voices, I’m in love.
Chet and Bernie are a canine-human PI pairing, who together make up the Little Detective Agency. (Bernie’s last name is Little; as Chet often reminds us, he’s “Chet, pure and simple.”) They found each other after Chet failed out of K-9 school on his last day (something to do with the leaping test; the details are hazy, but a cat was involved). They live in the Valley, out in California, and spend their time tracking down missing persons, rounding up perps (Chet closes a case by grabbing the perp’s pant leg), and hanging out with Bernie’s son, Charlie, and reporter girlfriend, Suzie.
Chet narrates the series, and his voice is my favorite thing about these books: smart, occasionally wisecracking and wonderfully canine. He’s a great tracker, but he can’t talk to Bernie; he has to communicate via growling, wagging, barking and other forms of communication available to dogs. Chet usually understands the concrete of each case but gets fuzzy on the abstract concepts; he’s also easily distracted by squirrels, cats and treats, particularly Slim Jims. I loved walking through each case with Chet, sometimes putting together the pieces from what he hears and observes (but doesn’t always understand), sometimes waiting for Bernie to come along and share the final bits of information.
I love mystery series that are also about their protagonists’ lives (see also: Tommy & Tuppence; the Spellman series; Maisie Dobbs). While Chet and Bernie have a long-established relationship that remains rock solid through the series, I’ve enjoyed following Bernie’s relationship with his girlfriend, Suzie, and I like the reappearance of minor characters such as Bernie’s son, his ex-wife and a couple of local police officers.
This series, to quote Stephen King, “has got more going for it than fifty of those cat cozies.” Whatever you think about King, the man knows how to write a compelling story, and so does Spencer Quinn. If you love dogs, mysteries and unusual narrators, sniff out Chet and Bernie. The whole series is a real treat.