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Dog on it by Spencer Quinn

Never thought I’d see the day, but it looks like it’s finally happened.  I’m officially reading more than playing video games.  God help me.  This hasn’t happened since, what?  Middle School?  Whenever it was that I stumbled across that Deathgate Cycle thing, at least.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t read.  It’s just that my time spent reading has always been rather dwarfed by my time spent gaming.  Because I am a huge nerd.

During a recent trip to say goodbye to Borders, I picked up three new books and have been steadily working my way through them all, as well as Slaughterhouse Five, which my brother mailed to me because it was a travesty that I had not previously read it.  But hey, Slaughterhouse Five is one of those…  Great Classics everyone keeps going on about.  If you don’t know that you’re supposed to read it, odds are you don’t like reading at all.  So instead we’re going to focus on Dog On It, written by Spencer Quinn and featuring two down-on-their-luck detectives…  though one of them is more optimistic as long as the steak and rawhide keep coming.

Bernie Little is a detective, and he thinks he’s a pretty damn good one, thank you very much.  Life as a private eye has its ups and downs.  On the up side, you get that adrenaline rush that one comes from being hot on the trail of a suspect, needling your way to the truth and smacking down some unfriendly informants until you get what you need.  The downside here, of course, is that being a private eye also means you don’t get a stable paycheck.  Bernie is poor.  His car is a rolling time bomb.  His ex wife is breathing down his neck about the money he owes her.  His son, well, he sees Charlie every other weekend, which is a rough thing to ask any father to deal with.

If I ever get a dog like that I'm going to make it wear a hat, just like that.

The only thing Bernie really has in his life that he can depend on is Chet.  Chet is Bernie’s partner, best friend and roommate.  And his dog, too.  Chet is the narrator of the story.

Being a dog isn’t all that simple, though.  While Chet is immune to most of the human drama (finances?  What the heck are finances?  Bernie’s eating steak every night, yeah?  We’re living the life, Bernie and me…) he has his own share of problems.  His pal Iggy down the street can’t hang out so much anymore, not since the electric fence went in, and there’s the matter of those coyotes lurking around the property.  All in a day’s work for a mid western dog.  But Bernie, well, what concerns Bernie is Chet’s problem.  Not that he can’t handle it himself, Chet is quick to remind us.  Just…

Anyway, one night Bernie is approached by a worried mother whose honor roll daughter hadn’t come home.  Her daughter hasn’t been missing more than a couple hours, but the internet told her that most missing child cases that aren’t resolved within 24 hours usually stay that way.  After some debate, Bernie agrees to look for the missing teen.  The hunt is on, and man Chet is excited for it.

Chet’s musings and experiences make up 90 percent of the book.  He’s a dog.  He has problems remembering things.  He can immediately tell if someone is a dog or cat person, and his loyalties usually vary depending on who is holding the biscuits at that time.  Well, not entirely.  There’s always Bernie.  Chet’s loyalty to Bernie is never up for negotiation.  Chet’s specialty is missing persons.  He was quazi-trained as a police dog (long story) and spends much of the book searching alongside Bernie, who staunchly refuses to work with people who don’t like dogs.

It’s a touching story in places, really.  And a large part of that I think is because Quinn has the art of dog logic down pat.  This is Chet’s life here.  This isn’t a Disney film.  Chet doesn’t talk to other animals.  Sure, he barks at a fair number of them and tries to eat the rest, but it’s just dog business as usual.  Some sections are downright heartbreaking, others are hilarious as Bernie tries to get a grasp on the situation while Chet zooms around the yard excitedly.  You can almost imagine what it’s like inside the head of a dog- well, an unusually clever one, at least.

The one downside I could see here is that sometimes it felt like some of the plot holes and techno babble were deftly glossed over by a heaping helping of Chet.  At one point, Bernie takes a weapon in for analysis.  During the ensuing techno babble, Chet essentially says “then I got bored.  Oh hey, is that a potato chip over there?  Ruffles, my favorite, om nom nom” and then walks outside to mark territory.

Still, it’s a good book and one definitely worth picking up, so long as you’re a dog person.  Cats, man.  Don’t even get me started on cats.


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