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Monday
Sep102012

A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn

Published by Atria Books on September 11, 2012 

If you’re looking for a light, amusing detective story, it’s hard to beat Chester Quinn’s novels about the two partners in the Little Detective Agency:  Bernie Little and his loyal dog Chet.  Even when the plot is weak, Chet is always good for a laugh.  Fortunately for fans of the series, this is one of Quinn’s better books.

A movie is shooting on location in the Valley.  The mayor (prompted by the city’s insurance company) hires Bernie to keep an eye on the star.  Thad Perry has a taste for drugs and a knack for getting into trouble.  If the three weeks of filming pass without incident, the town will attract more filmmakers -- or so the mayor believes -- and the city’s insurer won’t have to pay any claims. Yet once filming begins, trouble of an unexpected nature ensues:  murder.  In the end, three murders come to light (albeit considerably separated in time) and it’s up to Bernie and Chet to determine how they are related. Bernie is in charge of deduction; Chet (as he frequently reminds the reader) brings other things to the table.

The mystery is a good one, much better than the plot that drove the previous novel in the series.  Still, the story exists largely as an excuse to give Chet something to talk about.  Chet is the narrator and, as you might expect of a dog, he has trouble staying focused.  Chet’s thoughts tend to meander (often in the direction of his next meal) but they always end up in a happy place.  Chet might ponder a profound question for a few moments -- If Bernie has a word on the tip his tongue, why can’t Chet see it? How can Bernie’s bark be worse than his bite when Bernie doesn’t bark? -- but Chet doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  His running commentary on life (“a fluffy white towel can be fun to drag around”) is hilarious.

Like all dogs, Chet enjoys eating (ribs are a favorite), napping, and riding in cars.  He has some impulse control issues, particularly when cats are around, but the beauty of Quinn’s writing lies in his illumination of the canine mind.  Bernie might think Chet is misbehaving, but Chet’s behavior is perfectly natural ... to Chet.  Whether he’s shredding the leather seats in Bernie’s new Porsche or making an uninvited leap into someone’s swimming pool, Chet’s actions always make perfect sense … to Chet.

A Fistful of Collars moves at a steady pace and features enough action and detection to satisfy mystery and light thriller fans, but the story is clearly geared to dog lovers.  This is neither a hardcore thriller nor a complex mystery.  The writing is breezy, the language is clean, and humor (invariably generated by Chet’s antics and commentary) is the animating force.  New readers can enjoy the story even if they haven’t read the earlier installments, but series fans will appreciate the mild intrigue surrounding Bernie’s changing relationship with his girlfriend.  Chet doesn't quite understand what that's all about, while readers will have to wait for the next book to learn how Bernie's romantic life will unfold.  Until then, Bernie at least has Chet at his side.

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