Dog on It

A four-footed K-9 dropout proves he has the stuff to solve a mystery.

Dog on It By Spencer Quinn Atria Books 305 pp., $25

There are so many pets out there solving crimes that it’s time for animal shelters to start handing out fedoras and trench coats with every adoption. Literature’s newest four-pawed sleuth, Chet, hews strictly to the hard-boiled American tradition in his debut, Dog on It.

Chet has far more in common with Philip Marlowe than Scooby-Doo. The San Diego investigator is a K-9 dropout who’s a little sensitive about his lack of graduation certificate and his mismatched ears.

He’s partners with Bernie, a divorced private investigator who is down on his luck. Like any good Watson, Chet’s loyal, brave, and maybe just a touch clueless.

When a 15-year-old girl doesn’t come home from school, Chet and Bernie are contacted by her frantic mother. Madison shows up later that night, but Bernie isn’t buying her story of where she’d been. Then Madison disappears a second time.

The police are convinced she’s just run away, but Bernie grows more and more concerned: Her disappearance smells like a kidnapping.

Spencer Quinn’s new buddy series features the most winning narrator I’ve come across in a long time. Chet’s a little fuzzy on money matters, but he’s endlessly patient with his partner’s pathetic sense of smell, lousy hearing, and total inability to see in the dark. “Bernie missed some things, true, but you had to admire him: He never let his handicaps get him down.”

Using a canine narrator to tell a mystery has been working for humorists since Harold the dog put pen to paper in “Bunnicula” in the 1970s, but Quinn is going for more than just laughs. “Dog on It” manages to ratchet up some real suspense. But even with Chet’s understandable confusion about the ways of humans, readers will solve the mystery before Bernie does.

That plot problem is overshadowed by a book that has opinions on everything from why it should be criminal to grow hydrangeas in a desert to a rather novel take on back hair. “What was wrong with that?” Chet wonders. “I’ve got back hair, lots of it, thick and glossy, and no one’s ever done anything but praise it.”

Which just goes to prove, when it comes to unstinting loyalty, you can’t beat a dog.

Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.

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