Heart of Barkness by Spencer Quinn: Chet & Bernie are Back in Action as they Work to Clear a Country Music Legend

Heart of BarknessHeart of Barkness

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #8
Hardcover, 299 pg.
Forge Books, 2019

Read: July 9 – 10, 2019

It’s been 4 years—4 long years (28 dog years!) since the publication of Scents and Sensibility, so it’s understandable (but personally troubling) that I’d forgotten it ended on something of a cliffhanger. It came back to me rather quickly as Quinn resolved it in the opening pages, but I’d still encourage those whose memory might be equally sketchy to re-read at least the last chapter of Scents before starting this.

For those who aren’t familiar with the series, Chet’s a very large mixed-breed dog, who flunked out of Police Dog Training at the very end of the course. Since then, he was adopted by Bernie Little, a Private Investigator. The two make a fantastic team, and Chet narrates the novels recounting some of their adventures. Chet’s a fantastic character and a very good dog. He’s got a short attention span and will frequently lose track of what he was talking about, he is utterly devoted to Bernie and is convinced that everything his partner does is the greatest. Bernie seems to be a pretty good PI, thankfully (but you have to read between the hagiographic lines from Chet).

The core of this novel revolves around an elderly legendary country singer, Lotty Pilgrim (I see her as latter-day Loretta Lynn-type). She’s fallen on hard times (a tried and true mix of being too trusting and bad business management) and is playing in a dive bar in Phoenix when she meets Bernie and Chet. Bernie foils an attempt to steal her tip jar, and then when he attempts to follow up on that attempt, he learns somethings that disturb him. Soon after this, Lotty’s current business manager is killed and Lotty is the chief/only suspect — and is even on the verge of confessing to it.

Bernie doesn’t believe it for a second—neither does Chet, I should add—and can’t stomach the idea of her confessing like that. So he launches an investigation of his own—despite very insistent suggestions from local Law Enforcement to mind his own business. Bernie’s investigation involves a lot of digging into the past as well as the expected digging into the present. The more he digs, the more questions it seems to raise Chet would interject here to say that’s Bernie’s plan.

Throughout the series, Chet will compare what they’re doing with to something they did in a past case—usually not one that’s recorded in a novel. We learn a lot about Bernie through these quick flashbacks. Chet seems to reveal a lot more this time then he has in the past, and I’m glad we don’t get the full story about at least one of those cases—it sounds pretty grim.

The one thing I want to mention that separates this from the rest of the series is pretty tricky without giving anything away. But there’s something that happens in every book—a well that Quinn returns to too often for my taste. And it’s absent in this book. I loved that. Variety is good for the fans.

I don’t want to take the time to talk about all the new characters—but as the plot centers around Lotty Pilgrim, I want to talk about her for a moment. She’s not technically Bernie’s client, but his efforts are focused on keeping her out of trouble—especially if she doesn’t deserve it. She’s an intriguing character—an object of admiration and pity at the same time; she’s still actively writing and performing, while relegated to a trivia quiz answer in the culture; she’s fiercely independent and feisty, but she’s also clearly the victim of her past, several people in the music industry, and (as I said before) a trusting nature. She’s ridden with guilt, and a lot of her problems may be self-inflicted in a twisted form of penance. All said, I liked her as a person. I wouldn’t think that there’s more for Quinn to do or explore with her, I’d be happy to be proven wrong

Of course, the book’s not all business for the Little Detective Agency. Bernie’s been divorced for a while and sees his son (Chet’s second-favorite human) regularly, and started seeing Suzie in the first novel. There are big developments on the Suzie front here—but that seems kind of par for the course over the last two or three novels, and while I’m not crazy about them, I don’t know that I’m opposed to it. I think the next book (thankfully, I’ve seen Quinn state it’s finished) will tell me a lot about that

Is this a decent jumping-on point? Yeah, it’d work—almost the entire series works as one (I’m not sure Paw and Order or The Sound and the Furry would be). But obviously, you’d pick up on nuances, background, and so on if you start at the beginning. It was so good to spend time with these two again, and the book itself is one of the best in the series—both in terms of plot and character moments for the protagonists. It’s funny, heartfelt, clever, suspenseful, and satisfying. And it features a dog. Really can’t ask for more.

At one point, Lotty writes a song about Chet, cleverly entitled “Song for Chet.” It was recorded and a video made with clips provided by Quinn’s fans. I just can’t leave this post without sharing it:

—–

4 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

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