The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

The Right SideThe Right Side

by Spencer Quinn

eARC, 336 pg.
Atria Books, 2017

Read: May 11 – 12, 2017


Okay, since I first opened the pages of Dog On It 8 years ago, I’ve been a Spencer Quinn fan — it probably took me two chapters to consider myself one. So it’s kind of a given that I’d like this book — but only “kind of.” This was so far from a Bowser & Birdie or Chet & Bernie book that they could be written by different people.

Sgt. LeAnne Hogan was an excellent athlete in her childhood and teen years, and then she joined the Army (deciding her West Point plans would take too long — an oversimplification that’ll do for now) and became an excellent soldier, serving multiple tours in combat zones. During her last sting in Afghanistan — as part of a team working to build intelligence sources among Afghan women — she is involved in an attack that leaves some dead and her injured — physically and mentally.

Her memories of that fateful day are vague and dim at best, but the scars will not leave. Not only that, she lost an eye, her confidence, her future plans, and career. She slowly befriends a woman who lost part of her leg to an IED in Iraq who shares a room with LeAnne in Walter Reed. Marci dies suddenly and unexpectedly — and that is too much for LeAnne. She leaves the hospital immediately and sets off on a drive across the country, she really doesn’t have a plan, but she needs to be somewhere else.

It’s pretty clear that LeAnne is suffering from PTSD on top of everything else — as you’d expect. She comes across as angry and rude to almost everyone she runs across and exchanges more than a few words with. She eventually finds herself in Marci’s hometown — where her daughter has gone missing. For the first time since the day everything changed, LeAnne has a purpose — bring her friend’s daughter home. Along the way, she LeAnne gets adopted by a large dog who will prove an invaluable aid in this challenge.

LeAnne is a great character — not a perfect person by any means, but you can see where a lot of writers (novelists or journalists) would try to paint her as one. She has huge flaws — some of which are easier to see after the injury (and some of them are new after it, too). There are some other good characters, too — even if you don’t necessarily like them (LeAnne’s mother would be an example of this — she’s trying to do the right thing, but the reader can sense LeAnne’s apprehensions toward her — and will likely share them). The people in Marci’s hometown (particularly those that are related to her) are the best drawn in the book — and I’d be willing to read a sequel or two just in this city to spend more time with them. Not everyone gets what LeAnne’s going through — some don’t know how to react to her — but those that come close will endear themselves to you.

The dog, Goody, isn’t Chet, he isn’t Bowser — he’s a typical dog, no more (or less) intelligent than any other. Goody won’t be serving as the narrator in a story any time — he will drink from the toilet bowl and ignore a lot of what LeAnne wants him to do.

Like I said, I’m a Quinn fan — but I didn’t think he had this in him. Funny mysteries with dogs? Sure, he’s great at those. But sensitive explorations of veterans dealing with the aftermath of life-altering injuries? I wouldn’t have guessed it. But man . . . he really got this flawed character, this incredibly human character, right. There’s a couple of moments that didn’t work as well as they should’ve — a couple of moments that were hard to believe in a book as grounded in reality as this book was. But you know what? You forgive them easily, because so much is right with this book — so much just works, that you’ll accept the things that don’t. It wasn’t all dark and moody — there’s some hope, some chuckles, a lot that is somber and sad, too. While not a “feel good” read by any means, you will feel pretty good about who things end up.

This is probably categorized as a Thriller, as that’s where Quinn’s readers are — but I can see a case for this being labeled General Fiction (or whatever synonym your local shop uses), it’s flexible that way. This is Spencer Quinn operating on a whole new level with a character we need more like — such a great read.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 1/2 Stars

Santa 365 by Spencer Quinn

Santa 365Santa 365

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie
Kindle Edition, 47 pg.
Atria Books, 2015

Read: December 15, 2015


There’s not a whole lot to say about this short story, but I’ll give it a whirl. Taking place sometime before The Dog Who Knew Too Much (the duo’s adventures involving a wilderness camp), this is the story of Bernie trying to throw a Christmas party for his friends and, more importantly, his son, Charlie. Naturally, because it’s a Chet and Bernie story, crime ensues, and Bernie’s able to set things right (and take care of another problem at the same time). Sure, given that most of Bernie’s social circle are either cops or perps that he and Chet have busted, there should be a lot more crime in Bernie’s life.

Suzie, and we, get to meet Bernie’s mother, Minerva. Something Bernie’s not too excited about (well, I don’t think he cares about us meeting her, Suzie, on the other hand . . . ). She was amusing, but I think Minerva could become too much very quickly. If she returns in a novel, I hope her appearance has about the same number of words.

I trust it’s because of the size of this story, but wow, this was a shallow and rushed thing. Still, it’s a pleasant read, fun to see Chet’s reaction to a Christmas tree and what not. There are a couple of lines from this story that belong in Quinn’s Top 20 All Time lines (a contested field, I realize), so I’m glad I read it, but I was left wanting a bit more.

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3 Stars

Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn

Scents and SensibilityScents and Sensibility

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #8

Hardcover, 305 pg.

Atria Books, 2015

Read: July 16 – 17, 2015Bernie Little is back from his cross-country adventures, not much worse for wear, probably with a little coin in his pocket (knowing Bernie. He gets home to find one of his elderly neighbors in the hospital and her husband being investigated by some overreaching environmental authority. Which gets Bernie’s protective instincts engaged. Oh, yeah, and there’s a hole in Bernie’s wall where a safe used to be. That’s in the mix, too — but it takes a back seat to the Parsons’ plight.

It seems that the Parsons’ son was recently released from prison, making the timing of Mr. Parson’s troubles (and the missing safe), a little suspicious. Bernie starts investigating the son — which leads into looking at the crime that put him away in the first place. Which leads Bernie to cross paths with an old rival. An old rival who may have had something to do with the fact that Bernie is no longer employed by the Phoenix Police Department.

The past and present mingle with the personal and professional for Bernie as the case gets more complicated and dangerous. Which makes this a pretty decent detective novel — then throw in our loyal narrator, Chet with his uniquely irrepressible voice and perspective. That’s a thick layer of icing on a pretty good cake.

Which I guess makes the presence of a young dog who looks and smells like Chet (he’s the source of the latter observation) a nice fondant?

I think the illustration is getting away from me, so I’d better move on.

There are a few certainties in crime fiction, in every novel: a vehicle operated by Stephanie Plum will explode; Nero Wolfe will have beer; Harry Bosch will listen to jazz; and Chet will be separated from Bernie. Sometimes, this annoys me because it seems so forced, but this time it snuck up on me so naturally that I was three or four paragraphs into it before I realized it had happened. There’s some other Ce and Bernie mainstays here: Bernie says something he regrets to Suzie; Bernie’s ex seems to go out of her way to misunderstand Bernie, Chet is spoiled and eats like a goat. Really, it has all the elements of this series, Quinn just uses them better than usual here.

A compelling story, the characters back in their stride, and we learn a little bit more about Bernie — if that’s all this had, I’d jumping with excitement. But when you add those last few paragraphs? Forget it — this is the best thing Quinn’s done since introducing us to this pair.

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4 1/2 Stars

Paw and Order by Spencer Quinn

Paw and OrderPaw and Order

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #7

Hardcover, 304 pg.
Atria Books, and 2014
Read: June 7, 2015
On their way home from their adventures in Louisiana, Bernie decides to take a detour through Washington, D. C. to see if he can repair some of the damage done to his relationship with Suzie Sanchez.

I’m not spoiling much to say that Bernie’s romantic gestures and intentions are still only slightly better than his financial moves — making this both the most interesting (and frustrating) part of the book.

Shortly after their arrival, Suzie brings Chet along to help with a story, and they end up finding the body of a friend/source of Suzie’s. Making things more complicated, Bernie’s implicated in the shooting. Despite not being on familiar turf, the trio dives into the investigation and the murky international political waters surrounding the capitol.

If you ask me, the solution to the mystery is a bit too easily found. And, thanks to Chet’s comprehension of human beings (and lack of exposure to all the evidence), I felt like I had to fill in more blanks than I’m used to with the series. You may differ, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. But even if I didn’t like the destination, taking the trip with Chet’s narration was as pleasant as usual.

We get a bit more detail about Bernie’s military past than we did before — building nicely on The Sound and the Furry, and obviously, there’s movement on the relationship front. Which, for this series, is plenty of character development. Chet remains Chet — not sure what character growth would look like with him, nor that I’d want to see it, anyway. Oh, wait — there’s a new trick that Bernie does with him.

Honestly, this was probably the least of the series — I’m not sure if Quinn was over-reaching, or just didn’t have enough to flesh this out. He seems enough of a pro that I have trouble believing either. I’m not going to take the time to make the case (either way), because I don’t think it’s worth it. There was enough to enjoy here, and while there were plenty of negatives, I don’t think they outweighed what was enjoyable. Just hoping for a good rebound with the upcoming Scents and Sensibility.

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3 Stars

Woof by Spencer Quinn

WoofWoof

by Spencer Quinn
Series:Bowser and Birdie, #1

Hardcover, 293 pg.
Scholastic Press, 2015
Read: May 14 – 15, 2015

One quick sniff and I knew that BLTs were in that basket. BLTs were an odd human invention, sandwiches filled with weird tasteless stuff no one in their right mind would be interested in — except for the bacon. In case you missed that, I’ll mention it again: bacon!

This is just cute. That’s all there is to it. A cute MG novel, featuring a nice little girl with a lot of spunk and her new dog, Bowser. A fun mystery novel with a lot of heart.

Birdie Gaux is an 11-year-old mix of Flavia De Luce, Izzy Spellman, and Inspector Gadget’s niece Penny (from the original cartoon, natch). Fiery, spunky, determined, far too curious and independent, a little too comfortable with shading the truth/outright lying, with a clever dog friend. While her mother works on an offshore oil rig for months at a time, Birdie lives with her grandmother and helps in the family’s struggling bait shop. She doesn’t remember much about her father, a police detective killed in the line of duty when she was very young.

After getting Birdie her late birthday gift, our new friend Bowser, Grammy and Birdie stop at the bait shop to discover they’ve been robbed, while the comic relief employee napped a bit. The only thing taken was Grammy’s stuffed marlin — a family heirloom passed down from her father after his return from World War II. The adults — Grammy, the Sheriff, and the napper are ready to write the marlin off as a lost cause, but Birdie’s not.

Birdie and Bowser are galvanized into action — she’s sure she smells cigar smoke in the shop, and Bowser finds the remains of a cigar nearby for her, convincing Birdie that she’s right. The Sheriff is a nice enough guy, who’s more than willing to listen to Birdie’s thoughts about the case (listen — not really act upon) — but he’s not going to invest too much energy into investigating the theft of a dead fish, no matter the sentimental value. So Birdie, with the help of some friends (including the Sheriff’s son) and a nice — and easily confused — woman from the local retirement home, sets about hunting for the missing marlin (and some secrets that may be hidden within).

There’s a little danger, peril and excitement along the way, but nothing inappropriate for the age group. Bowser gets the worst of it, honestly, while Birdie is mostly safe. There’s some hints of problems looming for Grammy, some dark events in Bowser’s past, and that sort of thing. The sharper young readers will catch that, others won’t — it’ll either add some nuance and flavoring to the experience or it won’t — nothing that will affect the understanding of the story.

Quinn is much beloved around here for his series of novels about Bernie, the P. I., and his partner Chet the Dog — narrated, as this book is, by Chet. For the sake of diversity, I was hoping that Bowser wouldn’t narrate the novel in Chet’s voice. But he does — which is mildly disappointing for me, because I’d rather get the original. But as for attracting new readers — particularly a new demographic? It’s perfect. And while sure, I grumbled occasionally while reading — and here — about Bowser being Chet without the Police Dog Training, it’s still a fun voice. One that you have little trouble imagining would belong to a dog.

Not the most demanding of reads, nor the most complex of mysteries, Woof is a pleasant introduction to a new series that I hope will be around quite awhile, I look forward to getting to know Birdie, her dog, her friends and family a lot better. I imagine that soon enough, I won’t be alone, and that Quinn has found himself a whole new fan-base.

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3 Stars

The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

The Sound and the Furry (A Chet and Bernie Mystery #6)The Sound and the Furry

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #6

Hardcover, 320 pg.
Atria Books, 2013
Read: July 23, 2014

I cannot think of another narrator in contemporary fiction as charming, as relateable, as endearing Chet — unreliable as all get out, but utterly trustworthy. I’m sure there are readers out there who are not susceptible to Chet’s canine charms, but I’m not one of them. I chuckle, I laugh, I am drawn in instantly — and as long as the stories are passable, that combination is a winner.

Thankfully, usually the stories are more than passable, which is just frosting on the cake. This time out, the Little Detective Agency finds itself on the road to New Orleans, of all places — a far cry from their normal stomping grounds. It’s good to see Quinn shake things up a little, he can’t be as dependent on things like Bernie chasing down a former C.I. or a familiar source of information. They also don’t know the lay of the land at all, and Bernie has to acclimate himself quickly.

Sure, some of Quinn’s tropes are here — Bernie not making sound financial choices, Chet causing a little trouble (tho mostly charming people), Chet getting separated for a time from Bernie (although this time it felt more organic than in any other of these books — I was a little bit into the separation before it dawned on me that, “yup, it’s about time for this”). But that doesn’t detract from the change in setting — or make it seem like less of a change. Instead, the presence of Quinn’s usual moves just underlines their universality.

It’s not uncommon for the sidekick of a detective to notice something missed by their associate — and it’s not uncommon for the sidekick to be unable to get the detective to see what they want them to/understand what they’re excited about, etc. And in almost any other detective novel where the detective is so clueless about so much of what the sidekick notices would be full of griping and complaining from the sidekick (justified griping, but griping, nonetheless). Not these books , however – except for his questionable financial decisions, Chet can’t even think of Bernie negatively, and he forgets anything that approaches negative almost instantly. This leaves the reader to chew on all the clues that Bernie’s missing while Chet’s focused on other things. I Love that. Typically, it’s the detective that has access to clues before the reader/independent of the reader (and that’s true here to an extent) but these books turn the tables on that, giving us readers the advantage.

Don’t know of its because Chet’s a dog, or if Quinn’s just that good at what he does (or some other thing), but when Chet’s in danger I get tenser than I do reading just about anything else — even if the danger’s not that great ultimately. But when Chet tussles with a certain critter in this book, I know my adrenaline levels jumped up and I read a lot faster just so I could get to the resolution of the fight.

My main (only?) problem with the book is its treatment of Suzie Sanchez. She seemed more like a refugee from Three’s Company than the reporter we’ve come to know and like. Quinn’s bounced between from treating her as a strong, capable character and this disappointment — she deserves better (as do Bernie & Chet, and the readers). If I’m drawing the right inferences from the cover image on the seventh Chet & Bernie book, it looks like he’ll give it a shot. If I’m wrong, Quinn should just write the character out of the series and start over with a new love interest.

We’ll never see it — I don’t imagine — but Chet kept hinting at this deeper, darker story, this side of Bernie we haven’t really seen (I think we’ve gotten glimpses before, but nothing like in this book). The kind of thing that belongs in a far more hard-boiled novel than this one. And unless we get someone else’s point of view, we’ll never see this side of Bernie in full because Chet can’t really admit it to be true. But we got a few hints this time — I sure wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of Bernie.

Until then, we get these light, joy-filled mysteries equal parts puzzle and entertainment. Who’d ask for more?

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4 Stars

Dusted Off: A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn

A Fistful of Collars (A Chet and Bernie Mystery #5)A Fistful of Collars

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #5

Hardcover, 320 pg.
Atria Books, 2012

Little makes me as happy as a good Chet & Bernie story — and this one fits the bill. Quinn avoids some of the pitfalls of his other books — certain scenes/plot points that are becoming more than threadbare are absent here.

The main storyline was pretty predictable, but it was well — and entertainingly — executed. The subplots are the key to this one, and most of those were handled deftly.

Good, solid entry in this series with one of the best narrative voices around — give this one a read!

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4 Stars