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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Deception Cove by Owen Laukkanen: A Con, A Vet, A Dog and Small Town Corruption trying to Crush Them.

Deception CoveDeception Cove

by Owen Laukkanen
Series: Neah Bay, #1
Hardcover, 369 pg.
Mulholland Books, 2019

Read: June 6 – 7, 2019

Since 2012, I’ve known a couple of things about Owen Laukkanen — he can write engrossing thrillers and he can fill them with compelling characters. He’s proven it again and again and again. Either one of those traits would likely keep me coming back for more, but you put the two of them together? Fughetaboudit. So when I read the premise for Deception Cove I figured I was in for a treat.

Boy howdy.

So, Jess Winslow is a multi-tour Afghanistan Vet, one more Marine with PTSD and too many memories that will haunt her dreams (and waking life). She’s sent home after word comes that her husband’s died, but isn’t really ready for civilian life. She gets a service dog, Lucy, and tries to move home. Sadly, her dead husband was desperate to better their circumstances and made some very foolish and criminal choices. One of these choices put her husband in the crosshairs of the corrupt local deputy sheriff (and soon to be corrupt local sheriff). Now that he’s gone, the deputy focuses on Jess — she has something he wants (don’t ask her what or where it is), and he’ll try to break her until she gives it to him. For starters, he takes Lucy from her, exaggerates the circumstances and severity of her biting him and schedules her destruction.

On the other side of the country, a convicted felon is released from prison, after spending about half of his life there. He’s not one of those who claims he was innocent, he knows what he did and takes full responsibility for it. But he’s paid his debt to society and wants to try to build something. The first thing he does outside of prison is to contact the people behind a dog training program he’d been a part of. He’d spent months training Lucy, getting her to trust him and getting her ready to help out someone like Jess. When Mason hears that Lucy’s about to be put down, he can’t believe it. He refuses to believe his girl would attack someone and wants to find out what happened. He borrows money from his sister and takes a bus from Michigan to the end of the road in Washington to see what’s going on.

Jess and Mason form an uneasy alliance — Mason only wanting to help Lucy (but he knows helping Jess helps Lucy), and Jess is unable to trust anyone, but knows she needs help saving Lucy (and maybe herself). They set out to find out what her husband took from the criminals the deputy works for, where he hid it and how they can get out of this jam intact. They’re not out to set things right, they’re not trying to bring criminals to justice (they’re not against it, don’t get me wrong), they don’t even care about vengeance — they just want to survive.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the corrupt deputy and his flunkies — or the people they all work for — but a quick word. They feel very real, high school bullies who find themselves in positions of adult power, and no reason to act any differently. Big fish in a small pond, but who want something better. Like Jess’ husband, they make some foolish and wrong choices to get that. It’s understandable that they find themselves in the situation they’re in, but that doesn’t excuse their actions for a moment. Beyond that, you really need to see Laukkanen’s treatment and development of them.

Laukkanen has pulled a Bradley Cooper and cast his own dog, Lucy, as the common ground for these two characters. It’s easy to see why. She’s a good girl, one of the best, but she’s not a super-dog (no offense to Walt Longmire’s Dog or Peter Ash’s Mingus). She gets scared, and runs from danger. But she’s loyal, and knows what Jess needs from her. And she knows a creep when she sees/smells one.

I want to pause for a moment and say, yeah, this hits some similar beats to Spencer Quinn’s The Right Side — an injured Vet who finds herself helped by a dog as she struggles with civilian life — and some small town injustice. But Jess and LeAnne are very different women — as Goody and Lucy are very different dogs — and their situations aren’t the same. But if you liked one of these novels, you should check out the other.

Yes, a lot of this book plays out the way you know it will from the description. But not all of it. More than once, Laukkanen will make you say, “Wait–what?” But even better, you will keep turning the pages as fast as you can, absolutely riveted — even during the largely predictable parts. That’s no mean feat, but Laukkanen will make it look easy (note the use of the word “largely” — none of it is as predictable as you think, and the plot takes some unanticipated turns). More than anything, you will care about this odd pair and the canine glue that holds them together.

The last chapter just seals things for me — great ending. It’s not like I was on the fence about whether I liked the book or not, because I did. It’s not even something that made me like the book more — it’s more like it ratified my opinion. “You know all the positive thoughts and inclinations you had about this book? Well, guess what, Sparky? You were right.”

From the setup to the execution and all points in between, Deception Cove delivers the goods. Anyone who read just one of his Stevens and Windermere books knows that Laukkanen can write a compelling thriller with great characters. In these pages, he shows that in spades — you take a couple of characters that could easily be cardboard cutouts and instead makes them three-dimensional people with depth, flaws, and a relatability — and throw them into a great thriller. What more could anyone want? A wonderful dog. Guess what? He’s got one of those, too. Leaving the reader wanting little more than a sequel. Go, get this one.

—–

4 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

EXCERPT: Dead is Better by Jo Perry

So in lieu of posting a review-ish post of Dead is Beautiful, I’m doing something better, namely, I’m shutting up. Instead, I’ve been given the first few pages of the first Charlie and Rose book — Dead is Better. Everything you really need to know about the series is here — the epigraphs, the humor, the tragedy, the mix of humor and tragedy, Charlie’s brutal honesty about himself, and Rose. I just re-read this post and had to fight the impulse to re-read the book. I just love this book.

Naturally, when corresponding with Perry this week about this post, I made sure to get the title wrong, because I’m a professional.

“Sometimes dead is better.”

––Stephen King, Pet Sematary

 

“Death is no more than passing from one room into another.

But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.”

––Helen Keller

 

1.

“When the first living thing existed, I was there waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country

All I know is that I know. And I can’t stop knowing. There was no cinematic replay of my life, no white light, no luminous passage to a perpetual meadow populated by old friends and relatives––I didn’t float over my failing body as the life seeped out.

I couldn’t see a goddamn thing––my eyes were shut.

There was then––the team of EMTs working on me, one applying compressions to the disco beat of the Bee Gees’s “Stayin’ Alive,” and a small young woman with long, curly hair squeezing the breathing bag attached to a plastic tube they’d shoved down my throat. Then a tall young man with short black hair loads me onto a gurney.

That was that.

Bullet holes still interrupt my flesh. My sternum is cracked, my chest bruised yellow and purple from their efforts.

One thing about this place—it’s come as you were.

 

2.

“We do not need to grieve for the dead. Why should we grieve for them? They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation, or pain. They are home.”

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

No Virgin Mary Blue sky. No combustible darkness.  Just a flash, a bang, and a fade-out that delivered me to this quiet place without midnight or noon, twilight or dawn.  This place, if it is a place—a beach without a sea, a desert without sand, an airless sky.

Did I mention the goddamn dog?

For the record, she wasn’t mine on the other side––which proves that error is built into the fabric of the universe—if that’s where we still are.

No ragged holes singe her gut, and she walks without a limp, but there’s a dirty rope around her neck that trails behind her too-thin body covered with long, reddish fur.  The first moment I saw her, I could tell––She’d been tethered long enough without water or food to die.

Well, she’s not hungry or thirsty now.

Is that peace?

 

3.

“Whatever can die is beautiful — more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world. Do you understand me?”

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

In life I’d heard of dogs like her, cheap burglar alarms.  Solitary, lonely, they bark at passersby and garbage trucks from behind high fences in exchange for water and kibble when the people remember to feed and water them.

They bark out of fear.

And to remind themselves that they in fact exist.

Now that I think about it, I wasn’t much different. A nobody.  A man of no importance.

On the other side, being a nothing had advantages. People barely saw me and that made me free.  I moved among them like a shade, a cipher. And when they did acknowledge whoever they thought I was, they were often revealing, entertaining––overconfident, saying too much about spouses and ex-spouses and email passwords, and what the neighbor’s son really did in the garage, and about not really being married, or the time they shoplifted—confessing, boasting.

Being nothing– that’s my gift

 

4.

When you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

 

In case you wondered, yes. When you’re dead, you can attend your own funeral. It’s not required, but I decided to go––time is unknowable here––to try to find out what happened.  And I thought the dog might like a change of scenery–or any scenery.

I want to look at certain people’s faces, especially my own.

Late morning at Mount Sinai, Hollywood Hills––which should be named Travel Town 2.0. The final resting place of thousands of corpses sits next door to Travel Town, a collection of non-traveling train cars frequented by babysitters, little boys and blinking coyotes who venture out at noon, when the picnickers and homeless eat their food.

The ferocious September heat and smog smudges LA’s edges and boundaries––until it doesn’t seem that different from this place, except that the dog and I are temperature-controlled––perpetually lukewarm, courtesy of Who or What we do not know.

The living––palpable, whole, shiny and fragrant with sweat and irritation––nothing’s worse than LA traffic on a Friday afternoon––remind me of those silvery-mirage-pools that form on the surfaces of overheated streets and then evaporate when you get close. Although it was I who lacks presence, they seem insubstantial, like flames, the men in suffocating dark suits and ties, and the women–especially my four exes––lotioned and gleaming, tucked and tanned, manicured and lap-banded, and holding wads of Kleenex in their diamond-ringed left hands to signify their former closeness to and recent repudiation of the deceased, who lay by himself in a plain wooden box up front.

The dog, whose rope I hold in my right hand, urges me forward, and then waits patiently while I look.

Jesus. Why is the casket open? I look like shit. I must have Mark’s wife “the decorator” to thank for this grotesque violation. Why didn’t they shut the box as is customary, especially here in a Jewish place. What were they trying to prove? That despite being shot to death I was still in some sense, intact?

Was I ever really the poor fuck who lived behind that face?  The neck and chin have been painted with peach make-up, and the too-pink lip-glossed mouth forced into a grimace that was, I guess, supposed to indicate post-mortal composure.  It must have taken three guys at least to wedge my fat ass into the narrow box.  I’m large.

Or I was.

I feel strangely light on my feet now. Want to lose sixty pounds in a hurry?

Die.

Read the rest in Dead is Better by Jo Perry — and the rest of the series: Dead is Best; Dead is Good; and the focus of this tour, the wonderful Dead is Beautiful. .

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Fahrenbruary Repost: Dead is Good by Jo Perry

One more Charlie and Rose book for you this week — and it’s a doozy. I hope you’re enjoying this stroll through these books as much as I am — I’m enjoying them so much, that for the last two days I’ve forgotten to mention something incredibly important — the fourth book in this series, Dead Is Beautiful comes out tomorrow — Fahrenbruary 14th! Go — click and buy. Then come back tomorrow for a special treat.

Dead is GoodDead is Good

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #3

Kindle Edition, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017
Read: August 3, 2017

Oh, and after all this time I learned something else about being dead.

Death is failure.

Death is loss.

Everything—who you are, what you know—goes.

Whoever you thought you were, you weren’t and you’re not.

When he was alive, Charlie Stone was married multiple times to pretty horrible women (if we’re to believe him — and we might as well, he seems pretty upfront and honest about this kind of thing), not that he was any catch, either. But he really only loved one person, Grace Morgan. Grace broke things off with Charlie and moved on with her life, but apparently after hearing about his murder, she was moved to change her approach to art — deciding to challenge the audience, forcing them to realize how close to death they are.

Yeah, it sounds pretty silly and pretentious to me, but hey…that’s not the important part of the story. Maybe if we got more examples of her art, I’d care more and maybe even understand. What is important about Grace, for our purposes, is that her life is in danger, it’s because of this danger that Charlie and Rose have been brought from their afterlife-limbo back to Earth.

The book opens with one of the more blatant suicide-by-cop scenes you’ve ever read, which is intended to serve as protection for Grace. It doesn’t work out, or the book would be really short. Powerless to do anything but watch and hope things turn out okay, Charlie and Rose travel around L.A. discovering for themselves what it was that endangered Grace in the first place — which brings them into a world of drugs, sweatshop workers, deceptive piñatas, and smuggled birds.

This is a very tangled story, it takes Charlie quite a while to put the pieces together — Rose has her own priorities in this mess and spends some time away from Charlie, unwilling to turn her focus on his behalf. The way that this criminal enterprise is eventually revealed to work not only seems like something that really exists, but is revealed in a way that is narratively satisfying.

Charlie will tell his readers over and over that there’s no character growth in death — that’s nonsense. Post-mortem Charlie is a much more emotionally mature and self-sacrificing kind of guy than pre-mortem Charlie was. In this book we see him come to — or at least acknowledge — a greater and deeper understanding of what love is, and what he allowed his previous relationship to become. It may not do him any good in the afterlife, but Charlie is better for it, and in someway we can hope that Grace is better off having gone through all this, so that whatever life has in store for her can be tackled face-on.

I love these characters — even while we readers don’t fully understand their circumstances, how they know where to go, what brings them to this world at certain times. Even while they don’t have much better of an idea than we do (at least Charlie doesn’t). I love how while they can’t interact with their environment, the people they see and events they watch unfold, they are driven to find answers, driven to care about what’s happening. There’s something about that compulsion — and success they have in figuring things out — that matters more than when Bosch or Spenser or Chin and Smith put all the pieces together to thwart someone.

This wasn’t as amusing as previous installments, but it was just as satisfying — maybe more so. For a good mystery with oddly compelling characters, once again, look no further than Jo Perry.

The L.A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner has a gift shop?? Why isn’t anyone investigating this? It may be real, it may be popular and legal. But surely that’s a crime against tact, right?

—–

4 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: Dead is Best by Jo Perry

I like this post better than I liked my post on the first of the Charlie and Rose books (that we saw yesterday), but I still think I could’ve done better. Nevertheless, I agree with almost everything I said back in 2016 — especially the main point: get this book.

Dead is BestDead is Best

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #2

Kindle Edition, 296 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016

Read: May 2, 2016

You’d think that having given up the ghost I’d be beyond the grasp of my ex-stepdaughter, the parasite.

Sure, Charlie’s less-than-charitable assessment, doesn’t make it sound like death has mellowed him at all — or that we really want to spend a novel looking into the trials and tribulations of his ex-stepdaughter, Cali. (a quick aside: I loved Charlie’s rant about the pretentious names given to Cali and her peers, “Truth, Canyon, Druid, Turquoise, Vanilla and Road. Don’t tell me those are names–– they’re brands. “) But last time we learned that 1. Charlie has actually mellowed a bit, we just need more time to see it; 2. He’s generally right about his family; and it won’t take long before the reader will actually care about Cali. As difficult as she’ll make it.

Textbooks will tell you that Cali is a “troubled teen.” Which is a pretty vague, and a likely outdated, term. She’s a drinker, a drug user, defiant daughter (although once you meet her mother and current stepfather, you kind of get that) in trouble with the law. But it doesn’t take long once Charlie and Rose start to follow her for her to end up in more trouble than she — or anyone — deserves.

Once again, there’s very little that Charlie and Rose can do other than watch what’s happening and put two and two together in the almost vain hope that Charlie can do something about it. Rest assured, they do, and it doesn’t involve another near death experience (I was a little afraid they’d just be hanging around Surgical Centers waiting for the next opportunity to talk to another ghost). It’s hard to believe that a mystery series where no one knows that the main characters did anything works. But this does.

What can I say about Rose? She’s at once one of the most realistic dog characters I can remember reading lately (she doesn’t talk, narrate, have a point of view chapter, or communicate telepathically), and yet, as a ghost, is the hardest to believe. She’s such a good influence on Charlie, I’m glad whatever or Whoever brought them together after their deaths.

Charlie said something in the last book about death not being about learning anything or insight or growth, that he stays the same. I don’t believe it, he’s not the same guy. But it’s probably a good sign that he doesn’t realize it.

Something I should’ve mentioned when I talked about the previous novel, these chapter epigraphs are great. They represent a truly impressive collection of quotations about death, some funny, some thoughtful, just about all of them keepers. The book is worth the effort just to read these (but you should really focus on the rest of the book).

Perry’s freakishly short chapters make you think Robert Parker was prone to be long-winded and rambling, but they work. You could probably make the case that they’re a commentary on the transient nature of human life or something (if you wanted to, and I don’t). They keep things moving, really keep anything from dragging, and help you get how Charlie and Rose can jump from place to place with ease.

Funny, poignant, all-around good story-telling. Plus there’s a dog. You really can’t ask for more than that. It’s easy to see why people as diverse as Cat Warren and Eric Idle commend these books. I strongly recommend this one (and the predecessor).

—–

4 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: Dead is Better by Jo Perry

We continue our trip down memory lane in Fahrenbruary with the first of Jo Perry’s books about Charlie and Rose. Looking back, I’m not sure I like my take on the book. I don’t dislike it, but I could’ve done better. Still, it’s a good book and these are the thoughts I had about it.

Dead is BetterDead is Better

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #1

Kindle, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: March 12 – 14, 2016

In its young life, Fahrenheit Press has put out some great looking titles, not your typical mystery fare. I’ve only read 2 (bought 1 other), so far — but they’ve shared the off-kilter flavor that the Press’ twitter feed/publicity displays (and descriptions for the other books indicate). I don’t typically talk about publishers when I’m talking about books, but there’s something about Fahrenheit’s project — and the books they put out — that draws your attention. Dead is Better is typical of FP — a mix of darkness and light, unlikely protagonists, unlikely crime-solvers, and atypical crimes (at least as far as crime fiction goes).

Charles Stone is our protagonist, but he’s not really the character that will grab your imagination. That’d be Rose — but we’ll get to her in a moment. Charles is dead — very dead, shot several times. His ghost carries the wounds, as well as the clothing, even the hospital ID bracelet, from the time he died. He can’t remember the shooting however, and can’t think of a reason why he’d be shot. He’s (to his reckoning) no one important, and it doesn’t seem anyone around him even cares enough to kill him/arrange for his killing. After a little bit, he starts to come up with a possible motive or two. But his murder doesn’t seem to be the thing he’s most curious about. What he’d really like to know is, why does he have a constant companion?

Rose is a dog. Well, technically, she was a dog, now she’s the ghost of one. We don’t know why she’s alongside Charles, but she’s been with him the entire time he’s been a ghost. It seems that she had a really unpleasant life; and at last, in Charles, has someone caring for her. Rose is not going to challenge Crais’ Maggie, Quinn’s Chet, or Hearne’s Oberon anytime soon as the greatest dog in fiction — which is not a dig. Rose is great, she’s just not legendary. Rose does have one thing going for her that the other’s don’t — she’s pretty realistic (not that the others don’t have their moments — but even Maggie gets Point-of-View chapters), she can only communicate through suggestion — and even then, the people around her have to guess. Sometimes, they guess wrong.

The two begin investigating Charles’ murder — with the occasional glance at his family and former life. But before long, Charles becomes convinced he’s not around to look into his death, but something else. Rose, somehow, seems to know more about what’s going on than Charles, but he’s the one who needs to do the work. The pair do uncover some answers — and others uncover some others (I’m not convinced that all the answers the readers/Charles are given about anything beyond the main crime are correct, but . . . ).

More importantly, Charles finds a measure of redemption — sure, it might be too late, but nevertheless, there is some. You get the idea that if he maybe had a dog while living, he might’ve turned out to be a better person. Sure, that describes most of humanity to me, so I responded to that, but I think Perry sells it well enough that just about anyone would.

I’ve often thought of trying to do an Urban Fantasy for NaNoWriMo featuring a ghost, but I’ve never figured how to bridge the communication gap between the living and the dead without it feeling like a cheat. I liked Perry’s solution to this (I worry about the sequel repeating it — but that’s not my problem, is it?). I’m not convinced that the police could’ve/would’ve used the information that Charles got to them, but in the moment — you don’t care, you’re just glad that someone did something.

This is a fast and lean read — Perry doesn’t waste a word (actually leaves a couple of them out, but nothing too distracting). You’ll grow to like Charles, you’ll want to adopt Rose, and you’ll want to finds out what happens to them next. Thankfully, their story will continue in Dead is Best.

—–

4 Stars

My Favorite 2018 (Fictional) Dogs

In one of the lightest moments of Robert B. Parker’s Valediction (just before one of the darker), Spenser describes his reservation about the first two Star Wars movies: “No horses . . . I don’t like a movie without horses.” After watching Return of the Jedi, he comments that it was a silly movie, but “Horses would have saved it.” Which makes me wonder what he’d have thought about The Last Jedi. Horses aren’t my thing, it’s dogs. I’m not quite as bad as Spenser is about them — I like books without dogs. But occasionally a good dog would save a book for me — or make a good book even better. I got to thinking about this a few weeks back when I realized just how many books I’d read last year that featured great dogs — and then I counted those books and couldn’t believe it. I tried to stick to 10 (because that’s de rigueur), but I failed. I also tried to leave it with books that I read for the first time in 2018 — but I couldn’t cut two of my re-reads.

So, here are my favorite dogs from 2018 — they added something to their novels that made me like them more, usually they played big roles in the books (but not always).

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Edgar from The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven (my post about the book) — Edgar has a pretty small role in the book, really. But there’s something about him that made me like Washington Poe a little more — and he made Tilly Bradshaw pretty happy, and that makes Edgar a winner in my book.
  • Kenji from Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby (my post about the book) — The moment that Grigsby introduced Kenji to the novel, it locked in my appreciation for it. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the added detail of robot dogs — at once a trivial notion, and yet it says so much about the culture Cole Brannigan lives in. Also, he was a pretty fun dog.
  • Rutherford from The TV Detective by Simon Hall (my post about the book) — Dan Groves’ German Shepherd is a great character. He provides Dan with companionship, a sounding board, a reason to leave the house — a way to bond with the ladies. Dan just felt more like a real person with Rutherford in his life. Yeah, he’s never integral to the plot (at least in the first two books of the series), but the books wouldn’t work quite as well without him.
  • Oberon from Scourged by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book) — Everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound doesn’t get to do much in this book, because Atticus is so focused on keeping him safe (as he should be). But when he’s “on screen,” he makes it count. He brings almost all of the laughs and has one of the best ideas in the novel.
  • Mouse from Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (my post about the book) — From the moment we read, “My name is Mouse and I am a Good Dog. Everyone says so,” a good novella becomes a great one. As the series has progressed, Mouse consistently (and increasingly) steals scenes from his friend, Harry Dresden, and anyone else who might be around. But here where we get a story (in part) from his perspective, Mouse takes the scene stealing to a whole new level. He’s brave, he’s wise, he’s scary, he’s loyal — he’s a very good dog.
  • Ruffin from Wrecked by Joe Ide (my post about the book) — Without Isaiah Quintabe’s dog opening up conversation between IQ and Grace, most of this book wouldn’t have happened — so it’s good for Grace’s sake that Ruffin was around. And that case is made even more from the way that Ruffin is a support for Grace. He also is a fantastic guard dog and saves lives. His presence is a great addition to this book.
  • Dog from An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson (my post about the book) — I might have been able to talk myself into ignoring re-reads if I hadn’t listened to this audiobook (or any of the series, come to think of it) last year — or if Dog had been around in last year’s novel. Dog’s a looming presence, sometimes comic relief (or at least a mood-lightener), sometimes a force of nature. Dog probably gets to do more for Walt in this book — he helps Walt capture some, he attacks others, just being around acts as a deterrent for many who’d want to make things rough on Walt. Walt couldn’t ask for a better partner.
  • Trogdor from The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin (my post about the book) — Honestly, Trogdor probably has the least impact on the book than any of the dogs on this list. But, come on, a Corgi names Trodgor? The idea is cute enough to justify inclusion here. He’s a good pet, a fitting companion for MG — not unlike Dan’s Rutherford. He just adds a little something to the mix that helps ground and flesh-out his human companion.
  • Mingus from The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie (my post about the book) — Like Trogdor, a great name. Like Mouse and Dog, a great weapon. He’s really a combination of the two of them (just lacking Mouse’s magical nature). He’s vital in many different ways to the plot and the safety of those we readers care about. Petrie made a good move when he added this beast of a dog to the novel.
  • Chet from Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (my posts about Chet) — If I couldn’t cut Dog, I couldn’t cut Chet. Listening to this audiobook (my 4th or 5th time through the novel, I believe) reminded me how much I love and miss Chet — and how eager I am for his return this year. This Police Academy reject is almost as good a detective as his partner, Bernie, is. Chet will make you laugh, he’ll warm your heart, he’ll make you want a dog of your own (actually, all of these dogs will)
  • Zoey from Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt (my post about the book) — how do I not invoke Tara when discussing an Andy Carpenter book? Good question. It’s Zoey that brings Andy into the story, it’s Zoey that helps Don to cope with his own issues, it’s Zoey that defends Don and saves him (in many ways). Sure, Tara’s the best dog in New Jersey, but Zoey comes close to challenging her status in this book.
  • Lopside from Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout (my post about the book) — It almost feels like cheating to bring in a dog from a novel about dogs — conversely, it’s hard to limit it to just one dog from this book. But Lopside the Barkonaut would demand a place here if he was the only dog among a bunch of humans — or if he was surrounded by more dogs. He’s brave, he’s self-sacrificing, he’s a hero. He’ll charm you and get you to rooting for these abandoned canines in record time.