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

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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

Dusted Off: To Fetch a Thief by Spencer Quinn

To Fetch a Thief (A Chet and Bernie Mystery, #3)To Fetch a Thief

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #3

Hardcover, 307 pg.
Atria Books, 2010

What can I say about this? Read it. Love this series. At this point, I think the only “voice” I enjoy reading more in this world than Chet is Archie Goodwin, and Chet’s still with us, so he could pass Archie.

On my first read, I didn’t love it as much as the first — but slightly more than the second — in this series. I think Quinn did a bit more with Bernie’s character than he has in the past — Bernie could probably carry his own story w/o Chet now (Heaven Forbid). Less Suzie, more Charlie and the ex. Good subplot involving the latter two.

Good mystery, nice action, etc. like always. I just love these books, wish I could articulate it better and get more folks to read ’em.

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4 Stars