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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thereby Hangs a Tail, by Spencer Quinn (hardcover, $25) (due January, 2010)

This is the second tall "tail" by Spencer Quinn, a worthy follow-up to Dog On It. Told from Chet's point of view, Chet being a member of the nation within a nation – i.e., a dog – it's full of doggie fun and insight. Bernie Little, the putative owner of Chet, is a private investigator. He and Chet nose out crime, with Chet lending a helping paw.

When the first book came out, I fell for it hard. What was there not to love about Chet? Quinn was able to sustain a doggie tone without degenerating into cutesiness. He gave us a lightweight but credible mystery. And funny . . .

The mystery in Thereby Hangs a Tail is more serious and better developed than in the first book. The reader learns a little more about Bernie and his bona fides. But the centerpiece, as in the first, is hearing about Chet's doggie life. For instance:

…[T]he first thing I saw as we drove up to the Borgheses's ranch was a big white horse prancing in a corral with a white rail fence. Something about him made a bad impression on me right from the get-go. A ranch without horses – now that would be just about perf–

"Chet! Knock it off!"

Knock what off? The barking? That was me? I opened my mouth real wide, let my tongue flop out, tried to look innocent. My lip got caught on one of my teeth; it took some time to straighten all that out.


Chet's asides enhance rather than detract from the main story. Even when Chet's mind wanders, which is often, it's a nice side journey. And even if Chet could talk people talk, half the time he wouldn't remember what the salient points were. Which brings us to the point that Chet is very much a dog, not a human. In other animal tales, metaphorical or otherwise, animals are very human in their thoughts. Not Chet. (Yay, I say.)

Thereby Hangs a Tail involves the abductions of a showdog, Princess, and her owner, the Countess Adelina di Borghese (by way of Passaic, New Jersey). In the course of trying to find Princess, Chet meets some aging hippies in the desert, is sold to a ne'er-do-well heading to Alaska, and gets bombed while wandering on a military test field. While Bernie doesn't cover quite as much ground, we learn about his (Desert Storm?) wartime valor, get to see his fighting chops, and basically learn that he is no pussycat, excuse the expression. When Susie Sanchez, Bernie's loved-but-lost lady friend/reporter from the first book, disappears while covering the story of the abduction, it is extra incentive for Bernie to doggedly track down the clues.

I was caught by surprise by how good the doggie voice was in the first book. Although I knew what I was getting this time around and the novelty of hearing Chet talk had passed, I still appreciate that Quinn does a praiseworthy job of staying true to the tone all the way through his book. Even though I now expect many of Chet's sentences to go unfinished and I know his promises to finish some of his stories are buried like long-forgotten bones, I'm still hugely entertained and grateful for the respite – much as I love them – from dark Scandinavian tales, flashy film-ready action novels, and snappy, sassy women-in-love-with-vampire stories.

1 comment:

  1. are they making a movie about it? why is it soo much. i LOVE LOVE LOVE his chet books but we are in a depression-i think its called-and it'll be hard for me to afford it. can you at least lower it 5-10 bucks please? AND I KNOW MORE PEOPLE OUT THERE WANT IT AS A MOVIE TOO NOT ONLY ME!!!!!!!!

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