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Posted on Tue, Nov 8, 2011 : 11:33 a.m.

Dogs have more fun in mysteries by Spencer Quinn

By Robin Agnew

To Fetch a Thief
Spencer Quinn

Atria, $15

Like the other similarly cleverly named books by Spencer Quinn, "Dog on It" and "Thereby Hangs a Tail," this book is narrated by Chet the dog, whose human partner, Bernie, is the owner of the Little Detective Agency. There are few enough twists left that an author can to give the standard private eye novel, but this is a new slant entirely, and it’s an entirely charming one. You may not enjoy this as much if you don’t own a dog (or have ever owned and loved a dog), but that caveat will no doubt cover many, many readers.

Chet has very believable “doggy” attitudes — he’s pretty focused, but he can be distracted by smells, food, and others “of his kind” (i.e. other dogs). He also has a refreshingly doggy attitude toward life — what’s better than riding shotgun with his pal Bernie?

For Chet, life is a simple matter of affection and loyalty; there are no distractions as far as those things are concerned.

In this volume, Bernie and Chet are called in when a circus elephant (and her trainer) disappear, a fact discovered by Bernie when he takes his son to the circus. As Chet has never smelled anything quite so strong as an elephant, tracking her is the easy part, though it’s not so easy to find out what happened to an elephant apparently wandering the hills of Los Angeles. Her trail only goes so far. And the trainer is even more difficult to follow.

As Bernie unravels the case, it become clear that Popo the clown and the elephant trainer, Uri, had a romantic partnership, and Popo is the one who ends up hiring Bernie to find Uri (and Peanut, the elephant). This is hardly a novel that endorses circuses, though it becomes clear that Uri was a humane trainer, thought of as an “elephant whisperer.”

As Chet and Bernie’s path’s diverge toward the end of the novel, and Chet and eventually Peanut have their own adventure, separate from Bernie’s, the originality of Quinn’s idea really takes shape. The reader is given a dog’s eye view of human proceedings, some of which are mystifying to him, and all Chet really wants to be back with Bernie. The adventures of Chet and Peanut are probably the strongest part of the book, where the meeting of two very different animals provides a very deep look into animal behavior.

This book is funny and charming and has a well plotted story with enough twists to keep human readers guessing. The characters of Chet and Bernie are so well thought out, and so convincing, that it’s easy to suspend disbelief and not think about what a really, really smart dog Chet would actually have to be to be narrating this book. It’s enough that Chet is really, really believable.

You can’t help but look forward to Chet (and Bernie’s) next adventure.

Robin Agnew is the co-owner of Aunt Agatha's Mystery Bookshop. She encourages you to shop local!