I’m not necessarily a fan of mystery series, but Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie Mystery series is one of my favorites. Though written for adults, it would be an excellent addition to high school libraries.
Bernie Little is the owner of the Little Detective Agency, which specializes in missing persons, and Chet, his partner, is the first-person narrator of the series. I am listening to the fourth book, and so far they have worked on cases involving missing children, show dogs, and an elephant. Before working as a detective, Chet had gone through police training, and had actually done quite well
until the very last day. The only thing left had been the leaping test. And leaping is just about my very best thing. Then came some confusion. Was a cat involved? And blood? I ended up flunking out.
Leaping? A cat? I forgot to mention that Chet is a dog.
Now, I’m a sucker for books with animal characters. Show me a book—novel or nonfiction—with a dog on the cover and I’m hooked. And I like books that have a dog as a primary character. However, something is often lost—or actually added—when the dog becomes the narrator. Either the dog understands too much, or the human in the story can practically read Fido’s mind, resulting in an unrealistic tail…er, tale.
But Quinn obviously knows dogs, because Chet is totally a dog. He enjoys chasing balls and chewing on rawhide strips and being scratched. Every good dog adores his human, and Chet worships Bernie. His doggy nose and K-9 training makes him a great tracker and valuable partner (“[Bernie’s] brain and my nose: plenty of perps now wearing orange jump suits can tell you about that combo”).
But Chet is also only a dog. He nods off at inconvenient times, like during conversations…and when Chet sleeps, he doesn’t hear what’s going on, so we the readers miss important information. Or he gets distracted, either by scents (bacon, cats, or the female dog down the valley) or sounds:
The woman started to answer, but at that moment I heard something rustling in the bushes on the far side of the driveway. The next thing I knew, I was in the bushes myself, sniffing around, maybe even digging, but only the littlest bit. Some kind of smell was in the air, frog or toad, or…
“Chet? You’re not digging in there, are you?”
I backed out of the bushes, trotted over to Bernie. Oops—my tail was down, tucked back in a guilty manner. I stuck it right up, high and innocent.
Even when he’s paying attention, Chet is still just a dog. He doesn’t get idioms or a lot of figurative language. He’ll obsess on one word that he hears, like when Bernie describes a town as flea-bitten:
That was what Bernie called it—flea-bitten—but I felt no fleas at all, hadn’t been bothered by them in ages, not since I started on the drops. But the funny thing was, even though I didn’t have fleas, just the thought of them suddenly made me itchy. I started scratching, first behind my ear, soon along my side, then both at once, really digging in with my claws, faster and—
“Chet, for God’s sake.”
I pushed all thoughts about scratching clear out of my mind.
And though we know everything that Chet does, Bernie doesn’t. If they get separated and Chet sees or smells something, Bernie doesn’t automatically intuit what his partner knows. Bernie is smart and loyal, but there are no super powers and mind melds. Just a man and his dog.
Or, if you prefer, a dog and his human.
The first book of the series, Dog on It, received starred reviews from Library Journal, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly, and the rest of the books have all been highly reviewed. For those who prefer audiobooks, Jim Frangione has given Chet an excellent voice. Funny, suspenseful, and full of heart, this series is not just for dog lovers.
Series in order:
Dog on It : A Chet and Bernie Mystery. 9781416585848. 2009.
Thereby Hangs a Tail : A Chet and Bernie Mystery. 9781416585862. 2010.
To Fetch a Thief : A Chet and Bernie Mystery. 9781439157084. 2010.
The Dog Who Knew Too Much : A Chet and Bernie Mystery. 9781439157091. 2011.
A Fistful of Collars : A Chet and Bernie Mystery. Coming out on September 11, 2012.