Tuesday, January 5, 2010

THEREBY HANGS A TAIL - Spencer Quinn

THEREBY HANGS A TAIL is Spencer Quinn's follow-up to his New York Times Bestseller, DOG ON IT. In this outing, P.I. Bernie and canine sidekick, Chet, are called on to find a missing contessa and her show dog, Princess. The ante is raised even further when reporter Susie Sanchez also winds up missing. This adventure separates Bernie and Chet, takes them to "Nowhereville," and matches their wits with a pair of nomad Hippies. And everything is told from the point of view of Chet.

THEREBY HANGS A TAIL warmed this animal-lover's heart. I have not yet read DOG ON IT, but rest assured I will be back-tracking to do just that. The use of Chet as the storyteller is a fresh perspective on crime fiction. And as a pet-owner myself I found myself nodding and chuckling as Quinn brought out behaviors I've seen in my own dogs. The humor comes from the animal's rationale for the behavior.

The use of this perspective also throws another challenge into the puzzle of the mystery. The narrator is unreliable because he doesn't always understand what's going on and he isn't always privy to all information. On the other hand, he often has information that the humans don't, especially information related to sound or smell:

"Did I smell anything? Was that the question? Did it mean Bernie smelled nothing right now, not even the coyote piss? Every coyote in the desert must have been using Red Butte as a kind of giant fire hydrant. I checked out Bernie's nose, a not-quite-straight little thing: what was it used for?"
But together Bernie and Chet make a great pair of detectives:

"Bernie's brain was one of the best things we had going for us, right up there with my nose."


"'We're trying to separate truth from lies. That's a big part of our job.' It was? First I'd heard about it. Our job was to track down perps and grab them by the pant leg. But Bernie had his reasons, whatever that meant, and I had my own ways, which was why we were such a good team..."

The realism of these two crime fighters is a big part of the draw for THEREBY HANGS A TAIL. And while the book provides a fresh perspective, it also incorporates many of the traditional characteristics of the private eye: a loner with issues. Bernie is divorced and only has partial custody of his son Charlie. Quinn hints at a problem with alcohol. And Bernie's finances are less than stellar.

From these rich characters, Quinn creates a plot including elements of the Wild West, the 60s and the Westchester Kennel Club Dog Show. It's packed with humor, with tenderness, and with action. The combination keeps the pages turning, and Quinn leaves one last present for the very end: a cliffhanger, reassuring the readers that THEREBY HANGS A TAIL will not be the last tale of Bernie and Chet.

Bernie and Chet have assured themselves a place on my list of favorite P.I. pairs.

THEREBY HANGS A TAIL is published by Atria Books and is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-1-4165-8585-5) today, January 5, 2010.

1 comments:

Pop Culture Nerd January 5, 2010 at 1:13 PM  

I had to skip over some of the plot points because I'm still reading this but I'm glad you like it, Jen. Chet cracks me up, especially because of his unreliability with facts and his easy distraction by food. I think you'll really enjoy DOG ON IT, too.

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