One of the most enjoyable mystery series out there is Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series.
Bernie is Bernie Little, a California PI. Chet is his dog.
And Chet narrates the stories.
If it sounds kind of cutesy to you, kind of cozy and coy, you’re wrong. While dog lovers will find plenty to like about the books and the dogs-point-of-view that Chet brings to the stories, these are always funny, sometimes tough, often exciting stories in the hardboiled PI genre.
It just so happens, in the case of Quinn’s books, that the hardboiled PI here is Chet.
Quinn — the pseudonym of novelist Peter Abrahams — has created quite a pair. Bernie Little is a former athlete turned PI whose knack for righting wrongs is exceeded only by his bad financial judgment. Chet is his fiercely loyal companion who washed out of K-9 school.
Chet’s narration is frequently touching — the dog thinks Bernie can do no wrong, except when it comes to the aforementioned finances — and almost always funny. As told from Chet’s point of view, the stories are refreshingly straightforward good guys versus bad guys tales leavened with a dog’s outsider-looking-in-on-human-foibles perspective.
Not that Chet is all-knowing. He might be one of the best examples of the “unreliable narrator” style of writing. While Chet “recounts” to us readers the conversations he hears but doesn’t always understand, there are tantalizing gaps in what we know, usually occurring when Chet notices a Cheeto on the floor or gets distracted by the mention of a ball, missing some crucial bit of information.
Not to mention when Chet knows the key to the mystery and who the bad guys are … but can’t communicate that to Bernie, of course.
The latest in Quinn’s series, “The Dog Who Knew Too Much” — really don’t be put off; the titles are the punniest elements of the stories — finds Chet and Bernie investigating the disappearance of a new client’s son, who goes missing from a wilderness camp.
Before long, the man-and-dog duo are trying to find the boy and running afoul of vicious small-time crooks. There are more than a few moments of tension for the two, but the book — like the earlier entries in the series — happily ends with, as Chet would put it, the bad guys in orange jumpsuits breaking rocks in the sun.
People who love dogs will appreciate Quinn’s grasp of the psychology of man’s best friend. Fans of crime novels will like Bernie’s handiness with a gun or his fists and appreciate Chet’s enthusiasm over bringing down a perp with a few well-placed bites.
If you’re so inclined, Quinn maintains a good blog at Chetthedog.com that features reader-submitted photos of “Friends of Chet.”
Quinn’s books are a treat — and not just the kind that Chet and the other members of “the nation within the nation” would enjoy.