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THEREBY HANGS A TAIL by Spencer Quinn: Book Review

I really didn’t want to like this book.  But I couldn’t help it.  And I’ll tell you why.

The title should have given me the hint, but I didn’t get it at first.  There’s a gorgeous cover photo of the head of a dog, a big dog, looking at a butte in the desert.  When you connect the cover to the title, you’ve got it…this “Chet and Bernie Mystery” is about a dog and his man.  Chet is the dog, and he’s also the narrator of Thereby Hangs a Tail.

Wait!  Before you stop reading, let me say that this is one of the cleverest mysteries I’ve read.  I’m not a big fan of books that feature anthropomorphic animals.  If I want animals that talk and think like humans, I’ll watch the Disney channel.  But I fell in love with Chet.  In a big way.

Bernie is a private detective, specializing in missing persons.  He’s asked by a friend on the police force to bodyguard Kingsbury’s First Lady Belle, a.k.a. Princess, a prize-winning dog that is entered in the Balmoral Dog Show that is coming to town.  Her owner received a threatening letter in the mail, and she wants to hire Bernie to guard Princess to the tune of $2000 a day, a hefty sum given the state of Bernie’s finances and his proclivity for investing in Bolivian tin mines.  But before the guarding can actually start, Bernie goes from hired to fired in less than a day, and the following day Princess and her owner are abducted.

All of this is narrated by Chet, a huge dog of mysterious lineage.  He idolizes Bernie and has an uncanny (is that word related to canine?) ability to come up with just the right expressions to put us in the picture.  It’s almost like listening to a person who doesn’t speak English well or is a recent arrival in America trying to figure out the meaning of conversations/slang swirling around him.

When Chet hears someone say, “They didn’t see diddley,” it catches his attention.  “Bernie was a big Bo Diddley fan…Was Bo Diddley a suspect in the…case?”  Bernie says,”They say Wild Bill Hickok rode through here…”  Chet thinks, “Hickok again? Was he the perp?  Perps had a hard time going straight.  That was something you learned in this business.”

Okay, so maybe this book isn’t for you.  But there’s a real mystery here besides the kidnapping of the Countess di Borghese and the dognapping of Princess.  Bernie’s romantic interest, a newspaper reporter, goes missing while following the Princess story; Chet and Bernie are separated and Chet is sold by a pair of wandering, stoned hippies to a man who wants to take him to Alaska; a sheriff and his deputy are being more of a hindrance than a help in the case, and so it goes.

When you get tired of blood and guts, give Slim Jims and dog biscuits a try.  I think you’ll like them.

You can read more about Spencer Quinn at this web site.

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