Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday Review: TO FETCH A THIEF by Spencer Quinn

To Fetch A Thief is the third book featuring Chet and Bernie in the delightful series by Spencer Quinn. (Dog On It and Thereby Hangs A Tail being the previous two.) Bernie Little is the human - a down-on-his-luck private detective - and Chet is his partner, a large dog of indeterminate variety.

The books are narrated in the first person by Chet, but if you want to call this a cute affectation, you'd be wrong. Forget every other dog book of this type you've read (not that there are many) and prepare yourself for the uniqueness of Spencer Quinn's vision. You see, Quinn writes exactly as you might suppose a dog to think. How he's managed to do this is beyond me and I've been a dog person all my life. But as Stephen King says in the blurb: "Spencer Quinn speaks two languages - suspense and dog - fluently." There is never a moment of cutesie-poo in these books.

"I smell trouble," Bernie said.

Better stop right there. Not that I doubt Bernie. The truth is, I believe everything he says. And he has a nice big nose for a human. But what's that saying? Not much.

It's a fact that trouble has a smell - human trouble especially, sour and penetrating - but Bernie had never smelled trouble before, of if so he hadn't mentioned it, and Bernie mentioned all kinds of things to me. We're partners in the Little Detective Agency, me and Bernie, Bernie's last name being Little. I'm Chet, pure and simple.

I took a quick sniff, smelled no trouble whatsoever, just as I'd expected, but did smell lots of other stuff, including burgers cooking on a grill. I looked around: no grill in sight, and this wasn't the time to go searching, although all at once I was a bit hungry, maybe even more than a bit. We were on the job, trailing some woman whose name I'd forgotten. She'd led us out of the Valley to a motel in a flea-bitten desert town. 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 went still, one of my back paws frozen in midair. Bernie gave me a close look. "Don't tell me I forgot the drops?" I gave him a close look right back. Bernie has these faint lines on his forehead. When he worries, they get deeper, like now. I don't like it when Bernie worries. I pushed all thoughts about scratching clear out of my mind and sat straight up in the shotgun seat - my very favorite spot - alert and flealess.

As usual, King hits it right on the money. The writing in these books reads is as if Quinn had taken a dog aside and said, "okay, now tell me how it was..." If you have not the slightest bit of interest in dogs and their ways then, perhaps, these books are not for you. But onward and upward for the rest of us.

In this third Bernie and Chet adventure, Bernie, who has an ex-wife and is not especially clever at holding onto money, is hired to track down a stolen elephant named Peanut. (You kind of suspect that much from the cover.) His client is John Poppechevski, otherwise known as Popo the Clown, whose partner in life, Uri DeLeath, the elephant trainer, has also gone missing in the middle of the night, from the grounds of the Drummond Family Travelling Circus.

The police's immediate assumption is that Uri has stolen the elephant and run off to join the local animal rights organization which has been pestering and picketing the circus, of which Peanut had been its major act. But Bernie doesn't think so, especially after talking extensively to Popo and the local rep of the animal rights' group who denies all knowledge of the elephant-napping. The odd behavior of 'Colonel' Drummond, the circus's heavily-in-debt owner doesn't quite add up, either.

I learned something really startling, reading this book: It turns out that the illegal smuggling of wild animals is second only to the drug trade in profits. Humans have so much to answer for. It is often amazing to me that dogs will have anything to do with us.

But I suppose, that's part of the remarkable nature of Chet the Jet - as he likes to think of himself. A main thing I love about these stories is Chet's complete and touching devotion to Bernie. To Chet, Bernie is always the smartest human in the room. And when Chet ruminates about their names and asks - who wouldn't want to be named Bernie? - it's a perfect name. You just have to smile. Though Chet is not blind to Bernie's human weaknesses, he forgives them as only a dog can.

Another favorite thing about the books is how Chet never understands 'figures of speech', similes or metaphors - and really, why and how would he? Also, the author is really good about including a dog's short term memory lapses and lack of understanding of certain human actions and reactions; Spencer Quinn makes all this part of Chet's character make-up. If you have any affection for dogs or for that matter, animals in general and the wonderful bond between human and pet, you will adore these books as I do.

Here's a hint: These books would make perfect Christmas presents for every dog loving, mystery loving person on your list. That is, if they haven't already read them.

The link to Chet's Blog.


  1. That really struck me as well -- that the smuggling of animals is second to the drug trade. It frightens me to no end.

    This is a fabulous review!!

  2. Yeah, hard to believe - huh? I was amazed that it's gone that far in this day and age. Frightening and sad. Glad you liked the review. :)


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