Way back in 2008, I was working at Barnes & Noble and found myself in the mystery section. Now, back in those old days I didn’t really stray from my general fiction section. The mystery covers were often, quite frankly, terrifying. While we all say the adage don’t judge a book by its cover, I often find myself judging actual books by their covers. Bodice busting and shirtless men are generally two indicators that particular book is not for me. Since I’m insanely easy to frighten, I stayed away from the bloody covers and dripping knives often found adorning the covers of books in that section.
So there I am, shelving books, and I pull one out to scan. But it has an adorable dog on the cover. Is this in the wrong section? I scan. No, the handheld computer says it goes in mystery under Q. I read the back cover, shelve most of them, and keep a copy back for myself.
That’s how I found Chet and Bernie. Because that book was Dog On It, and I couldn’t resist a book with a dog and puns. Plus- turns out it’s narrated by a dog! Before you get all uncomfortable, it isn’t nearly as distracting as you’d think. The canine narration can lighten up tense moments, and with Chet’s incisive narration we get even more clues to try and solve the who-done-it than by human searching alone. By overhearing the detective’s interviews and having Chet’s firsthand account of scents and character judgement, the reader gets an immersive experience.
But that was nine books and twelve years ago! What am I doing talking about it now? Well, book ten is due out July 7 and I was gifted with the opportunity to review an advanced copy from NetGalley and Macmillan. (If you’re wondering if this is one of those occasions where I was jumping up and down when I got that email, you would be correct!).
In the latest Chet and Bernie installment (I love how the dog always comes first, even when Bernie is speaking!), a cowboy painting leads to an expert in the field Bernie is always pontificating about- the aquifer. When a dead body turns up, Bernie puts himself on the case. As the mystery around the water expands, so does the danger.
Once again, Spencer Quinn has crafted a real gem of a novel. I may have even accidentally startled my own snuggly dog while reading, because Chet had me literally laughing out loud. His wit and graduating to so-therefore’s makes for plenty of light moments, while the severity of the topic and gruesome discoveries get their own masterful handling.
I appreciate how Quinn deftly explains these delicate scenes without going heavy on the gore; whenever the body count rises, it is handled with care. Each character, regardless of how long they’re in the book, is masterfully crafted and well developed. The lack of stereotypes and myriad unique characters is a bonus in an already well done novel.
The setting is absolutely gorgeously described, if you’re looking for an armchair travel experience to the Southwest amidst the pandemic. Plot-wise, the science behind the mystery for this novel is also well explained. The pace is excellent, with a steady stream of clues leading to the final revelations. While there are some heart pounding moments and a few heart wrenching moments, I don’t have to worry about any nightmares from this one (which has not been the result of all of my forays into the mystery section).
I’ve been recommending this book series for years, as I can safely rate them five stars and I love recommending books (especially ones with dogs!). Of Mutts and Men is yet another five star success from Quinn. If you start now, maybe you can read the previous nine before this one comes out! If you don’t think you can squeeze that in, I will say this book can stand on its own; there are a few references to previous cases discussed in prior books and one recurring character who has stepped from lead to occasionally reoccurring, but these situations are cleverly and briefly summarized.
Chet and Bernie are a joy to spend time with, and I’m both glad I didn’t have to wait until July and mad at myself for devouring it so quickly. Here’s hoping Quinn is busy on the next Chet and Bernie novel!
Of Mutts and Men is available for pre-order and is out July 7, 2020.
Psst…If you’ve read all of the Chet and Bernie books and need something to read until Mutts and Men releases in July, check out the Bowser and Birdie series. It’s for middle grade, but has that classic Spencer Quinn wit with a whip smart adolescent and her fierce dog. I’ve loved all of them so far!