A Fistful of Collars
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: Sept 11, 2012
Retail Price: 7.99
Everyone’s favorite detective team returns in a new adventure as canine narrator Chet and his human partner P.I. Bernie Little find that Hollywood has gone to the dogs.
Hoping to bring some Tinseltown money to the Valley, the mayor lures a movie studio to town to shoot their next production, a big-budget Western in the classic tradition. The star is none other than ruggedly handsome—and notoriously badly behaved—Thad Perry. When the mayor decides that someone needs to keep an eye on Thad so that he doesn’t get into too much trouble, Bernie and Chet are handpicked for the job. The money is good but something smells fishy, and what should have been a simple matter of babysitting soon gets more complicated—especially when they discover that Thad has a mysterious connection to the Valley that nobody wants to talk about. What kind of secret could Thad have left behind when he went to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune? The only people who might know the answer have a bad habit of turning up dead before they can talk.
As Bernie’s relationship with his longtime girlfriend Suzie goes long-distance, and Chet’s late-night assignations appear to have resulted in an unexpected dividend, it’s all our two sleuths can do to keep Thad and his motley entourage of yes-men, handlers, and hangers-on in their sights. Worst of all, Thad is a self-proclaimed cat person, and his feline friend Brando has taken an instant dislike to Chet.
Series: Chet and Bernie Mysteries
Private detective Bernie Little and his dog Chet are having a rough go of it. They’re deeply in debt, Bernie’s girlfriend Suzie’s is moving across the country, and somebody blew up their Porsche. But just when it seems like things can’t get any worse (and aren’t likely to get any better), the pair receives a lucrative job offer from the mayor’s office that could go a long way towards making life tolerable again. It seems a production company has decided to film their new movie – a big-budget Western starring none other than Hollywood bad-boy Thad Perry – right here in the Valley, and as a result, the city stands to make a pretty penny. Problem is, the city only gets paid if the picture actually gets made, and considering Thad’s reputation, that’s certainly no guarantee. So in order to make sure that things stay on track, the mayor hires Bernie and Chet to babysit Thad until shooting is complete. The money is great, and it should be a pretty easy assignment, but then folks start turning up dead, and Bernie finds himself wondering if this job is one gift horse he should have looked in the mouth…
A Fistful of Collars is Spencer Quinn’s latest Chet and Bernie Mystery. Maybe it’s because I’m a cat person, but for me, reading this book proved an excruciating experience. Now, don’t get me wrong – underneath it all, A Fistful of Collars is a fabulously gritty little PI novel. The plot is intriguing, the characters (well, the human ones, at any rate) are compelling, and the mystery is twisty and turny and clever and complex. Unfortunately, however, said gritty little PI novel is narrated IN ITS ENTIRETY by Bernie’s dog Chet, and Chet is not a being in whose head anyone should be forced to spend a significant amount time. Yes, he’s sweet and he’s loyal, but he’s also dumb as a box of air and has the attention span of a goldfish (if you’re picturing Dug the Dog from the movie Up, you’re not far off). As a result, Chet’s narration is frenetic, digressive, and difficult to follow. The device adds nothing of substance, and not only does it make it exceedingly difficult for the reader to get into the flow of the story, but Quinn’s near-constant attempts at cuteness and quirk too often undercut the tale’s more serious moments.
Despite the book’s construct, Bernie does still somehow manage to come off as an intelligent, likable, and nuanced main character. He treats his dog with respect and affection; his interactions with his girlfriend are at once sweet, funny, and heartbreaking; and he displays no small measure of courage and bad-assery when facing down the book’s sundry and assorted villains. The book’s supporting characters are pretty stellar, too. Thad, in particular, is hilariously high-maintenance, and makes for the perfect send-up of the stereotypical a-list actor. I just wish Quinn had taken similar care with the canine members of his cast; if only Chet had been played a little less frequently for laughs and portrayed with a little more of the species’ inherent intelligence, this would likely be a very different review.
The bones of A Fistful of Collars are almost good enough for me to forgive the gimmicks, but you know what they say about almost. If Spencer Quinn should ever decide to write a mystery narrated by a human being, I’m there – it’s obvious the man has a damn good straight-up PI novel inside of him just waiting to get out. In the meantime, however, I’ll likely take a pass on the future antics of Chet and Bernie Little.
Reviewed by Kat N.
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