Monday, July 28, 2014

Yanking My Chain (Dog On It)

Dog On It as seen from our lovely counter (circa. 1970's)

This is my second entry for 'Dog On It', and the next will probably be my last as I am on page 279 if I recall correctly and this isn't a particularly long book. This also marks my third official post so off to a good start. (Yay!)

Anyways, now that I've had some time to digest this book and think it over my thoughts have changed a little. I still agree with my earlier opinion, that Chet, lovable though he may be, is frustrating to read thanks to his short and constantly shifting attention, inability to focus on pertinent information, and tendency to focus on things other than what the reader wants to know about. I also retract what I considered before, that Spencer Quinn may be just being a writer with a short attention span himself. Regardless of whether or not that is true Mr. Quinn has captured a convincing portrayal of how a dog's mind works. However, I still have my doubts as to whether making Chet the sole character from which to absorb the story was a sound idea.

In many ways Chet is a glorified camera who ferries the reader between plot points, allowing for a natural progression between scenes and allowing for the accumulation of reader specific information. This really works for the story as it allows Chet to be in places that Bernie, the private eye and, in my opinion, the real hero of the story wouldn't normally be. Regardless, Chet still plays an important role in the story but Bernie is by far the more interesting character, hopefully by intention. Bernie is a much deeper and more complex character than Chet, which is rather frustrating since you only get to learn about Bernie through Chet's limited worldview. Still, I have to acknowledge that much of this is by design and good writing at that, but I can't say that decision has my full support.

As for the story, well, let me start off by first saying that Spencer Quinn is a better writer than I am, by far, at this point in time. With this in mind I have to say that I always feel a bit conflicted about critiquing someone's writing when they are clearly more accomplished than myself, but I have a few gripes with the story.

While the mystery/case itself seems to be well thought out, with pieces slowly falling into place and details released so the reader can play around with them, I am disappointed with many of the cliches that have popped up. I haven't read much in the way of mysteries or crime stories, but between the few I have and the shows I have seen there are some obvious tropes in Dog On It's pages. The most obvious of which is Bernie being down on his luck financially, a retired cop, and divorced. I mean, they work for the story, they have a certain logic, it's why those things are cliches, but they are also distracting and detract from the book's originality.

Many of the characters also fall into the realm of cliche. The antagonists are Russian mafia who, so far, have no redeeming qualities or defining traits other than being criminals and being Russian. Bernie's clients also don't break the mold: a rich couple who are also divorced and emotionally distant from each other. The characters help drive the story along but that's about it. These are the type of characters I'd expect to see in a long running detective show that had given up on coming up with fresh ideas. The worst example of the bunch is when Bernie's beat-up car tumbles over a cliff during a car chase and explodes when it hits the bottom. Why? Why did it have to explode? Yes, occasionally, extremely rarely, cars explode but that is a freak occurrence. As for Bernie? He is left clinging desperately to the side of the steep cliff for his faithful companion to help rescue. Was the scene well-written? Definitely, but that still doesn't excuse the, and I really hate to say lest I find myself in a similar situation somewhere down the line, lazy story telling. The scene would make for good action had it not been done a hundred, literal, times before.

Overall though the story has been an entertaining read if sparse on the thought-provoking side. My wife, at least, found the few pages she read "cute" and appealing. I'm curious to know if she would have the same complaints with Chet that I have. Still I must admit that Chet does make for an adorable and easy-to-root-for main character. I'll reserve my last few judgments for my final entry but I doubt that this book will make it to my 'must-read' list.

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