Chet and Bernie (in that order; Chet the dog always comes first!) have appeared in eleven mysteries before this one, and their fans adore them, especially Chet, the intrepid almost K-9 who can smell fear, grab a gun, dig out important clues, and accidentally uncover evidence. Of course, he doesn’t admit that the evidence uncovering is accidental—it just looks like he’s brilliant. But Chet is the first to admit that he leaves the heavy thinking to Bernie, the human part of the private investigation team of the Little Detective Agency.
In this holiday-themed mystery, Chet and Bernie are enjoying the holiday scents and sights (Chet loves the smell of fir wreathes) when a potential client appears with a strange request. Bernie has just reconnected with an acquaintance whose private detective business is perhaps doing even worse than Bernie’s. Bernie refers the case he doesn’t want to Victor Klovsky, who then disappears. Victor’s mother is extremely worried about her son’s absence as they usually speak daily, and she hires Bernie and Chet to find Victor.
Of course, this leads to the pair investigating what the original prospective client wanted, and when that client turns up dead, Bernie is worried. Like all the Chet and Bernie mysteries, Spencer Quinn (in real life Peter Abrahams) takes us along on this journey through Chet’s eyes as the dog narrates the story. It’s always an interesting perspective because often the dog knows more than Bernie himself does. Other times, we realize that Chet doesn’t understand what is happening, as he sheepishly admits that sometimes a peanut butter cookie is demanding his attention. But Chet’s narrative seems genuine, and it’s created to include us, as well. “Have I described my teeth yet? We are talking about weapons, my friends. I have weapons in my mouth. You do not, no offense.” There’s a lot of “no offense” sprinkled through the pages by Chet. And it makes us feel that Chet is talking to us, telling us the story directly. It’s personal, and it’s a great method of getting readers immersed in the story and wanting more.
So there’s the missing detective, and there are several shady characters following Chet and Bernie to the old deconsecrated church in the Arizona desert. The church was the subject of a bidding war, and a nonprofit bought it. Currently, an archaeological dig is taking place there. A nonprofit in Naples bought the church, and also involved in this mystery is the local art professor who tried to raise money to buy the church but was outbid. Quinn gives us many, many sinister characters to choose from, and they all appear to have something to hide. Of course, when some of them start showing up dead, that narrows down our choices of suspects.
There’s some fine art by a European Baroque artist named Caravaggio, who in real life and in this story was pretty much a bad guy, and part of the mystery is uncovering why he is important to all the people hiring investigators and appearing to just be really up to no good. The mystery is well done, but this is not a psychological thriller where there are twists and turns at the end. This is a feel-good mystery that we read because we love Chet and we love reading his narration of the events. It’s truly a take from a dog’s point of view, although, as we are well aware, Chet is not just any dog. He deserves the shotgun seat in their vintage Porsche, and he is truly Bernie’s right hand “man.”
Chet doesn’t just share the dialogue of the characters, which he does with admirable fidelity. He also provides a running doggy commentary about the events. Hawaiian shirts are a common theme in all the Chet and Bernie books, and this one is no different. Here, Chet reminisces about a missing Hawaiian shirt that Bernie had that featured surfing cats. He says, “Not the one with the surfing cats, which seemed to have disappeared. Had someone—just an ordinary someone doing an ordinary thing such as sniffing through the laundry pile—somehow come upon that surfing catty shirt and…and done whatever? Someone, somehow, whatever: that had to be the answer.”
Quinn is a genius at mastering imaginative doggy narrative — at least, so we’d like to believe. And we completely suspend our disbelief when we read these charming and well-put-together mysteries. Getting to see how Bernie’s life is progressing is a plus, and we’ve seen his relationship with a previous girlfriend, Suzie, start and end. Now we get to witness his new relationship with police officer Weatherly, and it’s lovely. So is Trixie, her dog, a female mirror image of Chet. And while each book works as a stand alone novel, you’ll want to start at the beginning so you can enjoy the nuances and the flow of their fabulous lives together as they solve crimes and still end up no richer.
Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.