Chet, the wise and lovable canine narrator of Dog on It, and Bernie, a down-on-his-luck private investigator, are quick to take a new case involving a frantic mother searching for her teenage daughter. This well-behaved and gifted student may or may not have been kidnapped, but she has definitely gotten mixed up with some very unsavory characters. With Chet’s highly trained nose leading the way, their hunt for clues takes them into the desert to biker bars and other exotic locales—until the bad guys try to turn the tables and the resourceful duo lands in the paws of peril. Spencer Quinn’s irresistible mystery kicks off a delightful new series that will have readers panting for more.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:June 28, 1947
Place of Birth:Brooklline, Massachusetts
Education:BA, Williams College, 1968
Read an Excerpt
Dog On It
I could smell him—or rather the booze on his breath—before he even opened the door, but my sense of smell is pretty good, probably better than yours. The key scratched against the lock, finally found the slot. The door opened and in, with a little stumble, came Bernie Little, founder and part owner (his ex-wife, Leda, walked off with the rest) of the Little Detective Agency. I’d seen him look worse, but not often.
He mustered a weak smile. “Hey, Chet.”
I raised my tail and let it thump down on the rug, just so, sending a message.
“I’m a little late, sorry. Need to go out?”
Why would that be? Just because my back teeth were floating? But then I thought, What the hell, the poor guy, and I went over and pressed my head against the side of his leg. He scratched between my ears, really digging his fingers in, the way I like. Bliss. How about a little more, down the back of the neck? I hunched my shoulders a bit, giving him the idea. Ah, nice. Very nice.
We went outside, me and Bernie. There were three trees out front, my favorite being a big shady one just perfect for napping under. I lifted my leg against it. Wow. Hadn’t realized I was that close to desperation. The night filled with splashing sounds and I zoned out a little, listening to them. I managed to stop the flow—not easy—and save some for dampening the rock at the end of the driveway and the wooden fence that separated our property from old man Heydrich’s next door, plus a squirt or two between the slats. Only doing my job, but don’t get me started on old man Heydrich.
Bernie was gazing up at the sky. A beautiful night—soft breeze, lots of stars, lights twinkling down the canyon, and what was this? A new tennis ball on the lawn. I went over and sniffed it. Not one of mine, not anyone’s I knew.
“Wanna play fetch?”
I pawed the thing. How did it get here? Cooped up all day, but I’d kept an ear cocked; except for when I dozed off, of course.
“Bring it here, Chet.”
I didn’t want to, not with this stranger’s smell on it.
But I never said no to Bernie. I gave the ball a lick or two, making it mine, then took it over to Bernie and dropped it at his feet. Bernie reared back and threw the ball up the canyon road.
“Uh-oh—where’d it go?”
Where’d it go? He really couldn’t see it? That never failed to surprise me, how poorly he saw after the sun went down. I tore after the ball, bouncing up the middle of the road in plain sight, got my back feet way forward and sprang, totally airborne, snaring it on the short hop, the way I like, then wheeling around in one skidding motion and racing full speed, head low, ears flattened by the wind I was making, and dropped it at Bernie’s feet, putting on the brakes at the last moment. If you know something more fun than this, let me in on the secret.
“Got it on the short hop? Couldn’t tell from here.”
I wagged my tail, that quick one-two wag meaning yes, not the over-the-top one that wags itself and can mean lots of things, some of which I’m not too clear on myself.
“Nice.” He picked up the ball and was rearing back again when a car came slowly down the street and stopped in front of us.
The window slid down and a woman leaned out. “Is this thirteen-three-oh-nine?”
“I’m looking for Bernie Little, the detective.”
“You found him.”
She opened the door, started to get out, then saw me. “Is the dog all right?”
Bernie stiffened. I felt it; he was standing right beside me. “Depends what you mean.”
“You know, is he safe, does he bite? I’m not that comfortable around dogs.”
“He won’t bite you.”
Of course I wouldn’t. But the idea was planted in my head, for sure. I could tell by all the saliva suddenly pooling in my mouth.
“Thanks. You never know about dogs.”
Bernie said something under his breath, too low for even me to hear; but I knew I liked it, whatever it was.
She got out of the car, a tall woman with long fair hair and a smell of flowers and lemons, plus a trace of another smell that reminded me of what happens only sometimes to the females in my world. What would that be like, having it turned on all the time? Probably drive you crazy. I glanced at Bernie, watching her, patting his hair into place. Oh, Bernie.
“I’m not sure where to begin. Nothing like this has ever happened to me.”
“Nothing like what?”
She wrung her hands. Hands are the weirdest things about humans, and the best: you can find out just about everything you need to know by watching them. “I live over on El Presidente.” She waved vaguely.
El Presidente: Was that the one where the sewer pipes were still going in? I was bad on street names—except our own, Mesquite Road—but why not? I didn’t need them to find my way.
“My name’s Cynthia Chambliss. I work with a woman you helped.”
Mercy. I remembered endless nights parked in front of motels up and down the state. We hated divorce work, me and Bernie, never even accepted any in the old days. But now we were having cash-flow problems, as Bernie put it. The truth was, I didn’t really know what “cash-flow problems” meant, but whatever they were, they woke Bernie in the night, made him get up and pace around, sometimes lighting a cigarette, even though he’d worked so hard to stop.
Bernie didn’t commit to anything about Angela DiPesto, just gave one of those little nods of his. Bernie was a great nodder. He had several different nods I could think of off the top of my head, all very readable once you knew what to look for. This particular nod meant: strike one.
“The fact is, Angie spoke of you highly—how you stuck it to that creep of a husband.” She gave herself a little shake. I can do that way, way better. “So when this happened, and you being practically in the neighborhood and all . . . anyway, here I am.” She rocked back and forth slightly, the way humans do when they’re very nervous.
“When what happened?”
“This thing with Madison. She’s disappeared.”
“Madison is your daughter?”
“Didn’t I say that? Sorry. I’m just so upset, I don’t know what I’m . . .”
Her eyes glistened up. This was always pretty interesting, the crying thing; not the sound—I could relate to that—but the waterworks, as Bernie called them, especially when Leda was on the producing end. They get upset, humans, and then water comes out of their eyes, especially the women. What is that all about? Bernie gazed down at the ground, shuffled his feet; he didn’t have a handle on it, either, although I’d once seen water seeping out of his own eyes, namely the day Leda had packed up all Charlie’s things. Charlie was their kid—Bernie and Leda’s—and now lived with Leda except for visits. We missed him, me and Bernie.
This woman—Cynthia? Chambliss? whatever her name was—the truth is, I have trouble catching names at first, sometimes miss other things, too, unless I have a real good view of the speaker’s face—took a tissue from a little bag she carried and dabbed at her eyes. “Sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry for. How long has Madison been missing?”
The woman started to answer, but at that moment I heard something rustling in the bushes on the far side of the driveway. The next thing I knew, I was in the bushes myself, sniffing around, maybe even digging, but only the littlest bit. Some kind of smell was in the air, frog or toad, or . . . uh-oh: snake. I didn’t like snakes, didn’t like them at—
“Chet? You’re not digging in there, are you?”
I backed out of the bushes, trotted over to Bernie. Oops—my tail was down, tucked back in a guilty manner. I stuck it right up, high and innocent.
“Good boy.” He patted my head. Thump thump. Ah.
The woman was tapping her foot on the ground. “So you’re saying you won’t help me?”
Bernie took a deep breath. His eyes looked tired. The booze was wearing off. He’d be sleepy very soon. I was feeling a bit sleepy myself. Plus a little taste of something might be nice. Were there any of those rawhide chew strips left in the top drawer by the kitchen sink, the ones with that Southwestern flav—
“That’s not exactly what I said. Your daughter didn’t come home from school today. That makes her gone, what, not yet eight hours? The police won’t even open a missing-persons file till a full day’s gone by.”
Eight hours I had trouble with, but a full day I knew very well, from when the sun rose over the hills behind the garage to when it went down behind the hills on the other side.
“But you’re not the police.”
“True, and we don’t always agree, but I agree on this. You say Madison’s a sophomore in high school? So she’s what? Sixteen?”
“Fifteen. She’s in the gifted program.”
“In my experience, fifteen-year olds sometimes forget to call home, especially when they’re doing something impulsive, like going to the movies, or hanging out, or partying from time to time.”
“It’s a school night.”
“Even on school nights.”
“I told you—she’s gifted.”
“So was Billie Holiday.”
“I’m sorry?” The woman looked confused; the confused human face is almost as ugly as the angry one. I didn’t get the Billie Holiday thing, either, but at least I knew who she was—this singer Bernie listened to, especially when he was in one of his brooding moods.
But even if no one got what he was talking about, Bernie seemed pleased with himself, like he’d scored some point. I could tell by the smile that crossed his face, a little one, quickly gone. “Tell you what. If you don’t hear from her by morning, give me a call.” He held out his card.
She gave the card a hostile look, didn’t touch it. “By morning? Seventy-six percent of disappearances are solved in the first twelve hours, or they’re not . . .” Her eyes got wet again, and her voice sounded like something was choking her throat. “. . . solved at all.”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“I didn’t hear it. I looked it up on the Internet before I drove over. What you don’t seem to understand is that Madison has never done anything like this and never would. Maybe if you won’t help, you can recommend someone who will.”
Recommend another agency? Had this ever happened before? I couldn’t read the look on Bernie’s face at all.
“If it’s money you’re worried about, I’m prepared to pay whatever you charge, plus a big bonus the moment you find her.” She reached into her bag, pulled out a roll, peeled off some bills. “How’s five hundred in advance?”
Bernie’s eyes shifted over to the money and stayed there, his face now readable to anyone from any distance, his mind on cash flow. “I’d like to see her room first.” When Bernie caved, he did it quickly and all at once. I’d seen it with Leda a thousand times.
Cynthia handed over the money. “Follow me.”
Bernie stuffed the bills deep in his pocket. I ran over to our car—an old Porsche convertible, the body sandblasted, waiting a long time now for a new coat of paint—and jumped over the passenger-side door and into my seat.
“Hey. Did you see what your dog just did?”
Bernie nodded, the proud, confident nod, my favorite. “They call him Chet the Jet.” Well, Bernie does, anyway, although not often.
A coyote shrieked in the canyon, not far from the back of the house. I’d have to deal with that later. I no longer felt tired at all. And Bernie, turning the key in the ignition, looked the same: rarin’ to go. We thrived on work, me and Bernie.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for To Fetch a Thief includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Spencer Quinn. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
As the third book in the bestselling series of Chet and Bernie mysteries, To Fetch a Thief confirms the standing of rough-and-tumble canine Chet as one of the most unique and beloved narrators in fiction today. With his human partner Bernie, they make an unbeatable detective team. This time, a circus elephant named Peanut has disappeared, along with her trainer. This mystery only deepens for Chet and Bernie as their search takes them across the Mexican border, where they must fight a criminal operation that is powerful, far-reaching—and deadly.
- How does having a canine narrator affect your understanding of the story? Does it help or hinder?
- Chet frequently sees beauty in everyday and sometimes even dangerous things: beer droplets flying through the air, a blazing motel fire, even the way the world looks in the morning after he’s been up all night. Contrast Chet’s joyous outlook on life with the violent characters and actions in the story. How do these two disparate aspects play off one another? What larger comment does this make about the power of perspective?
- Chet often ruminates on the actual process of thinking and has thoughts that enter his mind but go unfinished. He can also sense when people are having thoughts—not what they are thinking about, but the very act of thinking. How does this assist him in his detective work? How does Chet’s thinking about thinking, or metacognition, affect your perception of the story?
- Chet sees a similarity between Bernie and the little Mexican girl he mistakenly (and hilariously) calls “Pobre” (p. 280). How do you think these two characters are similar?
- Consider the relationship between Chet and Bernie. In what ways is it like a classic, buddy-detective relationship, and in what ways is it different?
- At first it would seem that Bernie, as a human, brings the most to the partnership with Chet. However, Chet brings many nonhuman aspects to the table that are essential to their success as a detective team: a superior sense of smell, agility, keen judgment of human facial expressions, and the ability to sense emotions like fear, etc. Is theirs an equal partnership?
- By the end of the story it seems that Bernie and Suzie Sanchez might be heading toward a more serious relationship. How do you think Chet will be affected by this closer relationship?
- What kind of dog do you think Chet is? A mutt? Purebred? Why do you think it is never explicitly stated in the story?
- Marvin Winkleman gets caught using the services at Livia’s brothel, yet he is obsessed with finding out whether his wife is cheating on him and who the other man is. As a cheater himself, why do you think this matters so much to him?
- When Chet tries to herd Peanut after their escape from the warehouse, he keeps telling himself he’s the one in charge. Is that accurate? Why do you think Peanut eventually trusts him enough to go with him?
- Why does Bernie decide not to tell Leda about Malcom’s infidelity? Is it solely for Charlie’s benefit?
- The story contains several examples of relationships where the power is out of balance, as well as those where the power equation is more equal. Identify some examples of each. How does the quality of these relationships compare? Do any of them change by the end of the story?
A Conversation with Spencer Quinn
You have a very strong online presence: www.ChetTheDog.com, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Do you feel that the internet allows you to have closer interaction with your readers?
Yes, there’s no question. But in a way, since the blog and Twitter are both in Chet’s voice, it’s partly that Chet has the interaction with readers. I wouldn’t want to push this too far, but he does seem real to a lot of readers. Of course—and most especially when I’m actually writing the stories—he seems real to me, too.
Having embraced the internet as a communication and promotional tool, what are your thoughts on the increasing number of book reviews posted online by bloggers?
Well, why not? Everyone has a right to an opinion. Some of the amateur reviews—and I mean that in the sense of being unpaid—are very well thought out and written. There’s also a love for reading often apparent, too—an emotional investment you don’t sense as much from the pros.
Your fans leave an exceptional number of comments on each of your blog entries—a quick count reveals an average of between seventy and one hundred comments for each post. People also seem to love writing in as their dogs, posting photos, etc. Is your blog more popular than you expected?
I had no idea what to expect. That a whole community has formed, a community with real fellow-feeling, is just amazing to me. Chet posts about all kinds of things, and also reports on conversations at HQ, with regular appearances by Admin, Spence, and Bernie. There are also serial mysteries, involving some characters from the books and others who may appear later in the series. And don’t forget the occasional pop quiz, with prizes. There are many great photos of dogs (and not just dogs) in the Friends of Chet section.
Do you ever meet your fans in person? If so, what is the most valuable or helpful aspect of being face-to-face with them?
I do meet readers at signings. It’s just so encouraging to realize you’re giving pleasure to a lot of people.
Your writing highlights a keen perception of the mind of a dog as well as a fully fleshed, realistic relationship between Chet and Bernie. Do any particular factors in your own life inform these memorable characters?
We’ve always had dogs—or they’ve had us. The rest is just osmosis.
Is Chet based on your own dog? Do you have a Chet-and-Bernie type relationship with her?
I couldn’t have written this series if I’d been dogless, but Chet came into my head pretty much as a fully-formed character, based on nobody. Audrey does have an independent streak like Chet’s. And she’s very, very enthusiastic about treats.
The Chet and Bernie mysteries are a bestselling series, garnering extensive critical praise. Are there any challenges to following up such early and strong success?
I never think about things like that. With Chet and Bernie, I’ve stumbled into a fictional world that seems more and more full of writerly possibility.
What prompted you to write about illegal trafficking of exotic animals?
Partly because of this series, and the preparational thought required, I’ve grown more interested in our relationship with animals in general. Also, the illegal trafficking business in exotic animals is huge, and for me much more interesting as subject matter than yet another crime story about drugs.
Particularly memorable in To Fetch a Thief is the contrast between Chet’s appreciation of beauty and the simple joys of life and the violent situations and hopelessness surrounding some of the human characters in the book. Are you making a comment on the different outlooks of dogs and humans?
A comment is definitely being made, but not overtly. I’ll let the thematic stuff speak for itself.
What are you working on now? Will any aspect of Chet’s blog make its way into a new story?
Yes, some blog material will flow into the books. There are some blog characters like the art expert Muriel Breit, and the troubled family of Colonel Bob from Thereby Hangs a Tail, whom we will see again.
Enhance Your Book Club
- Check out the author’s website: www.ChetTheDog.com. You can read Chet’s latest musings in his posts, send in a picture of your own dog, and even comment on the posts in the voice of your pet!
- Learn more about elephant abuse and what can be done to stop it, as well as elephant sanctuaries like the one where Peanut ended up. Two good places to start are The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN: www.elephants.com and The World Wildlife Center: www.worldwildlife.org.
- Write a paragraph from the perspective of a dog, cat, other pet, or any kind of animal. Share your stories with the group.
- Chet often refers to the regrettable outcome of his final test at K-9 school. If it weren’t for Bernie, failing that test would have left him jobless and possibly even homeless. Find out more about homeless dogs and other pets at the ASPCA: www.aspca.org.