Bernie meets the man destined to his new best friend—a hydrologist who seems to share many of the same opinions as Bernie when it comes to water usage in Phoenix. I don't think we've managed to get a novel where Bernie hasn't complained about the waste of water in the area (except maybe those two when they were back East), "we only have one aquifer." It appears that Wendell has need of a P.I., too—the two make arrangements to meet the next day to discuss it.
But when our dynamic duo shows up at Wendell's worksite office, they find him murdered. Which puts the kibosh on the bromance. Bernie naturally begins investigating—spurred to action after meeting the Sheriff's Deputy in charge of this case, if nothing else—who is one of the sorriest excuses for a law enforcement officer that I've read this year. Some quick detective work leads Bernie to a suspect—not one that he believes really did it, but he still feels compelled to hand him over to Deputy Beasley.
This was a mistake as Beasley locks in on the suspect and ignores any other possibilities. But the more that Bernie looks into things—if only to find out why Wendell wanted to hire him—the more he's convinced the suspect is innocent. Only no one—including the deputy, and the suspect's own defense attorney—will listen to him.
We Need to Talk About Chet
What is there to say about Chet the Jet? He's the same loveable, heroic champ we've come to know and love. For those who don't know—Chet's our narrator, Bernie's partner, and a 100+ pound dog. Other than a couple of sentences showing a more libidinous side to Chet than we're used to seeing, he's exactly what we've come to expect. Don't read anything into me not having a lot to say about him—he's the best dog in fiction (for my money), but there are only so many ways you can say that.
But We Can't Forget Bernie (or Anyone Else)
On the other hand, I think I've given Bernie short shrift over the years—it's easy to focus on Chet. But Bernie's more than just the guy who complains about wasting water while making horrible investment choices. He's a top-notch P.I., but like most fictional P.I.'s, his principles, independence, and lousy business sense keep him from being much of a success. His residence and devotion to Chet are most of what separates him from Elvis Cole, for example (sure, Elvis has his cat, but he doesn't take the cat with him on cases).
I felt more connected to Bernie in this novel than usual—I'm not sure if that's a reflection on me or Quinn's writing. Bernie's outrage at the treatment of the suspect (some directed at himself for getting the Deputy looking at him) drives him more than any desire for a fee or to discover what Wendell wanted.
In addition to the case and the machinations of the principles involved, there's a lot going on in Bernie's private life. He doesn't deal well with most of it, which isn't a surprise, dealing well with personal relationships isn't his trademark. It seems to affect him more in this novel than I'm used to seeing him—both positively and negatively (although, there's a lot of negative in this novel—all around).
In case you can't tell, I can't put my finger on what's different this time—but Bernie seems more human, more real, less "merely the guy who Chet is devoted to" (although he absolutely is that). Quinn puts him through the wringer in many ways here, and the novel is better for it.
It's not just with Bernie, I think that this novel has some of the most subtle and rich character work in the series (last year's Heart of Barkness) headed in this direction (growth prompted by The Right Side?). The villain of this novel is the most complex and compelling foe for these two. Beyond that, there were so many characters that showed up for a scene or two—five or six pages total—that were just dynamic. Even Malcolm, the husband of Bernie's ex-wife, Leda makes a couple of positive contributions! He's rarely been much beyond an antagonist for Bernie, a competitor for the paternal role for Bernie's son—and here he's in such a better way, I almost liked him.
Don't Forget the Kleenex.
There are three—maybe four—scenes in this book that "hit you in the feels." One only took two or three sentences to deliver the punch, and could easily be missed. But the emotional core of this novel is shown in a couple of others (some readers will be torn up by them, others will be satisfied—either reaction is warranted).
But there's one scene—it has only the most tangential tie to the plot—that will (or ought to) devastate you. I'm honestly not sure why Quinn included it, but I am so glad he did. You'll know it when you read it, I'm not going to say anything else about it. Chet was still his goofy self, but even he came across differently in it. The book is worth the purchase price for it alone.
So what did I think about Of Mutts and Men?
I've said it before, I'll say it again, I've been a fan of this series since maybe the third chapter of the first book eleven years ago. And I'll be a fan until Quinn moves on. But there's something different about this book. Still, I'm going to try to thread the needle here—this is not my favorite book in the series. However, I think it's unquestionably the best book so far. I'm not crazy about some of the longer-term arc events here—hey're the smart move by Quinn, I'll defend them, but I didn't like them.
Still, there's a good mystery, you get the wonderful partnership of Chet and Bernie, probably the best use of Bernie yet, and a new depth to Quinn's writing—it's precisely what the doctor ordered. New readers will have no problem jumping in at this point, returning fans have to be pulling on their leashes to get to this. Highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley in exchange for this post—thanks to both for this. Also, sorry that I didn't get this posted sooner, I really did try.