Spencer Quinn (nee Peter Abrahams, which was news to me) has been writing the Chet and Bernie mystery series for some time now; Scents and Sensibility puts him at the eighth entry in a group of books written from a crime-solving dog’s perspective, and one would think that the author might have run out of steam attempting to capture the lovable yet dimwitted sensibility’s of Chet. Not so; like many of the other novels in the series, Quinn recycles a lot of the same ideas that have come to entertain readers of these fictional tales, like Chet’s penchant for misunderstanding common human idioms, while also coming up with a few more funny one-liners along the way.
Most readers will, by this eighth installment, know whether they can make it through an entire novel told via first-person narration from a dog – while Scents and Sensibility is as good a place to begin the Chet and Bernie series as any, I’d venture a guess that most readers picking up the novel have enjoyed the prior engagements of the duo and recognize that dog literature is for them. Quinn has a distinctive writing style for these books; mostly, it hinges on the dog being a dog, attempting to decipher Bernie’s seemingly odd antics while searching out food high and low. But the humor of the Chet and Bernie mysteries resides in Quinn’s ability to effectively pair mystery with Chet’s less-than-stellar clue-sniffing skills, and that’s back again in the new novel with a mystery that, at the outset, doesn’t seem like much of an interesting case at all.
That’s because it begins with a stolen cactus, a seemingly innocuous crime that spirals out of control when a murder clouds the investigation. Quinn’s detective agents don’t really investigate the crime – they stumble upon it again and again, clues jumping out at them rather than found under their footsteps. It’s interesting that Scents and Sensibility is, for the most part, a book about dog life with a cozy little mystery set in California surrounding it. It works rather well, in the same way that the other books have worked, when the reader can stomach the recurring jokes that pepper Quinn’s series; Chet likes to use the phrase “breaking rocks in the hot sun,” for instance.
For those who really can’t get behind the constant parade of dog humor, Scents and Sensibility probably won’t appeal much more on a mystery level either. While Quinn has a good handle on slight forward momentum with a good deal of setback, this novel has very little in the way of compelling murder investigation until the final third of the novel, when Chet and Bernie get separated forcing Chet to find his own ways out of the mess. This story isn’t one of Quinn’s stronger ideas, too bogged down in one suspect to really give the audience a chance to sniff out any others, but it’s manageable enough when paired with the usual Chet antics.
So really, like most of the other Chet and Bernie sequels before this one, enjoyment factor depends on what a reader normally gets out of a the series. If one likes the way Quinn effectively incorporates his creative side imagining how a dog would think, then Scents and Sensibility is another good example of Quinn doing what he does best. But if Chet’s narration gets on the nerves, you probably won’t want to spend another 300 pages reading it here.