'Chet And Bernie' Author To Sign Books In Chatham Saturday

by Debra Lawless
Author Peter Abrahams. COURTESY PHOTO Author Peter Abrahams. COURTESY PHOTO

Fans of the “Chet and Bernie” mystery series take note — author Spencer Quinn will sign his books in Chatham this weekend.

Spencer Quinn is the pseudonym of bestselling author Peter Abrahams of Falmouth. Abrahams is a 2006 Agatha Award winner and a 2010 Edgar Award winner. Stephen King has called Abrahams “my favorite American suspense novelist.”

The “Chet and Bernie” series is narrated by Chet the dog, a “hundred-plus-pounder” with mismatched ears, who serves as Dr. Watson to PI Bernie Little’s Sherlock Holmes. Chet and Bernie are partners in the Little Detective Agency. The pair live in a valley in Arizona and most, but not all, of their mystery adventures take place there, above the drying aquifer.

“Up On the Woof Top” (Forge, 2023), the 14th in the series, revolves around Dame Ariadne Carlisle, the author of 99 cozy mysteries, all set in the Christmas season. Ariadne has writer’s block now as she tries to write her 100th mystery at her Kringle Ranch near Durango. She’s distracted because one of her herd of reindeer, Rudy, has disappeared. Chet and Bernie come to the ranch to find the missing reindeer, but things get complicated when Ariadne’s assistant is found in the same ravine where a man had been murdered decades earlier.

“Dog On It,” the first in the series, was published in 2009. Since then Abrahams has written just about one a year. Did he ever dream this would be such a popular series?

“As with so many things — but not all! — that turn out well I had no idea going in,” he said in an email interview last week. “When I sat down to write ‘Dog On It’ I didn’t even know if it would work. But the voice of Chet took over from the first sentence and has been there ever since, like a wind at my back. Chet is not a talking dog, for those who don’t know that series. He’s a narrating dog and there’s a huge difference.”

And what a voice Chet has. It’s distinctive, unique, irrepressible, and prone to errors of interpretation, especially when someone uses an idiom involving a cat, bird, horse or monkey.

Another — if we need another — outstandingly fun aspect of the Chet and Bernie series is the titles, often sendups of famous books, films and TV shows. Some titles are “To Fetch a Thief,” “The Dog Who Knew Too Much,” “Paw and Order,” “Of Mutts and Men,” “Tender is the Bite.” The 15th in the series, “A Farewell to Arfs,” is due out next August. The word “farewell” in the title might make you a tad nervous. But fear not; Abrahams says it is “absolutely not” the final in the series.

“It’s a reader-suggested title that I loved,” he says. “Anyone else have a title idea?”

To speak of the humor, delightful wordplay, and intriguing mysteries in each of these novels is to miss another element. How touching they are. The engine that drives the books is the love between Chet and Bernie. For Chet, everything about Bernie, from his expressive eyebrows to the odor of his feet, is perfect. And when Bernie is harmed, as he was “Scents and Sensibility,” Chet’s emotions boil over.

And there’s more. In “Up On the Woof Top,” as Bernie questions an off-duty deputy, Chet rests his head on the lap of her son, a boy in a wheelchair who has apparently never uttered a word. When Chet leaves the house, the boy says, “Bye-bye, Chet.” Crying yet?

Abrahams mentions a recent comment on Facebook from a dog behavior specialist who works to help dogs and humans understand each other. “I’m thinking about requiring all my human clients to read one… of the Chet and Bernie series so they can better understand what it means to be committed to a genuine interspecies relationship.”

And this brings us to something else that will be painful to anyone who invites a dog into their home and heart. As a dog-loving retired sheriff says to Bernie, “Know the problem? Their life spans don’t match up with ours, leads to a good amount of grief piling up.” Mercifully, Chet does not understand what the old sheriff is talking about.

In addition to the latest in the series, Abrahams released a novel earlier this year, “Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge” (Forge Books, 2023). This book tells the story of a widowed grandmother who is scammed out of her ample funds by one of those “This-is-your-grandson-and-I’m-in-trouble” phone calls. The indefatigable Mrs. Plansky tracks the scammers down in Romania to confront them.

While Abrahams has published multiple novels under his own name, the Quinn pen name first appeared with the Chet and Bernie series. “Mrs. Plansky” also appeared under the Quinn moniker. Why?

“The short answer is that Spencer Quinn murdered Peter Abrahams,” he says. “Originally SQ was only for the first two Chet and Bernies, on the impression — mistaken, I now think — that C&B was very different from my earlier work. I now see them as different sides of the same ocean.”

Abrahams, aka Spencer Quinn, will sign copies of “Up On the Woof Top,” “Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge” and earlier titles on Saturday, Dec. 9 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham.