A Fistful of Collars – Review

Spencer Quinn. A Fistful of Collars. New York: Simon, 2012. Print.

A Fistful of Collars is another Chet and Bernie mystery. For the uninitiated, Chet is the dog and the narrator of the tale. Bernie is his master and a private investigator. The titles are canine wordplays of well-known mysteries, though this one plays on an old Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western, a Fistful of Dollars.

It turns out Bernie is hired (he is always in need of money) to keep an eye on a temperamental movie star who is starring in a Western that is being filmed in the California desert valley where Bernie and Chet live. Thad Perry vaguely resembles Tom Cruise.

When Bernie first meets him, Thad challenges him to a boxing match. Thad keeps in shape partly by doing boxing drills, but Bernie was an actual boxer while he was in the service. It is hard to tell whether Bernie’s “whupping” of Thad makes Thad angry or respectful.

The plot gets curious and complicated. Bernie is hired not by the filming company or producers but by the mayor’s office. The mayor wants to make sure that Thad behaves and that the valley gets a good reputation in Hollywood. Chet and Bernie follow Thad’s main bodyguard to an abandoned neighborhood where he gives a mean looking guy a wad of money. When Bernie returns with some police friends, Chet finds that unsavory character dead from a stab wound. Bernie realizes there is more to Thad and company than meets the eye.

Bernie’s girlfriend Suzie gets a great job opportunity and moves to Washington DC to work for a big-name newspaper there. Suzie recommends he gets in touch with a reporter whom she had worked with and seems to have made a connection between Thad and the valley. (N.B.: Keep in mind that all the narrative is from the dog’s perspective, so this valley, though in Southern California, is not THE Valley.)

Bernie arranges a meeting with this reporter, but when he gets to the rendezvous, he discovers her body with a big stab wound in a dumpster. There are a number of other weird goings on. What started out as a glorified babysitting job becomes something else entirely.

What is really bugging Thad Perry? What has his bodyguard been up to? Is there another reason why the mayor’s office is so interested in keeping an eye on Mr. Perry? Will Bernie and Suzie find true love?

As with the past episodes in the series, A Fistful of Collars is well plotted, but kept down to earth and with comic relief as we see it all from Chet’s point of view. Oh yeah, Thad Perry has a pet—an enormous black cat. How can anyone trust a cat person?

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