I don't give five stars often, and it's usually for books that so brilliantly capture difficult ideas and emotions or open such creative worlds for me that I am left breathless. Some books, on the other hand, are just so doggone good at being exactly what they set out to be that I simply can't resist giving them a top rating. That's how books like Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series, Butcher's Harry Dresden, and Mortimer's Rumpole end up there with my rather peculiar collection of Great Works such as T.S. Eliot or Jane Austen or Toni Morrison's Beloved or Pratchett's Night Watch in my personal rating scheme. At some point, the novelty will wear off, at which point this probably will get demoted to a 4.
In the meantime, there are two things that put Sound and the Furry up into the Five Stars for Being So Good At What It Set Out To Be category.
(1) In terms of capturing the canine mentality, it's the best hardboiled detective story written from a dog's point of view that I've ever read.
(2) I'm pretty sure it's about the only hardboiled detective story written from a dog's point of view that I've ever read.
Chet, our friendly canine narrator, is the companion to Bernie Little, head and sole detective of the Little Detective Agency. Chet isn't clear on many of the details--we only learn he's from Arizona about halfway through the book when Bernie mentions it to someone else--but he's absolutely positive of two things: first, Bernie is the greatest guy in the entire world, and second, that as long as there are stale Cheetos still left in this world, he has a pretty perfect life. He's even more positive when Bernie gets a case (from a mysterious and seductive woman, naturally) that sends the pair on a roadtrip to Louisiana to find a missing man (and his dog.) Along the way, they have to tangle with taciturn Texans, ruthless businessmen, Louisiana natives, and rather disgruntled alligators. Fortunately, Chet is on the case...just as soon as he remembers what the case is about.
In my opinion, Spencer Quinn is absolutely amazing at capturing the golden-retriever-style doggie mentality. I'm not actually sure what type of dog Chet is, as he doesn't seem to know himself--all he keeps repeating is that he's a "big guy" and over 100lbs ("'Getting him on the scale's not easy.' I remembered that game."), and that he's "Chet the Jet" and "One tough hombre"--but it definitely isn't one of the most intelligent breeds out there. Chet can't count above two and usually gets distracted halfway through his sentence. If I had to form a comparison with other famous narrators, I'd say he lays on the adulation thicker than Watson and is even less "clued in" than Bertie Wooster. I haven't seen the movie "Up," but this is pretty much the way Chet acts:
He's almost never down in the dumps for long, and almost immediately bounces from descriptions of a crime scene to admiring comments on Bernie's brains, eyebrows, and stylish Hawaiian shirts. They make for a great duo. Bernie, an ex-military detective, seems generally rather stolid serious, and Chet is positive that Bernie is generally fantastic at everything he does. Then, of course, we learn that he's absolutely abysmal at DIY (Chet gets to meet lots of new repairman friends after Bernie decides on a DIY project), has a wardrobe almost entirely made of Hawaiian shirts (one of his many get-rich-quick schemes involved Hawaiian pants-- "like Hawaiian shirts, only pants."), and has a weakness for pretty women (Chet insists he's the "smartest guy in the room," except, possibly, when an attractive woman is in that same room.)
You might have noticed I spent almost no space in this review talking about the mystery. That's because I didn't care about the mystery. Sure, I was a little bothered by the high death count, but mainly, I was too busy laughing and smiling at Chet's antics and commentary; for example:
About why Chet didn't make it through training school: "Not one [story] I wanted to dwell on at the moment...the good part was I actually couldn't dwell on it for long, on account of the details growing hazier in my mind every day. I was pretty sure a cat was involved."
About Iggy, a small, yappy dog: "Iggy's been my best pal for almost longer than I can remember--and sometimes actually longer, if that makes sense."
Chet's general thought process: "I couldn't think of a single reason why not. I didn't even try."
Overall, Sound and the Furry is a fantastic read for anyone looking for a cozy canine comedy. Highly recommended for anyone who can get sucked into looking at dog memes on the Internet.