Secrets of Chet and Bernie Revealed:
I saw this sign somewhere recently: “If there are no dogs in heaven, I want to go where they go.”
Welcome to the world where dogs take center stage! I’m part of that world, although it happened pretty much by accident. One day my wife said, “You should do something with dogs.” Dogs have wandered in and out of many of my novels – there’s Buster in OBLIVION, for example, singled out for praise by the L.A. Times reviewer, but I was brought up never to descend to the level of mentioning my own reviews, so forget this part. The point is, I’d never written from the dog’s POV before, in fact, had almost never written in the first person. Yet somehow I knew right away – this is the fun kind of thing that can happen in the writing biz – that I wanted to write detective fiction through the eyes, and way more important, the ears and nose, of the detective’s dog. And this dog would not be a talking dog! Not a human dressed up in a dog suit! Not knowing and ironic! But a dog, a dog as canine as I could make him. Thus: Chet.
The Chet and Bernie novels are classic mysteries of the sidekick narration school, which goes all the way back to Conan Doyle. Plotting mysteries is a lot like solving real crimes: you sift through clues until a logical chain starts to reveal itself. Well, logical chains are not Chet’s thing. And even if they were, at the moment a logical clue was about to emerge he might sniff a cheeto under a couch and become instantly non-present. So – as I happily discovered not far into DOG ON IT, first in the series – Chet turned out to be an unreliable narrator, big time. To marry the unreliable narrator to the traditional mystery is exciting, fun, and challenging, which keeps things interesting for the writer. That’s important: There’s no faking interest, as readers of series that have gone dead in midstream well know.
PAW AND ORDER is the seventh book in the series, and second on a dangerous road trip Chet and Bernie have taken, away from their home territory out west – actually Arizona, a fact Chet finally picked up in THE SOUND AND THE FURRY, book six. People often ask if the series should be read in any particular order. That is not a question Chet would ever ask! He’s the type who just dives in. You’re welcome to do likewise!
The Chet and Bernie novels are not cozies. There’s darkness and suffering. Chet goes through some harsh and difficult things. But – and I noticed this more as a reader than a writer – he bounces back to his reset position pretty quickly. His reset position is one of optimism and joie de vie. I myself am not a quick bouncer back, but here’s a strange thing: since Chet came along, I find myself copying him in this regard. How strange that a figment of your own imagination could change you! Chet’s sunny disposition has struck many readers, by the way, and the most rewarding thing about the series for me are the emails and comments I get about how these books have brightened some lives. I never set out to do that. It’s humbling.
Readers at signings often ask about my approach to research. So now I’d like to introduce my crack research team: Audrey on the left, Pearl on the right. Plus here’s Willow, an intern just added to the west coast office, under the direction of one of my daughters. They do sleep on the job quite a bit, but they’ve never steered me wrong, and they work for chew strips and pats. If there’s a better business plan than mine, let me know.