5 stars out of 5
Okay, so why in the world is a grandmother of four reading a book written for elementary school kids? First of all, I'm a huge proponent of anything that kick-starts youngsters on what I hope is a lifetime course of reading. I have immense admiration for best-selling authors who write for that market (the Maximum Ride and Virals series by James Patterson and Kathy Reichs, respectively, for instance). I've read at least one book in both of those series and highly recommend them, BTW.
Now comes Spencer Quinn, author of a favorite series of mine for grown-ups: the Chet and Bernie mysteries that follow the adventures of private investigator Bernie and his police K-9 school flunk-out, the lovable Chet. Told from the dog's perspective, they never fail to bring a few chuckles along with a good story. Noted author Stephen King probably put it when writing about this novel, "Spencer Quinn speaks two languages - suspense and dog - fluently."
When I found it, then, giving it a go was a no-brainer. The concept is virtually identical to the adult series, except Bernie has been replaced by an 11-year-old girl - Birdie - who gets a pooch with an uncertain background as a birthday present and names him Bowser (rather an unoriginal name for a dog, but she's 11, after all, and it makes for an alliterative title). Like Chet, Bowser maintains an amusing banter as he narrates what's going on in the world as he sees (and smells) it.
The mystery begins when Birdie's grandmother's prized stuffed marlin, Black Jack, turns up missing - apparently stolen. Birdie lives with her mother, who works during the day, next door to her grandmother, who owns a fishing and boat tour store on the Louisiana bayou - where the marlin was hanging on a wall. But it's not just any old stuffed fish; no, this one has a story behind it (well, behind an eye, to be more precise). That's where, it's been rumored for decades, a treasure map had been concealed many years ago.
The primary suspect, at least from Birdie's perspective, is the owner of a rival store in the same little community. But when Birdie tries to get information about the treasure from her mother and grandmother, she gets stonewalled and decides to take the investigation into her own hands. She's got Bowser now, you see, so what could possibly go wrong?
All in all, this is a real charmer that, IMHO, will appeal to the intended age group as well as light-hearted readers like me (it's a big plus that, like Patterson and Reichs, Quinn never talks down to the younger audience; no "see the pretty choo-choo" here, thank you very much). Since I can find no evidence to the contrary, I'm assuming this is the series debut, and I certainly hope there will be more.
A further note: Besides the "talking" dog angle, I discovered another reason this book is so well done; this ain't Spencer Quinn's first grade-school rodeo. As Peter Abrahams, he's penned at least three books in the award-winning Echo Falls series for middle-school students which - be still my feminist heart - also features a strong female lead. I just may have to take a look at those as well (sigh)!
Woof by Spencer Quinn (Scholastic Press, April 2015); 304 pp.