It’s a Wonderful Woof is a fun mystery, full of clues, red herrings, and surprising revelations along the way. But the secret to its magic definitely lies in its canine narrator Chet, one-half of the Little Detective Agency. The other, human, half, Bernie Little, is a large, rough-and-tumble kind of man, a tough PI with a heart of gold and a soft touch for his investigating partner.
Bernie knows nothing about art, so when a potential client comes to him asking for help on an art world case, Bernie refers him to another PI, Victor Klovsky. The case involves lots of online research and little action, and seems more Victor’s alley. Except that Victor disappears while investigating, and his mother elicits Bernie’s help in finding him.
The case itself is fascinating. Chet and Bernie’s investigation leads them to an old church, an archaeologist excavating some ruins, and a museum dedicated to local history and culture. As someone who likes art and museums, I was fascinated by all the talk about Caravaggio, and some of the finds (which, from Google, I figure are fictional) they come across got my inner art nerd all excited. There’s a moment when the museum’s director receives a donation that makes her burst into tears, and honestly, I fully understand why — such an acquisition for a small museum would be phenomenal. (Though a practical part of my brain can’t help but wonder about how they would afford the insurance required.)
Like I said, though, the key to the novel’s magic is Chet himself, who narrates the case with huge dollops of doggy enthusiasm. It’s a joy to see Bernie through Chet’s eyes — however other characters may respond to the PI, Chet genuinely believes Bernie is perfect and can do no wrong. So even when Bernie is discouraged about an aspect of the case, Chet’s narration assures us that things can’t be so dire, because obviously Bernie will know just what to do. Chet’s perspective is just so pure and full of joy and love, and it’s sheer pleasure just being in his brain. The case does get a bit violent at times — for example, a man was found murdered by waterboarding in a tub, and another scene shows a man getting shot by a sniper rifle. In many ways, the story has the elements of a hardboiled detective noir, but Chet’s narration softens the edges significantly, and gives it more of a cozy mystery feel.
It’s also fun to see the suspects and other characters through the perspective of a dog. For example, the archaeologist is described as becoming nervous all of a sudden, because of an unmistakable shift in her scent. In other scene, the museum director and Bernie have their heads close together; Chet notices how her scent changes, and she seems about to close the distance even more, but Bernie’s scent stays the same and he shows no inkling of moving closer. It’s a subtle moment, but beautifully portrayed; the author does a great job of showing how much dogs pick up that humans don’t.
Yet in other ways, Chet is also hilariously confused by human behaviour. There’s a scene where Bernie and a potential love interest are clearly on the verge of arguing. Chet can sense the shifts in moods, and the tension in both characters’ tones, but has no idea what’s going on. Chet’s also super self-aware of the limitations of his knowledge sometimes, which makes the scene even funnier.
Overall, this is a fun book. Bernie’s a great series co-lead, and I absolutely love how the author handles Chet as an equal co-lead and main narrative voice. The story wasn’t a super page-turner for me — it took me a while to finish it — but the series itself seems really charming. Chet and Bernie make a fantastic team.
Thank you to Forge Books for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.