Looking for an absorbing but lighthearted mystery? Two very unusual detective agencies—one in the American Southwest and the other across the pond—take readers on fast-paced and funny adventures.
When people see Bernie Little’s large black dog, they often ask, “Is he yours?” “We’re more like partners,” Bernie always responds. Indeed, there’s hardly a more devoted team than Chet and Bernie of the Little Detective Agency. Bernie is a hardscrabble private eye in Arizona who lives and works with his canine pal, Chet, the narrator of their adventures. Hats off to author Spencer Quinn for making this potentially cloying premise work—not just well, but superbly. The duo’s 11th case, Tender Is the Bite, follows on the heels of titles such as Of Mutts and Men and Heart of Barkness. Quinn loves wordplay, and it’s one of the many things that makes this series so endearing.
Chet and Bernie’s new adventure begins when a pretty young woman with a large diamond ring begins to follow them but then goes missing. Around the same time, a Ukrainian man who may have ties to a powerful senator threatens Bernie. Bernie also begins a romance with a police sergeant named Weatherly who has a dog that, incredibly, seems to be Chet’s sister. The suspenseful plot’s many threads are made all the more enjoyable by Chet’s narration.
“I made no attempt to understand,” Chet notes as he listens to Bernie ponder their latest puzzle. “That didn’t mean I wasn’t listening. I always listen to Bernie. His voice is like a lovely brook bubbling by.” What Chet lacks in linguistic understanding, he compensates for with his finely attuned senses of smell and hearing. “This might amaze you,” he notes, “but I could smell what the senator was drinking—namely bourbon. I was even pretty sure that it was the kind Bernie liked, the bourbon with red flowers on the label.” With each chapter, Quinn ramps up the action while still keeping things light, snappy and funny. With its thoroughly lovable detective duo, Tender Is the Bite is highly entertaining from start to finish.
In 1946 London, Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge are making a go at professional matchmaking with their Right Sort Marriage Bureau, but murder keeps getting in the way. They find themselves involved in detective work once again in Allison Montclair’s A Rogue’s Company, the third in the Sparks and Bainbridge series. It’s a delightful blend of historical intrigue, sharp-tongued humor and savvy sleuthing.
Iris and Gwen have a new client, a Rhodesian man named Simon Daile. As Simon’s enigmatic past gradually unfolds, Iris and Gwen begin to worry that he is not being completely forthcoming about his intentions, and having a Black client leads to some lively discussions between the white matchmakers about race and their own privilege. Gwen and Iris’ animated dialogue throughout, on a wide variety of subjects from race to women’s roles, is always enjoyably thoughtful-provoking. The plot thickens with a murder, and later a very close-to-home double kidnapping.
This detective duo could hardly be more different. War widow Gwen lives in luxury, although she’s fighting to regain custody of her son from her bullying father-in-law, who wants to send 6-year-old Ronnie off to a strict boarding school. (Gwen lost custody when she suffered a mental collapse after her husband’s death and spent four months in a sanitarium.) Meanwhile, Iris lives a decidedly less elegant life, which includes a boyfriend whose criminal connections often turn out to be helpful. “I thrive on chaos,” Iris admits. “That’s my life.”
Montclair does an excellent job of exploring the post-War World II London setting and showing how the series’ characters and relationships have evolved. Both Gwen and Iris fight to hold their own in their patriarchal, class-driven society, and their constant pushback against prejudice and sexism is a centerpiece of the series. With well-defined characters, high-stakes action and a quickly evolving plot, readers will find much to enjoy. Like its predecessors, A Rogue’s Company is brisk, entertaining fun.