A Dog Among Diplomats, J.F. Englert
Now comes J.F. Englert's A Dog Among Diplomats, and I am pleased to report that through its first 126 pages, it's better than I'd have expected from a mystery with a dog as an investigator.
Why is this? Because:
1) The dog in question, a Labrador named Randolph who belongs to an artist named Harry and who also narrates the novel, is no mere wry commentator on the cute foibles of silly humans. Instead, his narration explores canine consciousness in rich detail, particularly in a series of meditations on scent. These are nice pieces of fantasy writing.
2) The opening chapters are beautifully organized, each introducing a complication, resolving a conflict, and leading smoothly and easily to another.
3) The tone is breezy and amusing throughout, probably a more difficult feat than punctuating a story with the occasional knee-slapper. Here's one example:
"There was also — I began to recognize — another potent potpourri, of cinnamon, nutmeg and apple, emanating from dishes discretely placed on either side of an old wooden clock on the mantelpiece. This potpourri was called `Country Kitchens' and stunned the noses of man and canine in bed-and-breakfasts across the country."4) There is a tinge of melancholy, just enough to act as a subtle counterpoint to the humor and hold this reader's interest. Here's an example that immediately follows the selection quoted above:
"This veneer of coziness, however, could not transform the essential nature of the place. Despite its upscale transformation and the utopian ideals of its proprietress, the boardinghouse was still a place of transience and disconnection — an urban way station filled with alien bodies in separate rooms."There is poignance, too, to Harry's role in the book's central mystery, a mystery that justifies the novel's inclusion in a blog called Detectives Beyond Borders. More later.
P.S. A similar melancholy lurks in Ian Sansom's The Case of the Missing Books, only occasionally bubbling to the surface in the protagonist's growing disconnection from his girlfriend back in London. Such undertones help ensure that despite their lighthearted or even fantastic subjects, the books are no mere froth.
© Peter Rozovsky 2008