Friday, June 13, 2008

A Dog Among Diplomats, J.F. Englert

Detectives Beyond Borders has heretofore restricted itself to stories with human protagonists, and the policy has been fruitful; the supply of such stories is almost endless, and some of them are quite good.

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

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13 Comments:

Blogger GJG said...

you not only have a most impressive vocabulary, you KNOW how to apply it----reading your posts is always a highlight of my day. I aspire to improve my own inventory of words, but I know in my heart that should I attempt to use them I will no doubt do so improperly----but still I gotta try. (By JOVE, I've put a hold on the book, "A Dog Among Diplomats" by J.F.Englert at my local library, thanks to your post) bringing it to my attention.

June 13, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The meditations on scent make it sound like Englert's dog has more in common with distinguished literary animals than the typical cat-detective sort of thing: like Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog (Bulgakov also armed a cat with a .45 in the Master and Margarita) or Virginia Woolf's novel narrated from the point of view of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog, Flush. Then there's Hoffmann's brilliant Murr, who writes his adventurous 19th-century memoirs on the back of the sheets of his owner's memoirs, so that we get both, interleaved. Are there other, non-cute animal narrators in crime fiction?
Thanks
Glenn

June 13, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Go with the flow. See the book. Feel the book. Be the book. Do this all by reading the book!

By Jove, that will improve your vocabulary, all right.

June 13, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I read Bulgakov almost twenty-five years ago. It may be time to reread him and check out his animals.

I'm sure Randolph is grateful for your having supplied him with such illustrious literary antecedents. I am sure, too, that he will follow our search for NCAs (non-cute animals) with interest. Thanks!

June 13, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

/(Meaningless) Threat

If Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who... books make an appearance here, I'm leavin'.

/end Threat

June 13, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I shall do my best to avoid mentioning any cat novels written by women with three names.

June 13, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once tried one of Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who... books. One was enough.

I am yet to read A Dog Among Diplomats, but I thoroughly enjoyed A Dog About Town, the first in the series. J. F. Englert does furry protagonists in another league and the humour is sharp.

I spent some of Sunday at Bristol's CrimeFest trying to persuade Declan Burke of Crime Always Pays to give these books a chance. He can't endure an animal protag. I did not succeed. But another voice of support here - thanks Peter - may help him change his mind.

June 14, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The previous comment, by the way, comes from crimefic reader, whose blog is now colored a lovely shade of green, possibly in honor of her current post about Ireland's rejection of the European Union reform treaty.

I have both the J.F. Englert novels, but I chose the second one first because its subject matter seemed more closely related to the usual subjects in this blog. I am generally of one mind with Declan Burke on the subject of animal characters, so I hope I will be able to make clear in this and future posts and comments why A Dog Beyond Diplomats might be an exception.

June 14, 2008  
Anonymous crimeficreader said...

Thanks Peter.

June 15, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Is the green in honor of the Irish post? I'm not terribly observant in these matters, and I don't remember having noticed it before.

June 15, 2008  
Anonymous crimeficreader said...

Totally unrelated. I had gone blue and didn't like it in the end, so I went for another format entirely and green seemed a nice change. I prefer the way the header looks with the new format.
A change is as good as a rest and I'm having a blogging rest today too, as I'm preparing for a job interview tomorrow morning.

June 15, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Good luck with the interview. I get a colorful show when I call up your blog. The header appears mint green before changing to its lighter-to-darker shading. Perhaps that's because my computer is slow, but I enjoy the show nonetheless.

June 15, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"I spent some of Sunday at Bristol's CrimeFest trying to persuade Declan Burke of Crime Always Pays to give these books a chance. He can't endure an animal protag. I did not succeed."

You can tell Declan Burke that if he doesn't read these books forthwith, when his beautiful little daughter is a bit older, you'll tell her Daddy hates doggies. He wouldn't want that, would he?

June 16, 2008  

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