“Lyell Overton Minskoff-Hardy, literary light and cultural personage, perished a few days before Christmas beneath a stainless steel toilet on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. With his fly open. Harry, my owner, prone to accept all explanations involving the paranormal, believed the death had a supernatural flourish.
“Almost from the start I thought Harry quite mistaken. Overton’s death had nothing to do with ghosts, spirits, or the occult and everything to do with science, human nastiness and greed.”
As it turns out, Harry is quite mistaken, but Randolph, the narrator, has the instincts of a first rate detective. And an incredible sense of smell.
That’s because Randolph is a Labrador Retriever with the ability to read, reason, remember and calculate. Although he has refined tastes and a love of Dante, he is not above a roll in the stinkiest sidewalk pâté when it presents itself.
Nor is he one of those dogs who thinks he is superior to humans (although he clearly is). He is after all a Labrador with the loyal, humble sweetness of the breed. And like many Labradors, he is somewhat prone to chubbiness because his distracted owner feeds him a lot of take-out and doesn’t exercise him enough.
As the book begins, their beloved Imogene has been missing for almost a year. She went out to buy bread after work and never returned. In spite of a massive police search, only her red beret ever turned up.
While Randolph searches for clues to her disappearance in his beloved mistress’ journal, Harry turns to the occult for answers. A mysterious invitation to a séance brings Harry to the apartment of the murder and the lives of the suspects.
As Randolph goes about solving the murder, he realizes his doggy limitations. He must get Harry’s help. But how? Letting Harry know of his incredible brain would lead to having scientists study him with electrodes attached to his cerebral cortex.
And then he hits on a means of communication—Alpha Bits, Harry’s favorite cereal. With great effort because they stick to his wet nose, Randolph spells out clues to the mystery with the sticky cereal. Harry the innocent thinks the spiritual world is working through his dog.
As they solve the murders (there are three), they also get some hints about what has happened to their beloved Imogene.
Randolph shows us the world of humans through the eyes of an urbane dog, but he is at his best when he describes a discourse with other animals such as the tree sloth. Or when he classifies the five going “number 1 and number 2” preferences of city dogs. (Randolph would never use pee or poop. He is, after all, a refined “Foliage-Finder,” not a “Squat-and-Drop.”)
This is the first book in what I hope will be a series of mysteries written by a talented writer in the persona (dogona?) of a most remarkable dog. There are a lot of human amateur detectives and quite a few cats who solve mysteries. Readers of the world need Randolph.
The sequel will be published this year and after reading the Epilogue, I can’t wait.
A Dog about Town by J.F. Englert is a Dell paperback - $6.99