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1st December
2009
written by Steph
Was delighted by the dog and the town!

Was delighted by the dog and the town!

I had never heard of this series by J.F. Englert, featuring a mystery-solving black lab named Randolph until Jill of Rhapsody in Books mentioned it in passing in the comments of one of my posts.  I said the premise sounded fun and like something I would be interested in checking out, and the author himself came to my aid!  He offered to send me the first two books in the series for my perusal, and I am so glad that I took him off on his generous offer.  I found the first book in the series, A Dog About Town, a delightful and diverting read and will happily avail myself of the rest of the series in the future. The basic premise of A Dog About Town is that Randolph, a black lab, and his owner Harry live in downtown Manhattan.  Harry is an artist of sorts, who has had middling success, but has largely given up on his work ever sine the disappearance of the love of his life, Imogen.  Randolph is anything but your run-of-the-mill black lab, instead gifted with uncanny cognitive abilities, being able to reason and read, and is just as likely to quote from Shakespeare as he is to discuss the nuances of the variety of canine compatriots who frequent the Bull Moose Dog Run near the Natural History Museum.  In this first novel, Randolph put his remarkable powers of detection to work when Harry attends an ill-fated séance in which author Lyell Overton Minskoff dies of what appears to be a heart attack.  Despite all appearances, Randolph doesn’t believe that Minskoff’s death is as innocent as it seems, and worries that something more sinister – like murder – may be at play.  He soon narrows the suspects down to three strangers who were linked to the séance, but is saddened to discover that one of Harry’s good friends (and financial benefactors) may also be somehow involved.  It’s up to Randolph to figure out whodunit (and how to get Harry to realize it!) before another victim is claimed! Now this is what I’m talking about when I’m in the mood for a mystery that is a cozy comfort read!  This was a quirky and fun little novel that I was able to easily slip into and then just as effortless get carried along through the narrative from beginning to end.  Although I wasn’t initially convinced that a novel narrated by a dog could be anything but gimmicky, I was really very pleasantly surprised to find that Englert pulls off the conceit with considerable aplomb and that the whole thing is really very believable.  Randolph has a strong voice that is teeming with character and personality; he may not be like any other dog you’ve ever met (I’m pretty convinced that even if our dogs could think anything other than “FOOOOOOD”, they would both be illiterate), it doesn’t take long before you embrace him wholeheartedly and feel like you’re spending time with a good friend (albeit, a slightly stuffy one who gives himself British airs!).
It is pretty much guaranteed that these two will not be solving crimes any time... ever....

It is pretty much guaranteed that these two will not be solving crimes any time... ever....

Is this serious, provocative fiction?  No, not really, but I wouldn’t say this is readily dismissed as lacking any intellectual heft or thoughtfulness.  As I mentioned above, Randolph is very well read, so there are tons of literary references, and there are lots of interesting insights into dogs as well.  The mystery itself is perhaps not the most ingenious or the most ground-breaking one that I’ve come across, however I felt that the non-mystery portions of the novel were able to make up for this, including the story of Imogen (Harry’s erstwhile girlfriend) and her disappearance.  I felt that the storyline involving Harry’s grief over losing her was truly moving and tapped into an honest source of emotion, and while not extensively plumbed within this story, it was a welcome addition and added an interesting (and I admit, unexpected) layer of depth to the novel.  And, although the central Minskoff mystery is neatly (and in some sense, outlandishly) tied up by the end of the novel, Englert leaves enough open for this dynamic canine-human duo that a series of books makes sense. As an aside, I’ll mention that my timing in terms of reading this novel was impeccable!  Somewhat mournful over the utter lack of NYC in my life, it was a delight to retrace many of the steps Tony & I took on our recent trip there.  I always love when books are set in places that I know quite well (not that I know NYC well at all!), and so get the references and landmarks that authors make.  I’m glad that our walk through the Ramble at Central Park wasn’t as spooky and ominous as that of Randolph and Harry, but was positively tickled to see it turn up in the book.  If you’re an aficionado of the Big Apple, then this is a great fun way to immerse yourself in the city from a long distance. All in all, a fun romp of a read that is a great way to melt away stress on a weekend afternoon, and one that is likely to amuse you even if you’re not a dog lover.  I look forward to reading Randolph’s next crime fighting adventure, A Dog Among Diplomats!  Big thanks to Jill for bringing this series to my attention, and to J.F. Englert for furnishing me with this copy. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

11 Comments

  1. 12/01/2009

    Oh my goodness — I simply MUST check this series out! I absolutely LOVE labs (and I have such a soft spot for stories narrated by dogs) and mysteries are my favorite genre. I think this will be a reading match made in heaven.

    Thanks so much for the great review!

  2. 12/01/2009

    Randolph has his own blog too, which is quite erudite! (Apparently he has progressed from using alphabits to communicate.) It’s at http://www.adogabouttown.com/

  3. 12/01/2009

    Sounds fun. I usually steer clear of animal detectives, and quite a lot of mystery series’ in general, but this seems to be worth checking out. And, incidentally, your dogs are SO cute. 🙂

  4. 12/01/2009

    @ molly: It sounds like you would be a great fit for this novel, so I hope you do get the chance to check this one out!
     
    @ rhapsody: I have a feeling this is another blog I’ll be adding to my feed reader…
     
    @ Sarah: I don’t mind mysteries (though I can’t say I really follow any series), but like you I am leery of animal detectives. I would say 99% of the time they probably don’t work, but here it did! And, you can imagine my joy when I realized the topic of this review meant I could slip in a picture of our pups! 😉

  5. taryn
    12/01/2009

    PUPPY!!
    Now if only Randolph were a chocolate lab… 😉

    It’s too bad that we can’t add comments to your photo captions, as i wanted to mention that although Emmy and Rory were unlikely to be solving any crimes soon, there’s a good chance they’ll be committing some…

    Hope you had a nice (American) Thanksgiving,

    taryn

  6. 12/01/2009

    This book looks like it’s a lot of fun. I hadn’t yet heard of it but it looks like something that would make a great weekend read. I love dogs as well, so this book has multiple attractions for me. Great review, I am really glad you liked the book so much!

  7. 12/02/2009

    @ taryn: Ha! I was thinking the same thing! I was sorely tempted to add something about their proclivity to commit atrocities, but then figured it would make the caption too long… 😉
     
    @ zibilee: Definitely a great weekend read, and perfect for a fellow dog lover!

  8. 12/02/2009

    This looks hilarious! I love the cover.

  9. 12/03/2009

    I’m not a dog person, but I love that cover!

  10. 12/11/2009

    This sounds fun. I got it from the library for Kalem to read (now that he’s “lost his soul” and doesn’t read really anymore) because he loves the puppy dogs and Poirot movies. Maybe it will get him started again!

  11. 12/14/2009

    @ Chavonne: It’s a pretty quick, fun read, so I think it would be a good book to ease a non-reader back into the reading mindset. And certainly being a dog-lover won’t hurt!

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