Saturday, January 16, 2010

Good dog book!

(Photo © Susan Stava)

Back in 2008, I risked obloquy and ostracism when I read a book with an animal protagonist. But J.F. Englert's A Dog Among Diplomats was a pleasant surprise, a sharp, intelligently written tale leavened with enough wit and even melancholy to elevate it above the run of mysteries narrated by non-humans.

I am happy to report that, barring the cutesy cover with which its publisher has saddled it (not pictured here), Englert's new A Dog at Sea is off to just as promising a start. Never have I known an author so able to wring suspense and menace from an approaching plate of shipboard hors d'œuvres:

"The crew member sensed the pack movement in his direction and looked ready to retreat, but then a two-footed animal — a used-car salesman from Pasadena, California — gestured for him to approach ... "
(Read more about Englert and his protagonist, Randolph, here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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23 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

Thanks for the headsup, Peter. The covers are indeed terrible, and aren't doing the books any favors. But I'm glad to know the books are better than they look.

The dog in that photo does look very wise.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The covers to the first two books are borderline, and the current cover is even worse. More than that, it's misleading. Readers looking for a cute book may be disappointed, and the covers might repel readers who would otherwise enjoy these intelligent stories.

On the other hand, I feel some sympathy for the publisher. The books don't fit readily into any category, so I can understand the temptation to go for the cute-animal market.

In fact, in an effort to demonstrate that this book is better than its covers, I'll try to post links to excerpts from it and Englert's oterh Randolph books.

More than with any other books that come to mind, don't judge these by their covers.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I'm sitting a man over tonight to quietly shoot you in the back of the head. The real Peter would thank me for this.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Heel. Heel! There now, that's a good boy. All you need is a good belly rub and a romp in the yard, and you'll feel better.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Marley and Me was the only movie I've ever seen where I was rooting for the cancer.

Or a hijacking (I was on a plane) so perhaps I'm not the target audience for this book.

Is a Sneaky Pie Brown review in the offing?

January 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

1) Marley and Me's author worked at my paper, so I can assure you I will not be reading the book or watching the movie in this or any other lifetime. (I once posted a link to a scene from the movie as it was being shot in my newsroom, but I can't find the post. I'll post the link when I find it, but I still won't see the movie.)

2) Sneaky Pie Brown should be stuck in a microwave. Y'know, I once figured that Rita Mae Brown must kind of cool -- a lesbian author breaking into the mainstream, and all. But she threw it all away.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Oh dear. Now I really am going to have to read it.

I've heard from reliable sources thatThe Art of Racing in the Rain is very good, by the way. And it has a better cover.

Even dog lovers have been known to not like Marley and Me, so that's not a fair comparison.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know The Art of Racing in the Rain, but this:

Even dog lovers have been known to not like Marley and Me, so that's not a fair comparison.

makes my day and will be shared among select like-minded colleagues here at the office. Thanks.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

"Educating Rita" a pretty good film of the 80's was all about how RMB inspired a young British working class woman to get an education, but as you say she betrayed that hipster background - its like finding out that Jerry Garcia was an FBI informant or something.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here is the post with the link to Marley and Me being shot at my office. My desk is just off screen to the left.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

I love dogs but during Marley and Me I kept thinking back to that Coetzee novel (I forget the title) where the dude's job is give the brutes lethal injections. Actually I wanted to give Owen Wilson the lethal injection.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

More like finding out that Jerry Garcia's favorite music was Ray Conniff, I'd say.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

So don't watch that clip of Owen Wilson walking by my desk.

I was not in the building at the time, though I did see him in a scene being shot in the editor's office. Just make sure you don't administer an injection to the wrong person.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Doesn't everyone betray their hipster background ultimately, though?

RMB may be a sellout, but she's savvy. The "women's books section" as we call it is to all intents and purposes dead. All those little feminist co-op bookstores of yesteryear have closed up shop. But the cat lovers, and more importantly the cat lovers who read mysteries live on.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know her cat books or her pre-cat books, so I can't say whether she's a sell-out. But it's hard to reconcile the subsersively titillating title Rubyfruit Jungle with the name Sneaky Pie Brown, which ought to embarrass even cat-mystery lovers.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I don't think you can embarrass those died in the wool pet lovers, though. In that corner of their lives, they feel no shame.

I like animals and I empathize with them, but my life doesn't revolve around them and there's the difference.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if the stereotypical nauseating pet lover exists in real life.

I have recently spent four days visiting friends outside Boston. As always, the younger of their two full-size poodles recognized me and dragged the old stuffed snake my way for a tug o' war -- a game she plays with no one else. This always reminds me of Charles Darwin's relation in The Descent of Man of how his dog recognized him instantly when he returned from five years away on the, er, Beagle, and how this display of empathy and recognition got him thinking about traits that humans and animals share. We all know where that led.

I can assure you, though, that when I do talk to dogs, I always enunciate clearly and speak in full sentences. No baby talk from me.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I don't think they are nauseating, just peculiar. Also, typically, a bit self-absorbed, and that self has been expanded to include their pets.

But parents can be much the same. It's not the pets or the children that are the problem.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Was it Juvenal who saw as a sign of Rome's decadence that women talked to their pets as if they (the pets) were children?

A comic strip I like called Eyebeam had one installment in which the Grandma X character spends three panels talking baby-talk to an infant. In the fouth panel, the character Ratliffe says: "Excuse me, but we're trying to teach that one to speak English." That for me is the definitive comment on adult baby talk.

I like the suggestion that pet-talkers are self-absorbed.

January 17, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

It's funny, but I always talk to little kids exactly as if they could understand everything I would normally say. Which most of the time, they can.

Well, as much as anybody does.

January 18, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have never thought of talking to children any other way. Well, I make a special effort to speak clearly when talking to young children, and they seem to understand me. It's a big effort to learn to speak; I'm not going to throw that effort back in kids' faces by babbling at them. Bseides, adults sound like such jerks when they talk like babies.

January 18, 2010  
Blogger Pat Miller said...

I'm happy to report that the cover really works for The Unscratchables by Anthony O'Neill (aka Cornelius Kane). It's Manhattan skyline and back view of a bull dog dressed as a cop sets the scene of this wise-cracking romp to perfection. It reminds me a lot of the asides by Bernie Gunther in Philip Kerr's wonderful series.

January 25, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That cover reminds of Joe Friday and his sidekick. I can't judge a cover without the book, of course, but the problem with J.F. Englert's covers is that, while beautifully executed, at least for the first two books, they arguably don't fit the tone. I'd imagine it's hard to put a dog on the cover without leading readers to expect a cozy or a wise-cracking romp, and, while Englert's books have elements of both, neither really captures the books' essence.

January 25, 2010  

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