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by J. F. Englert
Dell, May 2007
288 pages
ISBN: 0440243637

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Randolph is a black Labrador owned by Harry, a Manhattanite whose girlfriend Imogen disappeared one night when she left the house to go food shopping. Both Harry and Randolph are depressed with Imogen gone and since they don't know if she is alive or dead, life is even harder on them both.

Randolph the dog lets the readers in on his opinions about his race and that he is rather more intelligent than most canines. He is also rather proud that he is well read and has proper manners. His days are filled with Harry's mood swings and the thousands of messages that dogs get through their sense of smell, including knowing the truth of a human's real emotions and feelings. Anxiety and guilt, lying and happiness all have their own scents that Randolph can easily detect.

When an old friend of Harry's passes away in front of him, Harry is deeply affected. The man had a heart attack even though he had a pacemaker and though it seemed strange, Harry tries to accept it, but still he can't get rid of the idea that something is very wrong about the death and he vows to do research on it.

While visiting one of Harry's more wealthy and eccentric friends in the city, Randolph has a conversation with his pet Guatemalan tree sloth to find out that, luckily, the sloth just happens to have a view of the apartment where Harry's friend passed away and the sloth tells Randolph some interesting facts about the death.

Still intent on learning about the death for himself, Harry talks his way into the apartment that is owned by a woman he recently met. There, Randolph gets a few more clues there via his senses that pick up on the fact that the friend was murdered. Now it's Randolph's responsibility to somehow tell Harry about it and to make him get the proof that will bring about justice.

But it's not an easy task. Not only does Randolph have to get Harry to think that a spirit guide is in the apartment, he also has to spend hours arranging the letters from a box of Alpha-bits cereal on their kitchen table to fill Harry in on the case. Then just as they are getting some answers, the two find that they are now targets for the real killer.

A DOG ABOUT TOWN has a clever premise of using an intelligent dog to be the narrator in this story and for the most part it works. Unfortunately, this murder mystery is of the type where the main character mostly only asks questions and the solution isn't uncovered through the power of deduction. The answer is told by the killer mainly because impatience grows with all the questions being asked until the killer just wants to leave town. It's best not to look too closely at the solution because it's not that satisfying and not that logical. And finally, the readers aren't that entertained by the finale because we are given a weak ending.

It's very interesting to see the world through a dog's eyes and senses. That this dog also has more than a few of the big city prejudices as his master makes the story richer. I just wish that more time had been spent on making the murder and the murderer's explanation for it a lot sturdier.

As a murder mystery this book is weak, but as a view of life through a dog's sensibilities, A DOG ABOUT TOWN is very interesting.

Reviewed by A. L. Katz, May 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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