|Peter Abrahams/Spencer Quinn and friend|
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I once read a book review in the NYTimes, which said something like “I’m afraid I won’t be able to convey how good this is.” That is how I feel about the books by Peter Abrahams. (Who also, as you’ll see, goes by Spencer Quinn.) Maybe this’ll work: Stephen King referred to him as "my favorite American suspense novelist". Yeah. Me and you, Stephen.
You might have read his intense original stand-alone thrillers, like The Fan, or Nerve Damage, or the Edgar-nominated Lights Out.
You might know him from his brilliant Echo Falls YA mysteries. (Yes, I am gushing, but sometimes one simply must gush.)
After those riveting and compelling thrillers, and then his smart and perceptive (and adorable) YAs, Peter Abrahams secretly turned onto someone else. With great mystery and skullduggery, he wrote, as Spencer Quinn, the first Chet and Bernie mystery, titled DOG ON IT.
And remember when no one knew the real identity of the author? It was such a hoot when Peter was revealed as Spencer—and also as the acclaimed voice of Chet. Chet, a dog who (somehow) narrates the best-selling novels.
And now—there’s more. I am in awe. And in delight. And so happy to introduce you to Peter Abrahams/Spencer Quinn’s new voice. It’s Bowser, a goofy, engaging, determined (and bacon-loving) crime-fighting canine—who’s in league with his new girl Birdie.
His first adventure is WOOF. (And I say: bow WOW.)
HANK: Sometimes, if you look at a crime fiction author's body of work, it gets darker and darker, as the writer delves into their most insidious and terrifying depths. Or something like that. Anyway, it seems like you've gone exactly the opposite direction.
PETER:That is odd, now that you mention it. What the hell is right with me? No question about the darkness, which really got going with Lights Out, my seventh book, where Eddie Nye ends up breaking back into prison. Then there’s Oblivion, where it’s pretty clear that Nick will not survive, and End of Story with that last line – “Ivy got stuck on page 109”. An entendre of the darkly double type. But humor kept bubbling up – especially noticeable in Their Wildest Dreams, I think, where I discovered how much I liked writing about the southwest.
And that led to Chet and Bernie, where this whole other side of me all of a sudden had free reign. I’d had enough of darkness!
Having said that, now that some time has passed, a somewhat darkish idea has occurred to me, and will form the basis of a new project, when I can get to it. (As for Chet and Bernie, Scents and Sensibility comes out in July.)
HANK: So WOOF is the first of we hope many books about Bowser and Birdie, dog and girl, crimefighters of the Louisiana swamp. What was the first nugget of the book? When did you think--hey! And why?
PETER: I thought – hey! – when I got a call asking if I had any interest in writing a dog-narrated mystery for middle-schoolers. Why? Because it’s so nice to be asked, in this business. But the idea of a kid and dog pair exploring together the strange and dangerous world of adult humans seemed right. Then came the bayou setting, followed by Birdie and her grandmother. Some characters do write themselves, and Grammy is one of them. She’d have taken over the whole book if I’d let her.
HANK: And really, just cut and paste a tiny synopsis of WOOF in the next slot. You don't have to make up a brand new one, since someone probably worked pretty hard on the one you have.
PETER: There is trouble brewing in the Louisiana swamp -- Bowser can smell it. Bowser is a very handsome and only slightly slobbery dog, and he can smell lots of things. Like bacon. And rawhide chews! And the sweat on humans when they're lying.
Birdie Gaux, the girl Bowser lives with, also knows something is wrong. It's not just that her grammy's stuffed prize marlin has been stolen. It's the weird rumor that the marlin is linked to a missing treasure. It's the truck that seems to be following Birdie and the bad feeling on the back of her neck.
When Birdie and Bowser start digging into the mystery, not even Bowser's powerful sniffer can smell just how menacing the threat is. And when the danger comes straight for Birdie, Bowser knows it up to him to sic 'em.
HANK: Love it! People must ask you this all the time, and I know the answer is "imagination." But still. How do you put yourself in the mind of a dog? Bowser thinks and narrates just like a dog. (Funny that he can type. How does he do that?)
PETER: And I can’t type. Or just barely. Two fingers, three on a good day. I’ve always been interested in the limited narrator, or limited POV (if we’re dealing with 3rd person close). In Pressure Drop, one of my very early novels (and soon to be re-released by Open Road), there are scenes from the POV of someone with locked-in syndrome.
In fairness to Bowser, his limitations are matched by some special gifts, especially when it comes to the senses of smell and hearing; and he has some emotional gifts as well. The emotional bond – call it love – between Bowser and Birdie is the heart of the story. I prefer stories with a heart, or spirit, or something of the kind. Often absent in fiction, and not just of the crime variety.
HANK: This is a YA book--but I laughed all the way through it. Who are you writing these for? And why?
PETER: Birdie and Bowser are for kids. But also, well, why not everybody? There’s no dumbing down. True, no sex and very little seen violence, but that’s not dumb.
HANK: Your webpage that's labeled "About the book" is a letter to kids who are looking for you to write a book report. Peter/Spencer, it is hilarious. (And respectful, and helpful.) I have to think you've gotten requests to write book reports.
PETER: Oh, yes. How many times have I been asked to quickly supply the theme of Down the Rabbit Hole? I don’t have a clue! Grade F. But sometimes you get heartbreaking stuff. I believe somewhere in the Echo Falls series Ingrid’s older brother hits her. One girl emailed me about how she knew that scene very well.
HANK: Oh, gosh. That is—heart-stopping. It makes you see a whole world, you know? (And yeah, I always wondered if her brother had a steroid problem. Hmm.)
But at the end of that wonderful letter you say: a dog’s mindset is looking forward. But looking back a tiny bit, since part of you, at least, is human, what do you think about your writer’s journey? Where you came from--and where you are? And sure, what's ahead?
PETER: I’m really not ready to think about this, Hank. All I know is that I’m on some sort of journey and I don’t want it to end.
HANK: Aw. We don’t, either. Congratulations. WOOF is irresistible, and we are so happy you’re here today. So happy that we’re giving away a copy of WOOF to one lucky commenter! (US only please). Tell us your dog’s name! Or the dog you had as a kid. Or your favorite dog. Or any doggie thing!
And Bowser will pick a winner at random. (Bacon is very effective.)