This reading group guide forThereby Hangs a Tailincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Spencer Quinn. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Following in the grand tradition of Holmes and Watson, Bernie Little and his canine partner, Chet, solve crime using their unique talents and special partnership. In Thereby Hangs a Tail, Bernie and Chet work on an unusual case: protecting a talented but spoiled show dog named Princess. Before Bernie has a chance to take the job seriously, Princess and her owner are kidnapped. Then Susie Sanchez, Bernie’s on-again off-again girlfriend, also vanishes, and the case turns personal. When Chet is separated from Bernie, he must rely on his own talents to find his way home through the desert, and help Bernie crack the case. Whether they are dodging bullets or outwitting shady deputies, Bernie and Chet always get their man.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Bernie Little is a quirky guy. He likes to wear Hawaiian shirts and he has a fondness for pictures of waterfalls. What else do we learn about Bernie in the opening pages, and what does Chet’s unique perspective tell us about Bernie and the Little Detective Agency?
2. Bernie’s initial meeting with Adelina Borghese doesn’t go so well. What do we learn about the Countess from Chet’s description? Does your opinion of her change as Bernie begins to learn more about her?
3. In chapter five, Chet and Bernie first meet Princess. What are Chet’s initial impressions of the pampered pooch? Do his opinion of her and his actions toward her change over the course of the story?
4. Bernie has a strained relationship with money. He comments, “There’s all this money flowing around, Chet, rivers and rivers of money. How to tap into it, that’s the problem” (p. 54). What does Bernie do in order to take advantage of this situation? Does he act wisely? Do Bernie’s ideas about money reflect a broader pattern in society?
5. Nancy Malone, aka “Nance,” is Princess’s trainer and a crucial eyewitness to the kidnapping of her boss, Adelina, and Princess. How much credibility does Bernie initially give to Nance? Why do Chet and Bernie become more suspicious of her as time goes on?
6. While Chet is separated from Bernie, he and Princess meet up with a pair of “hippies,” as Chet calls them. The two men both help and harm Chet. How does their behavior reflect larger truths about some humans, especially when compared to dogs?
7. Bernie muses about “red herrings.” Chet helpfully comments, “I’m not a seafood fan” (p. 177). In mystery novels, what is a red herring? And how do they impede Bernie and Chet’s investigation here?
8. Chet loyally states that he is not as smart as Bernie. But Chet does have certain natural talents as a dog, most notably his sense of smell and hearing. Discuss how Chet’s talents come in handy during several crucial moments in the book.
9. Chet doesn’t understand the trouble between Bernie and Susie. At the end of the book, he is still confused as to what is going on between the two of them. What has been the problem between these two humans, and why is it so hard for Chet to understand?
10. Chet is a dog of many loves and a few noted dislikes. There are several humorous moments in the story where Chet loses his train of thought, distracted by a tasty morsel or an enticing scent. What are some of your favorite moments of Chet’s “dog-ness”?
11. Chet and Bernie are a unique team and are intensely loyal to each other. What are some of the key scenes in the book that display just how incredible their partnership is?
12. One of the most creative aspects of Thereby Hangs a Tail is Spencer Quinn’s ability to get inside the head of Chet, his canine narrator. Do you think he does a good job of capturing the quirks and the mysterious ways of dogs? If you have a dog, do you think he or she would sound like Chet? If not, what would they say?
Tips to Enhance Your Book Club
1. Chet has become one of the more memorable dogs in literature. Bring in other books featuring dogs and share them with your book club. Discuss who are your favorite canine characters and why.
2. Bernie is a lover of music, as is Chet. Two of their favorite musicians are Elmore James and Roy Eldridge. Go to the website www.pandora.com to explore their music and others like them.
3. Visit Chet’s blog, www.ChettheDog.com to hear more from Chet.
A Conversation with Spencer Quinn
Q. What was the inspiration behind the Chet and Bernie series?
A. My wife said, “Why don’t you so something with dogs?” That’s it. Inspiration is often short and sweet.
Q. Chet is one of the most unique characters in fiction. Did your own dog, Audrey, provide any traits or behavior that you used when writing in Chet’s voice? What else helped you get “inside” Chet’s mind?
A.Yes, Audrey’s a big help, especially that combo she has of short-attention span combined with intense focus. But really, the nice thing is that Chet’s voice seems close to mine in some crazy way, and therefore comes fairly easily.
Q. If Chet could talk to Bernie, what do you think he would say?
A. I think he already gets across everything that’s worth getting across.
Q. Do you think Bernie would be as effective in his work if he didn’t have Chet?
A. Absolutely not. I don’t think he’d be as effective—or as happy—in any department.
Q. You live in Cape Cod, but you set your series in the desert. How did you decide to use that region as a location for your series?
A. I love the desert and it’s the right place for Chet and Bernie. They need the wide open spaces, the sense of newness, the West.
Q. Do you think being immersed in Chet’s canine perspective has changed the way you see your own world?
A. Yes, no question about it. I’m rethinking all sorts of things—human population, diet, the lost history of other species, tons of other stuff I’m not competent to comment on.
Q. Are there any other crime writers or crime novels that influenced your writing?
A. No. Read hardly any crime fiction at all these days.
Q. If you could steal any character in literature for your own books, who would it be?
A. Mr. Micawber.
Q. What are you working on now? What’s next for Chet and Bernie?
A. Book #3 is just about done. You’ll see it real soon, but for now let’s just say it concerns a missing circus elephant named Peanut. She turns out to have a personality that’s as formidable as Chet’s in every way.