One of the more striking detective novels I’ve encountered lately is Spanish novelist Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett’s Dog Day. For one, the protagonist is a female, Inspector Petra Delicado. Secondly, the mystery has to do with everything about dogs. With her casanova partner Sergeant Fermin Garzon, she investigates the murder of a tramp in a working class Barcelona sidestreet. The dead man left behind the mongrel dog named “Freaky”, the only link that might lead to solving a crime involving the world of dog trafficking, dog training, dog pounds, pharmaceutical companies using dogs as test subjects, and dog fighting.
I don’t like dogs (and cats or most other pets for that matter) and don’t know much about dogs, so I cannot say that much about the accuracy of some of the novel’s descriptions of dog behavior and other dog-related details. But I assume that most of Gimenez-Bartlett’s scenes involving man’s best friend are not off course. To give a sample, here is Freaky identifying its master in the hospital bed before the he was murdered:
At first he was confused by the medical smells he could pick up in the air. He sniffed in all directions, panted, wandered about the room. All at once his sensitive nose detected a smell he recognized. He stood stock-still, then as if the discovery had electrified him, started to leap in the air adn then scampered around the bed of our unconscious friend, barking wildly. Finally, he got up on his hind legs, saw that this really was his master, and began to give little yelps of pleasure as he tried to lick the hands lying limply on the sheets.
Gimenez-Bartlett’s pace is slow. And a significant part of the narrative focuses on the personal lives and romantic dalliances of the two protagonists. But the mystery thickens with every chapter, as they follow false leads and grapple with the seemingly hopeless lack of clues. As the novel approaches its conclusion, their personal stories increasingly intertwine with their investigation. Not only do we learn much about dogs and the plethora of businesses that has sprung around this animal (from dog clinics to dog parlours), we are also transported to both the affluent and seedy neighborhoods of Barcelona.
Dog Day is for dog-lovers, Barcelona enthusiasts, and anyone else wanting a slow-paced and leisurely read that stays light and funny for the most part despite the dark world of crime that it portrays.