Those doggoned sentences.

Peanut the elephant from Spencer Quinn's "To Fetch a Thief".

I love dogs, and I love a good mystery. So when I came across the Chet and Bernie mystery series, I was ecstatic. The books are narrated from the perspective of Chet, the dog. I really enjoyed this as too many times in books and movies, animals are overly anthropomorphized.

I cuddled up at night with books one and two, Dog on It and Thereby Hangs a Tail. I couldn’t wait to get book three, To Fetch a Thief. In this book, Chet and Bernie, Bernie being a private detective and Chet’s owner, set out to find a missing elephant, Peanut. Peanut was the main attraction in a small, family-owned traveling circus that happened by Chet and Bernie’s town. The more they learned about Peanut and her trainer, the more they found that she just wasn’t missing. She may have been kidnapped.

As I delved into To Fetch a Thief, I was really into the mystery like I was with the previous two books. Then, I got around to the middle of the book, and something strange was happening. At first, I didn’t want to believe what was happening, couldn’t believe it. Sentences were becoming a blur, often times not making any sense at all. I just kept shaking it off thinking these were minor errors that had been overlooked. But it kept happening.

I started noticing misspelled words, run-ons, overly hyphenated statements, and other writing blights. It was true; this book had taken a turn for the worse. I soon felt that I was missing the great story of Chet and Bernie’s adventure in the search for Peanut. Poor Peanut. Poor beloved dog mystery series! 

What went wrong? I have two possibilities. The first being there was a deadline and not enough time to do a thorough proofread and edit. The second being there just wasn’t a thorough proofread and edit.

Here is one really confusing sentence I found.

Somehow, without making any noise, or at least not any that I heard, Peanut was on her feet, and not only on her feet but—you couldn’t call it running, maybe, more like lumbering—yes, lumbering with surprising speed, up and at ’em but even more so than I could have dreamed, and heading right in the perp’s direction; dudes who point guns at me are perps, case closed.

This sentence made up the whole paragraph minus a short intro sentence. Now, dogs have short attention spans, but so do readers. There were a lot of sentences like the above example in To Fetch a Thief. I understand that it was probably the author’s goal to have Chet narrate true to a dog’s form, with a short attention span. However, when Chet loses his attention span, so does the reader.

It would be better to break this paragraph up into several sentences. I broke it up into two.

Without making a sound, Peanut was on her feet and lumbering towards the perp with surprising speed. Dudes who point guns at me are perps, case closed.

Another example I found describes Chet dodging machine gun bullets.

I swerved, swerved back, swerved the other way, my whole body low to the ground—steep steep ground that kept trying to tip me over and roll me all the way down—the wind in my ears, high and scary, me not really running now, more like climbing, digging in with my front paws, pushing from the back.

This sentence was choppy with a lot of commas. If you were to dissect this sentence, separating each phrase within the commas, you would end up with incomplete thoughts. These thoughts would need to be written into whole sentences, changing this one-sentence paragraph into a paragraph with several sentences.

Here’s how I would rewrite this sentence.

The terrain was steep, and I tried not to tumble. As I swerved this way and that way, I kept my body low to the ground. I could hear the high-pitched screech of the wind in my ears. I wasn’t running anymore, but climbing. I dug into the ground with my front paws and pushed with my back paws.

As author of To Fetch a Thief, Spencer Quinn’s challenge was threefold. He had to consistently portray Chet as a normal dog, Chet was the main character, and Chet was also the narrator. I would find it challenging to maintain Chet’s personality while writing smooth, easy-flowing sentences.

Even though I found To Fetch a Thief challenging to read at times, I still really enjoyed the characters and look forward to the fourth book of the Chet and Bernie mystery series. (Maybe Spencer Quinn will see this article and choose us to edit his next book.)

Review by Alina Padilla
Precise Edit Marketing Specialist, reader

1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “Those doggoned sentences.

  1. Roxanne Cooke

    That second example from the book is a mess, I agree (“me not really running now”?!), but I actually enjoy the frantic feeling I get from reading the first one. It has a lot of character, and does read like it’s from a dog’s point of view. Granted, I haven’t read these books, and it does seem strange that the author would start using that style out of the blue!

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