This is the third book in the Bull Moose Dog Run mystery series featuring Randolph, “a Labrador retriever with a penchant for literature” (not to mention pigs in the blanket) and his owner Harry, (“dangerously abstract and artistic”) who needs a little secret guidance from Randolph to help solve mysteries.
In A Dog At Sea, the two board the Nordic Bliss for a dog-lover’s cruise (giving new meaning to the term Poop Deck) to Curacao, sponsored by a pharmaceutical company marketing the dog drug SedaDog. Ostensibly this is just a pleasure cruise, but in fact, Randolph and Harry are heading for Curacao in search of Imogen, Randolph’s original owner and Harry’s lady love, who disappeared a year and a half before.
Coincidentally on the cruise are most of the characters from the previous books in the series, including Jackson Temple, Harry’s friend and benefactor, Ivan Manners, a self-styled ghost-hunter, Zest Kilpatrick, a nightly news reporter who has eyes for Harry, and Blinko Patterson, the executor of Imogen’s grandfather’s estate. Blinko warns Harry and Randolph that nefarious agents may be on board seeking clues to Imogen’s whereabouts.
In the midst of all this, on the very first night, Kitty, the wife of “The Dog Mutterer” was seen jumping overboard: an apparent suicide. Randolph suspects murder most foul, and has to come up with a way to communicate this with Harry.
Meanwhile, Harry resists efforts to help Randolph become thin by taking SedaDog, so the ship dog trainer, Jock Johnson, hangs a sign on Randolph: Please Do Not Feed Me. The sign sounds an alarm if Randolph gets too close too food, providing one more obstacle he must overcome in his quest to solve the crime.
In fact, The Dog Mutterer himself is an obstacle; he seems to have a hypnotic effect on Randolph, and Randolph discovers to his amazement that The Dog Mutterer can understand his thoughts when he barks.
Throughout most of all this, Harry is blissfully unaware of what is transpiring, occasionally swigging down mojitos and occasionally offering them back up in moments of the ship’s turbulence.
By the end the reader learns whether Randolph can stay on a diet; if he can help Harry solve the crime; if the two of them find Imogen, or if the bad guys will find them first.
Evaluation: This book is a diverting and sometimes laugh-out-loud way to pass the time. Some ends inexplicably remain loose, such as: how is it “The Dog Mutterer” can both affect and understand Randolph and other dogs? Nevertheless, much of the book is fun and clever, and Randolph is very endearing.
Published by Dell, 2009
Note: I sent Randolph an email, asking him about the loose ends. His owner, J.F. Englert, apparently having hacked Randolph’s email account, read my missive and sent a reply. [Reminder to self: send Randolph information about password security.] He addressed some specific questions I had and then observed:
“The universe of these books is a playful one and a magical-satirical one (if that is a word). I sometimes think that our pre-occupation with verisimilitude in fiction is genuinely odd since, after all, the very act of reading is so clearly artificial. Certainly any plot, even the most supposedly realistic one, is full of mind-numbing coincidences and trumped up drama (so unlike real life). So much must be left out and so much distorted –in fact, almost without fail those books that are heralded as being most realistic so often strike me as being the farthest thing from reality (I prefer a Dante-reading Labrador any day). While my publisher has framed the books as mysteries first, everything else second, they were never really intended this way since Randolph, as you point out, is the core. That is to say, there is more Evelyn Waugh than Conan Doyle in these books, especially the latest one and Randolph, being Randolph, is not one to do a “Murder She Wrote” summation of every loose end at the book’s conclusion (he’s far too disorganized for this and besides there’s his stomach to think about). I think Randolph might occasionally fancy himself Hercule Poirot, but really the only thing they share is the waddle. Unfortunately, genre can be a strait-jacket and shape our reading experience. This brings me to end on the sensibility question since it is the sensibility that determines how these books are read. The people who will be most disappointed by these books are people who opened them hungering for a police procedural or something like one; the people who will be most delighted by them will be those who accepted it [as with Cervantes] when characters in later Quixote adventures had somehow read the earlier adventures (though this defied the laws of physics and common sense).”