Going to the Dogs

The Great Mutts of Detective Fiction

Fortunately, the genre has, for the most part, escaped the infiltration of felines that has afflicted other mystery genres. And canine appearances have likewise been relatively scarce (so far), save for a few notable exceptions.

Here, then, are some of the more significant or otherwise interesting canines of P.I. fiction, as personally chosen by Marlowe, the Official Dog of the Thrilling Detective Web Site:

Hands down, the most famous mutt in all of crime fiction. He appears in Doyle's classic tale about a coke fiend/consulting detective obsessed with hound from hell...

  • Asta
    Created by: Dashiell Hammett
    First appearance: The Thin Man (1934)

Although he underwent a breed (and sex) change on the journey from print to film (from female Schnauzer to male Wire-Haired Fox Terrier), the pampered pooch of Nick and Nora Charles definitely left his mark, not so much in the novel, but definitely in the six Thin Man movies from the 30's and 40's. How popular was Asta? My mom, who grew up with the Thin Man movies, had a much-beloved stuffed version of him, and even now, he has a fan site called I Love Asta.

  • Carstairs
    Created by: Norbert Davis
    First appearance: The Mouse in the Mountain (1940)

Private eye Doan wins Carstairs, a Great Dane, in a poker game and spends several short stories and novels trying to get rid of him.

Rex isn't your average mutt -- in the DC comics universe he's gone from just a very smart bowser to a canine superhero, but he proved popular enough to have his own comic book that ran for seventeen years, and still occasionally pops up.

  • Khan
    Created by: James M. Fox
    First appearance: The Lady Regrets (1947)

Johnny and Suzy Marshall were a pair of California Nick'n'Nora wanna-bes who appeared in several novels by James M. Fox in the forties and fifties (and one in the eighties!), and had a sometimes-ferocious, sometimes-playful Great Dane called Khan who figures rather prominently in a few cases.

  • Groucho
    Created by: Dick Lochte
    First appearance: Sleeping Dog (1985)

A pitbull called Groucho is the MacGuffin in this one. His master, 14-year old Serendipity, hires P.I. Leo Bloodworth to hunt him down for her.

  • Fireball Roberts
    Created by: James Crumley
    First appearance: The Last Good Kiss (1978)

Fireball Roberts is a hardboiled, hard-drinkin' bulldog, who C.W. Sugrhue runs into. In fact, the French title of The Last Good Kiss is "Le chien ivre" (The Drunk Dog).

Is this the most hated animal in detective fiction, or a clever bit of literary sleight of hand ? Even I, one of Parker's biggest defenders, took a while to warm up to this annoying lapdog and couch potato pooch, a German shorthair pointer, although I did eventually come around. Although as far as I know, nobody has created a I Love Pearl the Wonder Dog web site. Yet.

  • Dashiell
    Created by: Carol Lea Benjamin
    First appearance: This Dog for Hire (1996)

Private eye Rachel Alexander comes to depend on her precious pitbull Dash (named after you-know-who) in this Shamus-winning series.

  • Rosie
    Created by: Robert B. Parker
    First appearance: Family Honor (1999)

Parker's female eye, Sunny Randall, owns this miniature English bull terrier, which she denies looks like a possum thrtough the entire series. Parker himself considers Rosie "a prominent character" in the books. Insert your own joke about going to the dogs here.

  • Chet
    Created by: Spencer Quinn
    First appearance: Dog on It (2009)

100 pounds of mutt, with one white ear and one black, this police school dropout proves again and again that he has the chops. His partner and master is Bernie Little, head of the Liyyle Detective Agency, in this amusing (and bestselling) series of cozies.

  • Kane
    Created by: James Rollins & Grant Blackwood
    First appearance: Bloodline (2012)

Real red, white and blue he-man stuff, as ex-Ranger Tucker Wayne and his war dog Kane, a German Shepherd, hop around the globe, at the bequest of various American agencies, trying to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

  • Baskerville
    Created by: S.J. Slagle
    First appearance: Sherlock and Me: The Case of the Starry Night (2015)

Rookie P.I. Lucy James' bestie may be her trusty toy poodle Baskerville, who has been known to get in harm's way -- but also rises to the occasion and saves the day often enough to earn his kibble, in the Sherlock & Me Mysteries.

AND LEST WE FORGET...

Perry's client wants to leave some money to a neighbour's wife in his will and, oh yes, file a complaint about her noisy dog. And then the client turns up dead.

  • The Hungry Dog (1941)
    Featuring Johnny Fletcher and Sam Cragg
    By Frank Gruber

Featuring more Saint Bernards than you can shake a stick at. 200 of them, in fact. Sam Cragg inherits them from his bookie/gambler uncle, and hilarity (and murder) ensue. Not sure why the book was called "The Hungry Dog" (singular).

A suds-slurping stray, supposedly an Australian Berr Hound, who's the perfect companion for perennially soused John J. Malone.


Oh, and Andrew Vachss often has a dog or two pop up in his short stories and novels and the like, quite often a big, scarred, belligerent beast often with a taste for human flesh.

RELATED LINKS

Pet-Owning Eyes

Going to the dogs, the cats and worse.

Report respectfully submitted by Marlowe, with additional info by Kevin Burton Smith.


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