Review: Putting on the Dog by Cynthia Baxter

Putting on the Dog
I am a longtime lover of the cozy mystery. I cut my teeth on Aggies (Agatha Christie and Agatha Rasin) and still want to move to Locdubh and solve mysteries with Hamish. Or maybe go burgling with Bernie. I had been looking for new reading material and vaguely remembered Wendy recommending a book about a woman with a weird cat solving murders. I spotted Cynthia Baxter’s books and thought they sounded about right, so I picked up Putting on the Dog. Unfortunately, I picked up the wrong book — the one I vaguely remembered was actually Killer Cruise by Laura Levine. While I could have been pleasantly surprised and found a new series to lovingly follow anyway, that was unfortunately not the case.

Ms. Baxter is actually quite the competent, if not excellent, author. I enjoyed her writing style quite a bit, and I liked her use of the first person POV (I may be in the minority on that one). The first chapter or two I was hooked, lapping up every sentence like a cat laps up cream. The only problem I really had with the writing was the constant reference to Max’s and Lou’s (the dogs) breeds — after the first couple of mentions, it became redundant. The main character is witty, her insights are funny, I could sink right into the narrative. Then, all of a sudden, I just couldn’t keep reading. It’s not a wallbanger like Dark Lover was, there was no sense of disgust when I set the book aside. In fact, I think I’ll pick up a different book in the series at some point to try reading this again.

What got to me was an accumulation of small, seemingly insignificant details that built up to the point where I didn’t really care whodunit anymore (which is weird for me — I can’t stand not knowing what happens). First there’s Chess, who is a cardboard cutout of a flaming homosexual. I know there’s people out there like that — I’ve met a few, for that matter — but his character just seemed like a stereotype for stereotyping’s sake. And after a few interactions between the heroine, Jessica Popper, and Chess, Jessica started seeming like a bit of a prude. She’s made extremely uncomfortably by his nipple ring. Granted, I wouldn’t want to stare at someone’s, but the squick factor isn’t as large as Jessica makes it out to be. Then there’s the boyfriend, Nick. When he first enters the story, the way he’s described makes me think he’s a total loser. It was hard to see what Jessica saw in him, especially when the alternative, Shawn Elliot, is described so much and so attractively. Granted, I know the tropes and it’s likely (although I’ll never find out) that Shawn turned out to be the murderer or some such, but he still seemed so much nicer and more hero-like than Nick. One of the big things that made me stop reading was Jessica’s interactions with Nick — I got to the point where reading about her making the obviously wrong choice for the umpteenth time would make me pull out my hair. She consistently neglects Nick, saying she really loves him and such but deliberately choosing to spend time with Shawn or go on “dates” with busboys to try to find out more about the murder. She knows her relationship is on the rocks but she still acts in ways that she even acknowledges will drive the wedge in further. And, to top it all off, she has sparkling Mary Sue level interpersonal skills, instantly befriending and then immediately taking advantage of nearly everyone she meets. I wanted to reach through the pages and strangle her — or maybe smack some sense into the poor schmuck she was manipulating. But those were all taste issues, and what didn’t work for me could be someone else’s mana from heaven.

Also, could we stop with the idiot arrogant cops stereotype? I know that there has to be some compelling reason for the protagonist to be trying to solve the mystery on their own, but I am so sick of seeing law enforcement portrayed this way. Yes, some cops care more about closing the case than what actually happened. And some are stupid, certainly. But there are intelligence and aptitude requirements to become a police officer, and it is extremely challenging and very coveted to become a detective. It would be nice to see that reflected more often in fiction.

Overall, this book had a lot of potential and got off to a great start, but turned into a DNF less than halfway through. It’s mostly a matter of taste, so I will be looking for other books and other primary protagonists from this author, and don’t let this review deter you from checking it out for yourself. Final Grade: Did Not Finish.

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 7:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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