Lewitas’ smooth, smart and enjoyable read leads off with a couple of well-developed animal characters who stay just this side of “too cute”: Spunky, a stubborn and intelligent terrier who lives up to her name, and Fearless, a former alley cat who’s been scarred by his tough upbringing. It’s really Spunky and her nose that do most of the detective work when Hannah, Spunky’s human psychologist “mom,” struggles to absolve a client of murder accusations. Having a tough little terrier as a narrator doesn’t keep Lewitas from addressing tough issues. She touches on prostitution, childhood sex abuse and bigoted cops—all within the first 100 pages and all without losing Spunky’s precocious, subtly noir-flavored tone. She’s intelligent enough to see the hard world for what it is but not so human that she gets bogged down in it. The only place Lewitas misses the mark is with Hannah’s portrayal as a psychologist; making house calls and organizing her patients to help hunt for a murderer would be far beyond the ethical norms in real life, even if it helps move the story forward. The animals talk among themselves but communicate with humans mainly through body language and, in Spunky’s case, a few strategically placed barks. “We terriers are a proud breed. We are also relentless when it comes to tracking vermin, and I was tracking a rat,” she notes as she nudges human Hannah toward clues. There are several verb tense issues—e.g., “did it happened”—but they don’t distract from the smooth, polished and, well, spunky narrative.
Smart animals taking on surprisingly tough issues—a charming, entertaining mix.