Going to the Dogs

The Great Mutts of Detective Fiction

Asta, from an MGM publicity still.

Fortunately, the genre has, for the most part, escaped the infiltration of felines that has infected other mystery genres. Canine appearances have 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, with a little help from Spenser, the (Other) Official Dog of the Thrilling Detective Web Site:

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles
    Created by: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    First appearance: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)
    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 the alleged 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, to no avail. Marlowe’s favourite.
  • Rex the Wonder Dog
    Created by: Robert Kanigher and Alex Toth
    First appearance: 1942
    Rex isn’t your average mutt — in the DC comics universe he’s gone from being just a very smart bowser to a canine superhero, but he proved popular enough to have his own comic book that, amazingly, 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 200 pound Great Dane called Khan whose mission in life seems to be to lie sprawled across floors or the backseats of Packards, when he isn’t chomping on some thug’s gun hand.
  • Scooby-Doo
    Created by: Joe Ruby and Ken Spears
    First appearance: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (September 13, 1969, CBS)
    Ruh-ro! How’d this giant talking dog from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon for kids get in here?
  • 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 hard-boiled, hard-drinkin’ bulldog who private eye C.W. Sugrhue runs into. The French title of The Last Good Kiss is “Le chien ivre” (The Drunk Dog).
  • Isadore Goldberg
    Created by Leo Rosten
    First appearance:
    Silky! (1979)
    Private eye “Silky” Pincus’ large mutt with the unlikely monicker of Isadore Goldberg was previously owned by a rabbi, only obeys Yiddish commands and will only eat Kosher dog food.
  • Marlowe
    Created by Philip DeGuere
    First appearance: the Simon & Simon episode “Details At Eleven” (November 24, 1981)
    A large, unruly mutt (actually an Anatolian Shepherd) named after you-know-who. He belongs to Rick Simon, one half of the Simon and Simon private eye team. Marlowe even goes “undercover” at a dog show in the 1985 episode “Marlowe, Come Home.”
  • Pansy
    Created by Andrew Vaachs
    First appearance: Flood (1985)
    Private eye Burke
    ‘s monster of a dog is “about a 140 pounds of vicious muscle and as dumb as a brick.” A pooch not to cross.(though the dog training tips got to be a snore).
  • Pearl the Wonder Dog
    Created by: Robert B. Parker
    First Appearance: Pastime (1991)
    Is this the most hated, non-feline 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, especially after Marlowe made the scene. Although as far as I know, nobody has created a “I Love Pearl the Wonder Dog” web site. Yet.
  • Dash
    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 through 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.
  • Tara
    Created by: David Rosenfelt
    First appearance: Open and Shut (2002)
    Tara, a Golden Retriever, is the co-star and frequent cover subject of the Andy Carpenter series, which revolves around Tara and his owner, a rich-as-hell, dog-obsessed criminal layer/sleuth, who only takes on cases that interest him.
  • George
    Created by: Jonathan Ames
    First Appearance: A Man Named Doll (2021)
    Possibly the most lovable pooch in detective fiction since Asta, George is 22 pounds of feisty little mutt, “half Chihuahua, half terrier of some kind and quite springy,” and it’s painfully, almost embarassingly clear that LA private eye Happy Doll just loves the hell out of the little bugger. At one point he admits “we’re like two confirmed bachelors who cohabitate and don’t think the rest of the world knows we’re lovers.” Disturbing? Maybe, but it’s a dog thing…


  • The Case of the Howling Dog (1934)
    Featuring Perry Mason
    By Erle Stanley Gardner
    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), though…
  • The Fourth Postman (1948)
    Featuring John J. Malone
    By Craig Rice
    A suds-slurping stray, supposedly an Australian Berr Hound, who’s the perfect companion for perennially soused John J. Malone.
  • Andrew Vachss’s Other Dogs
    I better not forget Vachss’ other dogs, besides Burke’s Pansy. Assorted mutts often pop up in his work, usually big, scarred, belligerent beasts with a taste for human flesh. I wouldn’t want Andrew mad at me.
  • Eva Wylie’s “Co-workers”
    Liza Cody’s a part-time professional wrestler and and a part-time security guard at a junkyard, but the psychotic mutts she works with there are much more fun than Vachhs’ monsters.
  • Rider Woofson & The P.I. Pack by Felix Gumpaw
    This series of illustrated storybooks features canine gumshoe Rider Woofson and a slew of cute anthropomorphic mystery-munching mongrels taking care of business at Pawston Elementary. You don’t know, but the little kids, they understand.


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

EDITOR’S NOTE: Marlowe is–as far as we can tell (he’s a rescue)–a chihuaua/pitbull/terrier mix, with possible traces of rabbit or kangaroo, and like Chance in Being There, he likes to watch. Spenser, his kid brother, also a rescue, is part King Charles Retriever and possibly part psychopath. He likes whatever Marlowe likes–especially if it annoys Marlowe.

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