The Great Mutts of Detective Fiction
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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. In fact, the French title of The Last Good Kiss is “Le chien ivre” (The Drunk Dog).
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
AND LEST WE FORGET…
- 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
I better not forget Vachss. Dogs often pop up in his work, quite often a big, scarred, belligerent beasts with a taste for human flesh, and I wouldn’t want Andrew mad at me.
- 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.
- The Truth About Cats and Dogs
- “Oh mama, I got dem cosmic anthropomorphic P.I. blues again…”
Going to the dogs, the cats and worse.