Monday, November 16, 2020

Bark vs. Snark (Queenie & Arthur #3), by Spencer Quinn (author), Rachel Jacobs (narrator), Jay Aaseng (narrator)

Scholastic Audio, October 2020

Queenie the cat and Arthur the dog, of Blackberry Hill Inn, are about to have their lives and naptime disrupted by a new adventure. The county fair is going to include two contests aimed at the four-footed residents--a beauty contest for the cats, and a frisbee toss for the dogs. The winner of each will receive a year's supply of food, and also a brand-new mountain bike for their favorite human. The twins, Harmony and Bro, are all in for this. Queenie knows she's the most beautiful cat, and if Arthur is not quite so enthusiastic about the frisbee toss, it's for Bro, and he loves Bro.

If there's something odd about the newest guest at the inn, Mr. Ware, well, only Queenie and Arthur have noticed that the old man the humans see is sometimes a much younger man, and even if they could tell the humans, it doesn't seem that important.

Arthur's victory in the frisbee toss thrills everyone except Queenie, and then on the to cat beauty contest--where among the other, unimportant competitors, is another white cat, nearly identical to Queenie, except that Princess lacks the beautiful golden tuft that Queenie has at the end of her tail. Queenie wins, with Princess placing second, and Cuthbert the Clown carries them both off to be photographed, while Harmony, Bro, and Princess's owner, the elderly Edna, are escorted to the food concessions for some snacks. Then the cats are returned, and everyone is happy...

Except the twins and their mother soon notice that Queenie seems both sluggish, and unusually calm and friendly. She's not moving much, but she's purring rather a lot. Only Arthur is aware that she also doesn't smell right; this isn't Queenie.

Meanwhile, Queenie wakes up to find herself in an unfamiliar laundry room, where Edna has placed her because Princess likes to curl up on dirty laundry when she's feeling stressed or tired. Queenie does not like dirty laundry; she's disgusted. Edna also quickly discovers that "Princess" is rather more cantankerous than she normally is.

And as the reader or listener will have noticed by now, both Queenie and Princess have had their tails painted. There's a reason this makes no sense at all, but no one in the book ever notices. It's no advantage at all to the villain of the piece; indeed, it makes things a little harder for him.

Because yes, there is a villain, who plans to sell Queenie to a  nefarious fate. There's a problem with this too, but details would be a spoiler.

There's a new sheriff in town, the last two having been bounced rather hard due to corruption and incompetence. Sadly, there's a problem here, too. I think Blackberry Hill Inn is in Vermont, but it's definitely in northern New England. Every New England state except, apparently, Rhode Island, elects its sheriffs, so the twins' mom couldn't possibly have not heard about the man's election, and he couldn't be brand-new to the county.

But regardless, the new sheriff is a likable, competent, and honest guy. He does his job--and he recruits Arthur, for a little nose work, having just discovered that the county doesn't have a canine team...

Arthur, while remaining goofy Arthur, is motivated by his love of his people and, if not love of Queenie, at least the sense that she belongs with their household, and gets a real chance to shine. Queenie, also, while remaining self-absorbed and lazy, also rises to the occasion in her own way--and has to admit to missing even Arthur.

It's a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the characters and their adventure, but the attentive reader will have noticed that I was a bit irritated by lazy mistakes that don't do credit to the work Spencer Quinn is capable of. The cats getting switched adds to the excitement, but from the villain's point of view it's a positive disadvantage, an unnecessary complication. It's an idiot-plot level mistake. It's trivial to check whether sheriffs are elected or appointed in the state you're setting your story in--and in 42 states, sheriffs are elected. Just playing the odds, he'd have gotten it right.

Harmony would have recognized that Princess wasn't Queenie, as soon as she got a good, full look at her. Edna would have recognized that Queenie wasn't Princess, likewise. Two nearly-identical cats don't become indistinguishable to their most devoted people, even if you paint over the distinguishing markings. Also, on two separate occasions, the villain calms and even hypnotizes Queenie by meowing at her. Seriously? I've lived with cats for most of six decades, and that trick never works. And if it could--this villain knows nothing about cats, doesn't like them, hasn't made any special study of them even for his nefarious scheme, which involves selling Queenie on to the bigger villain. This nonsense kicked me right out of the story.

I am forced to conclude that Spencer Quinn, as wonderful as he is in writing dogs, really does not know anything about cats, and doesn't like them, either.


Still worth reading or listening to, if you've liked the previous Queenie & Arthur stories.

I bought this audiobook.

No comments:

Post a Comment