Alison Pace has her eye on the wants of the book-buying public. A Pug’s Tale combines the art museum/art theft atmosphere of Da Vinci Code, the insecure girl of Bridget Jones, and the dog story of Marley and Me. It’s as fun as a walk with your dog through Central Park, but also about as much exercise. Pace’s heroine, Hope, is dog-sitting for her boyfriend, the lawyer, Ben, who’s off doing good in the African country of Kinshasa. Her companion is the adorable pug, Max, who speaks to her in dreams and has a nose for art fakes. The theme of the whole tale, besides creating fun for the reader while tying into all of these publishing trends, could be reality. How does a person tell the difference between a real and a fake work of art? Friend? Love? Hope is a well-meaning sleuth, but not all that bright. When a fake Fantin-Latour painting shows up in the Met, she conspires with her co-workers to hide the theft from the police and work on solving the mystery themselves. It’s one of several thin spots in the story, covered over with a riff from Woody Woodpecker asking if only Woody had called the police. Hope makes a bad ethical call for not completely believable reasons (particularly for someone who has worked in art restoration in the Met for years), and ends up morally compromised in the end. That moral compromise, however, leaves the door open for another book in this new mystery series.
Along the way, Pace makes some enjoyable observations about human nature. When you walk a dog, people smile at you, even in New York. When Hope is talking to her friend?, the septuaginarian heiress, Daphne, she says, “I told her everything, or at least a great deal of it. I think when you are defining ‘everything’ in the context of things told to other people, it’s never exactly that. I think the closest you can get to everything is that; close to it.”
The book was fun, I fell in love with pugs, and enjoyed imagining myself running around the Met. I might even look for Pug Hill, Pace’s previous book starring Max and Hope. However, one of the tests of a good story is losing yourself in it. When the reader begins to notice the mechanics, the writer has failed, at least for the moment. Pace tells the story in first person, which is tough to do and may be the cause of some of the breaks in the facade. Some of the breaks, unfortunately, are just holes in the story.
If you want to read the first chapter, visit Alison Pace’s site: http://www.alisonpace.com/a-pugs-tale/