The Dog Park Club
Review: One flamboyant opera singer, one emotionally unstable prima donna, a collection of dysfunctional dog owners, a pinch of drugs and alcohol, one gypsy from the grave, and oh yes – a touch of murder. These ingredients, when put together form the foundation for Cynthia Robinson's debut novel The Dog Park Club. This is the first title in the Max Bravo mystery series.
Max Bravo comes home from an opera tour only to find his best friend, Claudia, distraught over a broken marriage. In an effort to bring some "normalcy" back to Claudia's life, Max takes her dog for a walk to the local dog park and opens up an entirely new life for them in Berkeley. The dog park is filled with odd characters who unexpectedly come together to form a friendship that becomes an obsession when they must deal with the loss of one of their own. Amy Carter, the only seemingly normal person in the dog park, mysteriously disappears, and The Dog Park Club has taken it upon themselves to solve the mystery. They are a group of mishaps who have no clue how to go about conducting an investigation which leads to a comedic mess of stakeouts, breaking and entering, and disaster.
Cynthia Robinson has created one of the most enjoyable characters today in Max Bravo. The story is told through his eyes, which makes it especially humorous. When Max first has to go Berkeley to be by Claudia's side, he stresses his dislike for Berkeley people, "I'm uncomfortable amongst people who decided, sometime in the 1960s, to reenact the living conditions of the Middle Ages." But, because he is a loyal friend, he "got off at the North Berkeley station, a stop I'd generally avoid as surely as I would a visit to a Turkish prison, or a Lladro outlet." The entire book is filled with humorous quips – views of the world from Max's perspective. He struts around his house in a kimono, has an affair with Wolfie, a man from Berlin, but at the same time is overwhelmingly possessive of Claudia, and he is visited quite regularly by his gypsy grandmother who died years earlier. Max's character simply makes the reader want to turn page after page – merely to read what snide thought Max has had now. Where Cynthia Robinson has struck gold with character development, she has come up empty with plot. The premise of the book is fine, but she spends the entire first half of the book merely getting to know the characters. Amy doesn't disappear until the second half of the book. Unfortunately, in spite of the time spent getting to know Max and Claudia, Amy's character isn't developed enough so that the reader really even cares that she's missing. The exploits of The Dog Park Club are entertaining, but somewhat unreasonable. They place blame on Amy's husband and torment the man, but the reasoning for their accusation gets lost in the shuffle. As they uncover secrets about Amy's past, they never seem to waiver in their thinking, but why not? Plus in the end, a body is never found and the mystery is never solved. Amy may not even be missing! There are hints to what might have happened, but more closure would have helped. Furthermore, Robinson's writing style is interesting. The sarcastic tone and wry jokes are great, but then she has a need to put in an uncharacteristically difficult word to throw the flow for the reader. "Her tidy rosebushes espaliered around an oval of shiny green grass." It's Max's thoughts, so it should sound like Max. It's almost like Max thinks for awhile and then picks up a thesaurus before planning his next thought. In the end, Max Bravo is an enjoyable enough character that Cynthia Robinson can further develop in future novels. But, character is not enough to sell a series. Hopefully there will be more depth to the story lines in the future.
Special thanks to guest reviewer Margo Nauert for contributing her review of The Dog Park Club.
Acknowledgment: Minotaur Books provided a copy of The Dog Park Club for this review.
Review Copyright © 2010 — Margo Nauert — All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission
Location(s) referenced in The Dog Park Club: Berkeley, California
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The Dog Park Club by Cynthia Robinson — A Max Bravo Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: June 2010
List Price: $24.99
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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