Jeffrey Cohen: As Dog is My Witness

I wouldn’t have taken a second look at this book without the not so gentle urging of Julia Spencer-Fleming, a writer whose books I love, and who has proved to be a more than valuable addition to the mystery community as a whole, in many ways. One of the ways is the use of her now well known name to recommend books to the booksellers who have enjoyed reading (and selling) her books. Trusting her judgement, I cracked it open, and was rewarded by finding a delightful and unusual new voice who also has the welcome gift of a sense of humor. Cohen’s main character, Aaron Tucker, is a New Jersey freelance writer who is also a stay at home dad with two children – a daughter and a son with Asperger’s. Anyone with a child in any public school system will be at least marginally familiar with Asperger’s and its more difficult variation, autism. An Asperger’s child is bright and often very focused on one area of interest, while at the same time having an extreme amount of difficulty with normal social cues and interfaces. It’s milder than autism. If you have ever had a friend or a relative who cares for a “differently abled” child, you will know how much the attitude of the family affects the life of both the child and the family as a whole. The family in this book deals with their Asperger’s kid in pretty much a perfect way (as far as I can tell) while not being a”perfect” family, just a normal one with a messy house, a chaotic schedule, and a lively dinner table. The way Cohen writes about this family is the real heart of the book, and they are all distinctly interesting people.

The story begins with a shooting, and the person accused is an Asperger’s semi adult. When Aaron hears about the shooting from someone he respects and whom he can’t refuse, he agrees to go and talk to both the kid and his mother, because both of them are positive that this wasn’t the work of someone with Asperger’s. It’s dismaying, then, when Aaron discovers that the Asperger’s kid’s particular obsession is guns; not only that, but he seems to own the murder weapon, a particularly unusual older gun model. Aaron Tucker lives in much the same geographical area as Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar, and much like Harlan Coben, Cohen seems to have a sense of humor that won’t quit. He wraps his humor in a gentler narrative than Coben, but it’s still a worthy read. The plot is complicated and has some funny sidebars that seem like they might be scary but turn out fine; and when Aaron’s snarky brother in law and his family come for Hanukkah, the humor really dials up a notch. Our book club took some issue with how any parents could be as oblivious to the bad behavior of their child as Aaron’s brother in law and his wife, but a teacher in the group found it completely believable. The plot has a nice finish – and no, the dog of the title isn’t a detective, but he provides a valuable clue, picked up on by Aaron’s own son, who actually is helpful in the investigation. While you may feel you have learned something about Asperger’s when you read this novel, you won’t feel force fed, you’ll just remember a funny, compelling story with a very vivid family at it’s center. It’s well worth a look.