cover image The Dog of the North

The Dog of the North

Elizabeth McKenzie. Penguin Press, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-30069-5

A grieving woman navigates a series of misadventures in the endearing and quirky latest from McKenzie (The Portable Veblen). Five years earlier, Penny Rush’s mother and stepfather disappeared while traveling in the Australian outback. When Penny Rush learns her grandmother, known mainly as Dr. Pincer, has threatened her Meals on Wheels delivery person with a gun at her Santa Barbara house, Penny quits her dead-end job and takes the train from Santa Cruz to help keep Pincer safe from the prying eyes at Adult Protective Services. She’s also relieved to have something to get her mind off her missing mother. There, she befriends Pincer’s kooky accountant, Burt Lampey. As Penny arranges for a cleaning crew to fix up Pincer’s house, she gets a call from her grandfather Arlo’s much-younger wife, who complains Arlo is “too old to be of use.” Along the way, Penny gets help from Burt, who drives a van named the Dog of the North and has a Pomeranian called Kweecoats (“like Quick Oats, but with a French accent,” Burt explains). There’s also a trip to Australia, unexpected visits from Penny’s biological father, and the discovery of a skeleton. With the anxious and well-meaning Penny at the helm, McKenzie brings sincerity to the otherwise zany proceedings. This whirlwind tale has heart to spare. Agent: Emily Forland, Brandt & Hochman Literary. (Mar.)