Curl Up with a Dog Lover’s Mystery
By Christie Keith

I was in the Georgia swamps, tracking a missing child through the snake-infested Okefenokee. Sweat poured down my back under my protective gear. Bugs bit at my exposed flesh. My bloodhound’s leash was gripped fiercely in my hand, as we crawled and crouched and slithered through the brush. Was my dog on the track? Would we be in time? Would he start baying in joy as we approached a lost and confused child, or would it be too late?

“Would you like anything else?” I looked up from my book, dazed. I wasn’t in Georgia at all. I was sitting in a restaurant, lost in one of Virginia Lanier’s bloodhound mysteries.

To the surprise of many, dog mysteries are extremely popular within the mystery field, and even among those who don’t read any other type of mystery book. In addition to Lanier’s bloodhounds, Susan Conant’s Alaskan Malamutes Kimi and Rowdy have solved many a crime with their partner, dog writer Holly Winter. Carol Lea Benjamin is best known for her series of books on dog training, but is the author also of a series of mysteries featuring slick private investigator Rachel Alexander and her pit bull, Dash. A cheerful Standard Poodle named Faith accompanies Melanie Travis while she investigates murders in her quiet suburban neighborhood in Laurien Berenson’s mystery series.

Bloodhound handler Jo Beth Sidden made her debut in the award-winning Death in Bloodhound Red. Sidden is being stalked by her ex-husband, recently released from prison for nearly beating her to death. All that stands between her and his lead-filled baseball bat is a flimsy restraining order and the high-security compound she built around her home and kennel. Sidden, though, is very far from a helpless victim. She carries a gun, has contracts with local counties to assist in search and rescue work with her bloodhounds, and worked as a waitress and a secretary to save the money she needed to start her business. She also has a bad habit of mouthing off to people in authority, and creates odd alliances that save her from trouble almost as often as she gets into it.

Sidden’s adventures take her into the swamps to save a child from a molester, into the backwoods, one step ahead of the DEA, to find and destroy the pot planted on a friend’s land without his knowledge, and after armed killers escaping from prison. Sidden’s soul mate is a bloodhound named Bobby Lee. Blind since birth, he is nonetheless the finest tracking dog she has ever seen. With her employees Wayne, a deaf dog trainer, Jasmine, an ex-hooker, Rose, Wayne’s mother and the wife of the fire chief, and a cast of good old boys, lifelong friends, and warped family members, Lanier’s books rise above genre.

Sadly, Virginia Lanier passed away in 2003 at the age of 72, so the sixth book in the series, A Bloodhound to Die For, will be the last. Fortunately, many of the loose ends (both professional and personal) in Jo Beth’s life are tied up in its pages.

Virginia Lanier’s Bloodhound Mysteries:

Carol Lea Benjamin is best known as a dog trainer and writer on dog behavior and training, but her Rachel Alexander and Dash mysteries have found her a whole new set of fans. Rachel is a private investigator in Manhattan, and Dash is her pit bull. In the series opener This Dog for Hire, they solve the case of the mysterious death of artist Clifford Cole, whose death has been written off as a gay-bashing by the cops. Magritte, Cole’s Basenji, is missing, and the reason for the murder and the disappearance of the dog involves dog shows, dog breeding, and the darker side of human nature. The second book, The Dog Who Knew Too Much, focuses on the seeming suicide of Rachel’s cousin Lisa, the practice of t’ai chi, and a black Akita. Rachel adopts the identity of her cousin to a frightening degree, as part of her investigation into what really caused Lisa’s death. Murder, of course… with Lisa’s black Akita as a witness. The most recent addition to the series, Fall Guy, is the most noire in the series, and takes Rachel into new emotional territory. However, my personal favorite in the series is her deadly accurate and hysterically funny portrayal of the dog training world’s best known figures in A Hell of a Dog.

Carol Lea Benjamin’s Rachel and Dash Mysteries:

Susan Conant’s Malamute mysteries almost single-handedly carved out the dog mystery genre, so her enormous popularity comes as no surprise. She’s also the most prolific of the dog mystery writers, with sixteen books so far in the series. Her character Holly Winter, introduced initially in A New Leash on Death, is an amateur sleuth, and it’s necessary to suspend a certain amount of disbelief as this dog writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts manages to stumble on at least one murder in each book. Malamutes Rowdy, Kimi, and Holly investigate crimes in every setting from a nursing home to a research laboratory to a puppy mill to a dog camp. Like her dogs, Winter is indomitable, relying mostly on luck and sheer nosiness to solve her crimes. Conant sprinkles her books with tips and trivia about the dog world, training suggestions, commentary on responsible dog ownership, and the very spicey relationship between Holly and her veterinarian. The best book in the series for me was her homage to Sherlock Holmes, The Barker Street Regulars. And for the cat lovers out there, Conant is releasing the first book in a new series of cat lovers’ mysteries in June of 2005 with Scratch the Surface.

Susan Conant’s Rowdy and Kimi Mysteries:

Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis isn’t a dog person when her poodle mystery series begins with A Pedigree to Die For. She’s a single mom and a schoolteacher, struggling to make ends meet after her husband walks out on her. She starts out snooping around the circumstances surrounding the death of her uncle, and before long her eccentric Aunt Polly has turned her into a poodle person and amateur detective. Berenson does what few authors ever manage to do: portray the reality of having to find a baby-sitter before jumping in the (on its last legs) car to follow up on a lead. Travis, also unlike her sisters in the dog mystery genre, doesn’t want to be a sleuth. Her aunt, who merrily takes over Travis’ life, supplying her with dog, hobby, and handsome poodle-breeding love interest, forces her into it.

Laurien Berenson’s Poodle Mysteries

Whatever the time of year, it’s always the right time to curl up with a dog lover’s mystery!

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