Saturday, September 24, 2011

Celebrating Mysteries: Working for the Man

I hope you've been enjoying this month's celebration of Responsible Dog Ownership Month as much as I have. It's encouraged me to read some of the books I've been talking about, and you'll see reviews in the weeks to come.

This week, Celebrating Mysteries continues by taking a look at four authors who write mystery series featuring dogs that work side-by-side with their owners... or in one case, is actually the breadwinner of the family. Let's get started!

Carol Lea Benjamin and Sky
Carol Lea Benjamin says that when she was a little girl her mother wanted her to be an actress because she had curly hair like Shirley Temple. But as far back as she can remember, Carol wanted to be a writer and a dog trainer.

Her mystery series features New York City private investigator and dog trainer Rachel Alexander and her pit bull, Dash (short for Dashiell... as in Hammett). This series is definitely a good'un, and Benjamin's portrayal of Dash is very true to life. There are nine books in the series, and the first three are: This Dog for Hire (1996), The Dog Who Knew Too Much (1997), and A Hell of a Dog (1998).

The School Library Journal had this to say about This Dog For Hire:

A young New York artist is killed by a hit-and-run driver on an isolated pier late at night. A friend contacts Alexander and Dash, a private-eye firm run by Rachel Alexander, ably assisted by her pit bull, Dashiell. In addition to tracking down the killer, they must locate the victim's missing basenji, a competitor scheduled to enter the upcoming Westminster Dog Show. After they find the animal, his trainer is also killed. Rachel interviews the artist's friends, lovers, and colleagues. The trail winds through the Greenwich Village gay community, Soho art circles, and the dog show world. The story climaxes in an exciting confrontation with the killer. The book has a strong female character and lots of action. The dogs are realistically portrayed with no animal conversations or intuitions marring the plot. Snappy dialogue and a fast-paced story will hold readers' attention.

Dallas Murphy
Dallas Murphy is passionate about the ocean and has participated in five oceanographic cruises aboard Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ships. He's also a playwright and has written eight books.

Three of those eight books are mysteries featuring New York City jazz aficionado Artie Deemer, who's supported by his dog Jellyroll, a movie and dogfood commercial star. The three books are: Lover Man (1987), Lush Life (1992), and Don't Explain (1996).

Publishers Weekly liked Lover Man

Clever, intriguing, shocking, touching and funny, this first novel from playwright Murphy inaugurates what should be an outstanding series. Murphy introduces Artie Deemer, a man whose only discernible hobby is an all-consuming passion for jazz, and whose income is supplied by his dog, Jellyroll, a canine famous across America as the "spokesdog" for a national brand of dogfood. Everything in Artie's life is great until two cops show up at his door and tell him his ex-girlfriend, Billie Burke, has been found murdered in her Manhattan apartment. When someone who turns out to be Billie's lesbian ex-lover shows up at Artie's door with a cryptic note in Billie's handwriting, Artie finds himself embroiled in a bewildering mystery that will keep readers turning pages at a breakneck pace. Murphy writes with clarity and power; the prison and morgue scenes are shockingly good. His characters are fascinating and unique. No mystery buff should miss Deemer's friend Calabash, his unusual lawyer, nor any of the 20 or 30 characters who make this one of the year's best. 

Kaye C. Hill
Kaye C. Hill  may have begun as a trainee reporter, but after spending twenty years working on the railways (outside, up and down the tracks), she joined a creative writing evening class in order to find a legal outlet for her urges to kill.

The result is a mystery series featuring accidental private detective Lexy Lomax and her Chihuahua attack dog, Kinky, who call the Suffolk Coast of England home. There are two books in the series so far, Dead Woman's Shoes (2008) and The Fall Girl (2009).

Publishers Weekly gave Dead Woman's Shoes two thumbs up:

Set on the Suffolk coast, Hill's droll debut introduces accidental sleuth Alexandra Lexy Lomax. After discovering that her flaky husband, Gerard Warwick-Holmes, the star of TV's Heirlooms in Your Attic, is a crook, Lexy flees London—along with her pet Chihuahua and half a million quid of Gerard's stolen loot—and takes refuge at Otter's End, a log cabin in Clopwolde-on-Sea. Lexy soon realizes that Mrs. Glenda Doyle, the cabin's deceased previous occupant, had been a PI with an ad for discreet services still running in the local paper. How hard can it be, wonders Lexy, who's in need of ready cash (she doesn't dare touch the stolen money for the moment), to trail a possibly philandering wife or locate a missing cat? It turns out to be very hard, indeed, after the wife is murdered and the cat proves more valuable than the average feline. Crisp prose and a plot laced with animal tomfoolery will keep readers amused and eager for a sequel.

Nancy Bush
Bestselling author Nancy Bush has written several series, including one with her sister, Lisa Jackson, who's also a bestselling author. The series I want to focus on stars Jane Kelly, a reluctant private investigator and her pug, The Binkster. This duo does its sleuthing in Lake Chinook, Oregon.

There are three books in the series so far: Candy Apple Red (2005) -- waiting patiently on my to-be-read shelves, Electric Blue (2006), and Ultra Violet (2007).

Publishers Weekly says this about Candy Apple Red:

Funny sex scenes, good drinks and a likable dog lift Bush's first Jane Kelly mystery. Tired of her job as a process server, 30-year-old Jane, who followed boyfriend Tim Murphy from Los Angeles to rural Lake Chinook, Ore., only to be dumped by him, agrees to work for Dwayne Durbin, a successful "information specialist" (or private investigator), who's "cute in that kind of slow-talkin' cowboy way." Jane's first case happens to concern Tim's best friend from high school, Bobby Reynolds, who killed his whole family and disappeared four years earlier, though Tim always believed Bobby was innocent. Bobby's mother, Tess, hires Jane to see if her ex-husband, Cotton, and his trophy wife have seen Bobby. Complications arise when Tim returns for a benefit at Cotton's island compound to which Jane is also invited—and Bobby's body surfaces in the lake. Romance readers will especially enjoy the heartsick heroine's search for true love.

I hope this week's featured authors tempted you into adding a few of their books to your wishlists. I know they did mine!

Next week Celebrating Mysteries With a Bite concludes with some really, really big dogs. Woof!


  1. I have 'Dead Woman's Shoes', but I haven't read it yet.

  2. Pepper-- I've read good things about it, and I've got it on my wishlist.

  3. If I ever have another dog, I'm going to name it Jellyroll! Will check the library for some of these authors.

  4. Jenclair-- That is a good name for a dog, isn't it? Happy hunting in the library!


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