Animal Mysteries

Volume 27, No. 3, Fall 2011

Animal Mysteries
Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.


  • Bringing Up Asta by Nicolas Pillai


  • Animal Magnetism by Esri Allbritten
  • The Animal Connection by Donna Ball
  • The Rewards of Dogged Determination by Cynthia Baxter
  • The Aristocats by Jennie Bentley
  • Not Another Cat Mystery! by Ali Brandon
  • Watching Eagles Soar by Margaret Coel
  • When Wild Pigs Fly by Bill Crider
  • Animals In and Out of Books by Deborah Crombie
  • The Mysterious Dog by Evelyn David
  • Midnight Louie, Feline P.I. Extraordinaire by Carole Nelson Douglas
  • But How Did the Dog Get Out? by Eileen Dreyer
  • Sniffing Out a Clue by Carola Dunn
  • Don’t Mention The Dog—Why I Am Not An Animal Mystery Writer by J.F. Englert
  • Swine, Rain or Shine by Barbara Gregorich
  • How I Became a Crazy Cat Lady by Rebecca M. Hale
  • Pets and Mysteries: An Amazing Alliance by Linda O. Johnston
  • Something Whiskered This Way Comes by Sofie Kelly
  • No Dogs Will Die by Vicki Lane
  • Zoo-dunnits: Where Cats Don’t Solve Murders, They Commit Them by Ann Littlewood
  • Humans and Other Animals by Linda Lombardi
  • Murder Tooth and Claw by Michael Allan Mallory
  • Gift of the Horse by John McEvoy
  • Lions and Tigers and Tarantulas, Oh, My! by John Miller
  • The Tell-Tale Cat by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
  • The Feline Art of Murder by Lynne Murray
  • Crossword: Mew Is for Murder by Verna Suit
  • An Abundance of Bears by Marilyn Meredith
  • Can a Dog Really Solve a Murder? by Neil Plakcy
  • Inside of a Dog… by Spencer Quinn
  • A Dog From Europe, A Cat From Beyond by Elena Santangelo
  • A Dog’s Eye View by Clea Simon
  • A World Full of Animals by Joanna Campbell Slan
  • Winged Obsession by Jessica Speart
  • Animals are Characters… Literally by Kari Lee Townsend
  • Koalas, Anteaters, and Llamas by Betty Webb
  • Channeling a Sleuthing Dog by Peggy Webb
  • Gone to the Dogs by Sue Owens Wright


  • Mystery in Retrospect: Reviews by Sandie Herron, Lesa Holstine, L.J. Roberts
  • In Short: Animal Misbehavior by Marvin Lachman
  • Crim-animals: Real Animals and Their Crimes by Cathy Pickens
  • Crime Seen: Close-Up on Animals by Kate Derie
  • Children’s Hour: Animal Mysteries by Gay Toltl Kinman
  • Animals and Crime Fiction: Some (Mainly) British Examples by Philip Scowcroft
  • From the Editor’s Desk by Janet A. Rudolph

Watching Eagles Soar
by Margaret Coel (Boulder, Colorado)

In the hot, windy summer of 1994, I was on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming chatting with an Arapaho friend while doing research for the mystery novel I hoped to write, The Eagle Catcher (Univ. Press of Colorado, 1995). My friend had opened up and started telling me things about her culture that no amount of book research—and I had done a lot of that—could provide. Suddenly she stopped talking, tilted her head back and looked up at the sky. I followed her gaze. Soaring over us was a magnificent bald eagle. “The eagle has come,” she said. “He’s upset I’m telling a white woman these things.” She spun around, got into her old brown sedan and drove off.

I could feel my hopes to write a series of mystery novels set among the Arapahos burrowing their way into a deep hole. In Arapaho culture, the eagle is a sacred creature that flies to the Creator Himself and conveys messages between the Creator and the human beings. It is the keeper—the spiritual protector—of the sky, the earth and all the birds and animals. I knew the moccasin telegraph would flash news of the soaring eagle across the reservation faster than lightning, and no other Arapaho would ever again tell me anything important.

The next day, my friend found me on the reservation. She had an armload of gifts. Beaded earrings and pendants and, best of all, an Arapaho-English dictionary. She had been so upset by the eagle soaring above us, she said, that she had gone to her grandfather and told him what happened. What her grandfather had told her was: “Remember, whenever the eagle comes, it is a blessing.” The soaring eagle meant that it was all right for her to tell “that white woman,” as he put it, about Arapaho culture and beliefs and history.

From that day, I have felt a thrill every time I’ve watched eagles soaring overhead. Often I see them high in the sky near my home in Boulder. I always see them when I go to the reservation. Because the eagle had come, it has been possible for me to write not only the Wind River series of mystery novels but many short stories set among the Arapahos. Just as I had known would happen, news of the eagle’s coming had spread across the reservation, along with what my friend’s grandfather had told her. The eagle made it okay for Arapahos to open up and talk to me.

Over the years they have told me many things I wouldn’t otherwise have known—inside stories about reservation politics or attitudes toward the FBI and the police or the tribe’s growing sense of confidence as more and more Arapahos become educated and play a role, as does my character, attorney Vicky Holden, in fighting for their rights. What I have learned from the Arapahos themselves has found its way into my plots, helped to form my characters and made the settings more real, packed as they are with memories. I couldn’t have written Killing Raven (Berkley Prime Crime, 2003) if I hadn’t heard about Double Dives, a scary place on the rez where drug deals come down. For a while Arapaho friends wouldn’t tell me which lonely dirt roads meandered out to Double Dives because they thought it too dangerous a place. But finally a friend relented, so I got to see for myself where a pivotal scene in the novel takes place. Standing in that lonely place out on the plains under a never-ending sky and soaking up the atmosphere after having heard tales of real crimes that had been committed there—well, it made all the difference in creating my own crime scene.

When Jim Seels at ASAP Publishing asked me to come up with a title for the first collection of my short stories, published in July, there was only one possibility. Most of the stories take place on the Wind River reservation, including the ten stories based on the Arapaho Commandments that ASAP had published separately. And since the characters, Father John O’Malley, Vicky Holden and a lot of Arapahos, also appear in my novels, the title had to be: Watching Eagles Soar. Jim’s wife, Mary, then suggested the rest of it: Stories from the Wind River and Beyond.

I would like to assure you there is some deep symbolic meaning to the title, but if there is any symbol or metaphor or other hidden meaning, I’ll leave it to academics to tease out. Which could happen. I have never forgotten what the author Bill Kittredge told me when I was writing The Eagle Catcher. Never worry about what your stories mean, he said, because after they’re published, the Ph.D’s will write to you and tell you what they mean. Just as he said, the letters and emails from such folks—English professors, grad students, undergrads—have arrived over the years informing me about the meaning of my stories. Who knew that Father John’s three-legged dog, Walks-on, is a metaphor for Father John himself, a recovering alcoholic who, not quite whole, also walks on? Okay, in looking over some of the scenes where Walks-on appears, I concede a case might be made for that particular metaphor. But what about the stridency in Vicky’s character? A metaphor for the repressed minority woman finding her voice? Really? I thought Vicky was just strong, stubborn and determined, and that was that. What about the way the Arapahos take matters into their own hands in my short story “Deadend”? A metaphor for the manner in which people oppressed in history move away from oppression and assert themselves? Well, if you say so.

So the title of the short story collection might be a metaphor for—what? The creative process itself? The art of story telling? The unleashing of the imagination? The tapping into the Arapaho spirit? I don’t have the faintest idea, since I haven’t yet heard from the people who know those things. All I know is that I love to watch eagles soar.

Margaret Coel is the author of fifteen bestselling novels with Father John O’Malley and attorney Vicky Holden, set among the Arapahos on Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation. She is also the author of two suspense novels set in Denver with Arapaho investigative reporter Catherine McLeod, including The Perfect Suspect, due from Berkley Publishing in September 2011. A collection of her short stories, Watching Eagles Soar, was published this summer by ASAP Publishing.

When Wild Pigs Fly
by Bill Crider (Alvin, Texas)

I’ve written about animals in a lot of my books. Sheriff Rhodes has two dogs and a cat now, and he’s managed to find a home for another dog along the way. Sally Good has Lola, the meanest cat in the world. Truman Smith has a cat he calls Nameless.

I can hear you saying, “So what? Lots of people have animal companions.” True. But how many private detectives have investigated the murder of an alligator? Or a prairie chicken? Truman Smith has done both those things, first in Gator Kill (1992; Kindle edition 2011) and then in The Prairie Chicken Kill (Walker, 1996).

When I was writing the Truman Smith books, I wanted to do something different with the private-eye while still working within a well-known tradition. One way I did that was to take Smith out of the urban setting a few times and put him to work on the vanishing Texas coastal prairie. One way to do that, I thought would be to have him called into some cases that could happen only there or somewhere similar. Having written about alligators in other contexts for years, I wondered what would happen if somebody killed a gator on someone’s property. And not just that. I wondered if anybody would care. That was all I needed to begin writing Gator Kill. Of course the alligator’s death led to more complications, but it was the centerpiece of the book.

A year or so later, I wanted to take Smith back into the boonies, so I visited the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Refuge, which isn’t far from Houston. Prairie chickens once inhabited the coastal prairie by the millions, but they were hunted to near-extinction. Now only a few hundred are left. What if somebody killed one? And what if Truman Smith were asked to investigate? After looking around the refuge, I was off and running. Or writing.

And then there are the everyday chickens, not to mention the wild hogs. Those are the kinds of animals that Sheriff Dan Rhodes encounters all the time. One of the sub-themes in a couple of the novels about the sheriff was the “urban chicken movement” and the controversy about residents keeping chickens in town. Those books caused my brother to suggest that it was time to tackle a bigger subject: factory chicken farms. I thought that was a fine idea, so I wrote Murder in the Air (Minotaur, 2010).

There’s a long story about that title, which I won’t go into, but I will tell you the story about The Prairie Chicken Kill. I got a call from the editor, who said that the marketing department hated the title. I should have said, “What marketing department?” considering the amount of marketing that was done for my books, but I didn’t. I said, “What’s a better one?” The editor told me to think about it and see what I could come up with. A day or so later I got another call from him. “Never mind about changing that title,” he said. “The art department loves it.” When I asked him why, he said, “Somebody found a picture of a prairie chicken.” I don’t think that’s a prairie chicken on the cover of the book, but I don’t suppose it matters now, if it ever did.

But I digress. Let me tell you about the wild hogs. In nearly every one of the eighteen or so Sheriff Rhodes books prior to The Wild Hog Murders (Minotaur, 2011), I mentioned feral pigs. In fact, the sheriff had a serious encounter with them in the very first book, Too Late to Die (Ivy, 1989). The wild pigs were sort of the totem animals for the series (now it’s a turtle, but never mind that). My sister called one day after reading an article about feral hogs and said, “You’ve been writing about them in every book. Why not make them the stars of one?” I thought that was an excellent suggestion, so I followed it.

If you’ve seen the cover of the book, by the way, you might be wondering just how realistic it is to have a picture of a pink piggy with wings to represent wild hogs. And you might also wonder what it has to do with the contents. I’ll give you the answer when pigs fly.

Bill Crider lives and writes in Alvin, Texas, the heat and humidity capital of the universe.  He shares his living space with his wife, Judy, and two cats, Geri and Sam. Don’t miss Bill’s Pop Culture Magazine blog.

Animals In and Out of Books
by Deborah Crombie (McKinney, Texas)

The German shepherds were my husband’s fault.

When he was very small, his parents kept a German shepherd for friends who had to go overseas for a summer. My dear hubby adored the dog, which was very gentle with him, as shepherds usually are with small children. He would put his hand in the dog’s mouth and pretend he was a lion tamer. (I can imagine the little blond imp shrieking with glee at his daring, and it has just occurred to me that my fictional little blond imp, Toby, might bear some relation to my real-life husband as a child.)

The German shepherd went back to his owners, and my husband grew up with other dogs; a bloodhound, a boxer. But none replaced the German shepherd in his imagination or affections.

I, on the other hand, did not grow up in a pet-friendly household. My mother did not care for cats. She was afraid of big dogs—she’d been bitten as a small child—and above all she didn’t want anything in the house that shed!

When I was nine, my parents gave in to what I’m sure was my incessant and annoying whining, and took in an adult toy poodle (no shedding) from some elderly relatives who could no longer care for her. Oh, dear, oh dear. The disappointment on all sides. The poor dog, Jolie, had been raised as a faux-human, and never adjusted to the deterioration in her circumstances, although she bore with us bravely for a good many years.

But this dog, who didn’t care for children and had never been taught to play, was not Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, and my heart was broken. I consoled myself by reading books about imaginary dogs, and spending hours poring over dog encyclopedias trying to decide on the perfect pup.

By my late teens, I’d rebelled (well, I was still living at home so perhaps not all that rebellious) and had finally talked my mother into letting me adopt a kitten, a six-week-old tiny orange ball of fluff. That sweet little thing grew up into the cat from hell, which terrorized everyone and everything in the household, including my second acquisition, an enormous and completely goofy Great Dane.

Eventually I went away to college, the Great Dane went to a family with small children and a big yard, and the hellcat stayed with me until I moved to England a number of years later.

And I’ve continued ever since to make up for my pet-free childhood. There have been a great number of cats—one, a purebred Himalayan, brought back from England. I was living in Chester at the time with my then-husband, and we’d found the kitten in a newspaper advert. Her breeders lived in a farmhouse near the Cheshire market town of Nantwich. Here reality bleeds into fiction again—that farmhouse, and that town, made such an impression on me that a decade later they became the models for Duncan Kincaid’s parents’ home.

Then came the dogs. My first dog as an adult was a buff cocker spaniel, bought as a surprise for our seven-year-old daughter. His name was Taffy. He had every bad trait that plagues cocker spaniels. I adored him, and he me. We lost him to cancer when he was nine, and we found we couldn’t bear being dogless, even for a week.

I’d had visions of an English cocker, perhaps a bi-color or a blue roan, but my husband had his heart set on a German shepherd, and so Hallie came into our lives. She’s thirteen now, and frail. Our younger shepherd, Neela, is five, and they have been everything that that long-ago little girl imagined as the ideal dog—brave, loving, loyal, smart, playful, and funny. Oh, and we live in a sea of dog hair.

Gemma, of course, got the blue roan cocker spaniel, Geordie, and he is the dog of her heart. Kit’s Tess, on the other hand, the little foundling who might be a Norfolk terrier, sprang out of nowhere, just as dogs sometimes do in real life. A frightened boy seeking shelter and solace found a frightened little dog behind a supermarket, and a match was made.

Before the fictional dogs, however, Duncan acquired a cat, Sid, a big black fellow who had belonged to his late friend and neighbor in Hampstead.
Having resisted the temptation to give my primary fictional characters German shepherds, I’ve given the GSDs walk-on roles in a number of novels. Dogs and cats weave in and out of all the books in the series. I notice I’ve had a particular fondness for black Labrador retrievers, which pop up in a number of books. Duncan’s parents have a lovely border collie. One of my favorite fictional dogs has been Mo, the English mastiff in Where Memories Lie (Wm. Morrow, 2008). Mo was modeled on a real English mastiff named Big Mo. Big Mo’s owners bid at a Humane Society auction for the opportunity to have him appear in a book, and I hope I did him justice. I certainly enjoyed spending a book with him, drool and all. I particularly love the scene where he eats the tub of ice cream.

But if the working dogs have had minor roles in the previous books, they get their due in No Mark Upon Her. Finn, a black Lab, and Tosh, a female German shepherd who just happens to look exactly like our Neela, are search and rescue dogs with a volunteer organization I’ve called Thames Valley SAR in the book. TVSAR is based on a real volunteer group called Berkshire SAR, whose members were extremely helpful when I was researching the book. They allowed me to handle a search dog in training exercises, and to hide and pretend to be a victim. (In the dark, in the mud, I might add. All the more fun.)

I have tremendous respect for both dogs and handlers, and if the dogs in my book are heroes, their real-life counterparts are more so.

Will there be dogs and cats in future books? Undoubtedly. I can’t imagine my own life without their companionship, and my characters deserve to be equally blessed.

There is one caveat, however—the dogs and cats are not allowed to talk.

Deborah Crombie writes the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James crime novels set in the United Kingdom. Latest in the series is No Mark Upon Her, out now in the UK (Macmillan, Aug 2011) and coming to the US in Feb. 2012 (Wm. Morrow). Crombie lives in North Texas with her husband, German shepherds, and cats, and divides her time between Texas and Britain.

Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.