Volume 39, No. 34, Winter 2023
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Canines and Crimes in the Golden Age of Mysteries by Patricia Cook
- From Alaska to Maine: Wolf Companions Help Solve Mysteries by Judith Ayn
- A Clowder of Cat Mysteries by Aubrey Nye Hamilton
- Agatha’s Ark: Animals in Classic Crime Fiction by Kate Jackson
- Murder, She Growls… or How Jessica Fletcher Brought Pets Into My Mystery Series by Jinny Alexander
- Doggie Partners by Paul A. Barra
- Horses? Why Horses? by J. F. Benedetto
- Dogs, What They See, What They Know by Rona Bell
- The Case For Dogs in Crime Fiction by Valerie Burns
- For the Love of Dogs by Tracy Carter
- It Was All a Plot to Write about Horses by Celeste Connally
- Looking Behind the Curtain of Writing Mysteries With a Dog by DK Coutant
- Lobsters, Eels, and Sharks, Oh My! by Charlene D’Avanzo
- Why My Mysteries Feature Animals and Yours Should, Too by Debbie De Louise
- So, Who’s Feeding the Dog? by Christine Falcone
- The Amazing Skills of Dogs by Janet Finsilver
- Marshmallow and Babalu by Kaye George
- A Most Improbable Amateur Detective by Hal Glatzer
- Discovering RahRah by Debra H. Goldstein
- Life Is Better With Critters by Carolyn Haines
- Absolutely, Positively the Most Awkward Question About Animal Sidekicks by David Handler
- The Joy of Animals in Mysteries by Thonie Hevron
- Stories and Dogs and Wildlife—Oh, My! by Linda O. Johnston
- All Kinds of Kitties by Diane Kelly
- Stand Down, The Lido Libretto, and More by Gay Toltl Kinman
- A Menagerie of Mayhem by Tim Maleeny
- What’s the Mystery About Therapy Dogs? by James L’Etoile
- Readers Root for the Vulnerable by Larry Maness
- Albert is Gone and Boris is Here by Susan McCormick
- A Writer’s Pals by Larry Mild
- Send in the Dogs and Cats by Margaret Morse
- When Cats Creep Into the Story by Ann Parker
- Why My Top Dog Is a Fish by Korina Moss
- Not All Best Friends Are Human by Sandra Murphy
- The Mysterious Kinship of Animal Lovers by Sandra Parshall
- Sniffing Out The Clues by Neil Plakcy
- Anaphylaxis Is My Middle Name by Mindy Quigley
- Mixing Kitties and Conflict in Crime Fiction by Merrilee Robson
- Writing Mysteries and Murders at a Zoo (with Caution and Care for the Animals) by Marcia Rosen
- Animals and Books and Life by Philipp Schott
- Murder and the Missing (French) Dog by Susan C. Shea
- Sheep (and Other Critter) Thrills by Leonie Swann
- Paws, Laws, and Probable Cause by Gabriel Valjan
- Mystery in Retrospect: Reviews by Kathy Boone Reel, L.J. Roberts, Lucinda Surber, Lesa Holstine
- Crime Seen: Dog Stars by Kate Derie
- Animal Criminals and Detectives by Cathy Pickens
- From the Editor’s Desk by Janet A. Rudolph
If you pick up any of the twenty mysteries I’ve written, which are either published or scheduled to be published in the coming months, you’ll be able to tell that I love dogs. How? Because, as a mystery writer, I’ve left plenty of clues.
The first clue you’ll find is right there on the cover. There’s no secret here. Almost all of my books have at least one or more dogs on the covers. In fact, the two poodles on the covers of my Mystery Bookshop mystery series were my dogs. Each book in my Dog Club mystery series features a different breed of dog on the covers. Even my culinary cozy, the Baker Street mystery series, features a large English Mastiff on the cover. And my new Bailey the Bloodhound Mystery series, that releases in December 2023, features, you guessed it—a bloodhound.
The next clue an astute reader will note is right there in the book title. My books have titles that scream dog lover. Fetch any book in my Dog Club mystery series and you’ll know to expect dogs. In the Dog House, The Puppy Who Knew Too Much, and Bark if It’s Murder, leave no doubt that these books were written by a dog lover.
Why include dogs in my books? Well, it’s no mystery that dogs and crime fiction go together like peanut butter and jelly or peas and carrots. The role of dogs working with the police include everything from tracking, protection, narcotic and explosive detection, and search and rescue. But the police aren’t the only branch of the government or even of law enforcement that take advantage of canine abilities. Dogs are used in all branches of the armed forces. With more than three hundred million olfactory receptors in their noses, dogs are even being used by the USDA to sniff out illegal fruits, vegetables, and meat that international passengers try to sneak into their luggage. Now, that’s one way to take a bite out of crime.
An article by Forbes Advisor on pet ownership indicated that nearly 66% of all US households own a pet. That equates to approximately 86.9 million households. From that, a staggering 65.1 million of those pet-owning households own dogs. These dogs aren’t tracking bad guys or sniffing bombs. Not that they couldn’t, if called upon. Some of these households have working dogs that have been bred for centuries to herd are invaluable on farms. Pigs haven’t cornered the market on truffles. Dogs can and have been trained to sniff out those expensive fungi, too. Plus, service dogs are invaluable in alerting to medical conditions, helping the blind, and physically disabled.
With so many dogs used by law enforcement and others sleeping on the sofas of more than half of the households in the country, it follows that fiction, especially crime fiction, would include dogs. As a cozy mystery writer, my sleuths aren’t looking for bombs or narcotics, but dogs in crime fiction don’t have to be restricted to super-serious cop tales with silent brooding heroes and their tragically flawed and equally brooding canine partners. My former schoolteachers turned writers, bookstore, or bakery owners have dogs, too. My sleuths’ dogs may not be as well-trained as police or service dogs. In fact, some may be better at breaking the law than at enforcing it. But if you’re looking for a paws-itively dog-gone good mystery, snuggle up with your furry friend and check out one of my dog themed whodunits.
Valerie (V. M.) Burns is an Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, and Next Generation Indie Award-nominated author. She is the author of five cozy mystery series, and is a member of Crime Writers of Color, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Crime Writers Association. She is also a mentor in the Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University.
This is a true story about Stewart Hoag’s faithful, breath-challenged basset hound sidekick, Lulu, from way back in 1987. I’d just published my first novel, Kiddo, a humorous coming-of-age tale about my Los Angeles boyhood, and had recently completed my second novel, The Man Who Died Laughing, which was about an experience I’d had early in my journalistic career ghostwriting a celebrity memoir. There was a lot of humor in it, but it was a more mature book than Kiddo that dealt in serious emotional entanglements and deadly secrets.
My protagonist, Stewart Hoag, was a dapper young superstar novelist whose mega-bestselling first novel had prompted The New York Times Book Review to proclaim him as “the first major new literary voice of the 1980s.” Hoagy married a glamorous movie star, Merilee Nash. Moved out of his crummy, unheated fifth-floor walk-up on West 92nd Street and into a luxury doorman building on Central Park West. He and Merilee bought a red 1958 Jaguar XK-150 ragtop for bopping around town. And they got Lulu, the only dog who would ever have her own water bowl at Elaine’s.
Hoagy was on top of the world—right up until he got started on his second novel and was struck down by writer’s block and panic attacks, which led to him snorting his career and marriage up his nose. Before long he was back in his crummy fifth-floor walk-up on West 92nd Street, broke and alone—aside from Lulu, who insisted upon staying by his side. Many readers have asked me why I kept Lulu in the book. I needed her because Hoagy was a bitter and not very likeable character when we first met him. Yet loveable, adorable Lulu remained loyal to him. That meant he must be a good guy who was simply going through a rough time.
Rough as in he was three months behind on his rent and looking ahead to residing in a shopping cart in Riverside Park when his agent called him to suggest he consider ghosting the memoir of a famous comic from the ’50s named Sonny Day. It seemed that Sonny had major showbiz dirt to spill but was an impossible nut job who hadn’t gotten along with any of the lunch pail ghostwriters who’d working with him. Fired them, one and all.
And so the first major new literary voice of the 1980s and his short-legged sidekick flew out to Sonny’s lavish Beverly Hills estate, became entangled in an epic show biz mess and just barely manage to get out of it alive.
I was very pleased with the completed manuscript of The Man Who Died Laughing. So was my agent, who eagerly started sending it out.
It was rejected by 24 publishers.
Absolutely no one wanted it. Only one editor, a young mystery editor at Bantam, Kate Miciak, had anything even remotely nice to say about it. She thought Hoagy’s first-person voice was terrific. She liked my ear for dialogue, too. And she loved Lulu. But she said that for the book to succeed as a murder mystery it would need a great deal more suspense and danger. This did not surprise me, since I had never intended it to be a murder mystery. I enjoyed reading mysteries, but I wasn’t a mystery writer. Still, Kate had liked the book, and I desperately wanted to get it published, so I asked my agent to find out if I could pay Kate a visit and get her input.
Kate not only agreed to see me but gave me a crash course in crime writing. Chiefly, she told me, I had to stop thinking of Hoagy as a burnt-out writer and start thinking of him as an amateur sleuth who possessed a gifted novelist’s keen insights into people’s motivations and foibles. Insights that would set the plot in motion. I understood what she was saying. I also understood this meant that Lulu would have to serve as a full-fledged partner who possessed valuable sleuthing skills of her own. After all, she could hear things Hoagy couldn’t hear, smell things he couldn’t smell. Bassets are more than just pretty faces, you know. They are the second highest ranked scent hounds in all of dogdom, right behind bloodhounds. Plus, animals have keen instincts. If they take an instant dislike to someone you can be sure there’s a damned good reason why.
By the end of our sit down I knew exactly what I needed to do and how to do it. Kate did, however, add a sobering caveat: That there were no such thing as stand-alone murder mysteries anymore. In other words, if I succeeded in turning The Man Who Died Laughing into a terrific amateur sleuth mystery, it would have to be the first in a series of books about this once-famous novelist, Stewart Hoag, and his long-eared sidekick, who while helping famous celebrities from all walks of life tell their life stories, stumble into one murder after another—which, Kate murmured aloud, was actually not be a bad idea for a mystery series. The possibilities were endless. And she couldn’t recall there ever having been a celebrity ghostwriter mystery hero. I’d be breaking new ground.
As I stood there in her office, wondering if my destiny in life was to become a mystery writer, I said, “I have an awkward question. I’ve written for television for ten years and I hate that the characters always stay the same, week after week. If I were to write a series of crime novels I’d want Hoagy to grow older and more reflective from one book to the next.”
Kate frowned at me and said, “So what’s the awkward question?”
“What do I do about Lulu? She can’t get older over the course of a dozen books. Dogs don’t live as long as people do.”
“How do I get around that? What’s the rule about animal sidekicks and aging?”
And with that Kate let out a huge laugh and said to me, “David, there are no rules.”
She was right, of course. About everything. I rewrote my manuscript and she bought The Man Who Died Laughing as the first of a two-book contract. The series went on to win an Edgar and an American Mystery Award. I’ve gone on to write fifteen of them. The sixteenth, The Woman Who Lowered the Boom, will be published by Mysterious Press in early 2024. Hoagy has gradually gotten older and more reflective. As for Lulu, she’s simply Lulu, which is to say ageless. Because there are no rules!
In addition to fifteen Stewart Hoag and Lulu mysteries, David Handler has written eleven novels featuring the mismatched crime-fighting duo of New York film critic Mitch Berger and Connecticut State trooper Desiree Mitry. He was a member of the original writing staff that created the Emmy Award-winning sitcom Kate and Allie and has continued to write extensively for television and films on both coasts. He lives in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
Working with therapy dogs has been more rewarding than I ever imagined. Sure, they help me figure out plot points during our daily walks, but therapy dog work unlocks a different level of emotion and sensory experience. Therapy dogs are those very special creatures who bring a little joy and comfort to others when they need it most. I’ve been involved in therapy dog work for almost ten years and visit assisted living facilities, memory care, hospice, reading programs for children, and local high schools and universities during finals week. And therapy dogs are a useful resource while writing mysteries.
Like their service dog canine colleagues, therapy dogs are tested and certified by a national organization and must have the right training, disposition, and a connection between dog and handler. That last factor is hard to describe, but essential to a successful therapy dog team.
When I take my Corgi, Emma, on a visit, I need to stay in tune with her. For example, we’ve done hundreds of Reading to the Dogs programs, where kids come to a local bookstore, or library, grab a book off the shelf, and read to the dog. Remember when we had to read aloud in school? Kids can be awful, making fun of slow readers, or god-forbid you mangle the pronunciation of a word. When you’re reading to a therapy dog, the dog will not judge your reading skill.
There’s no stress, and the kids pick up on that. And so do the dogs. Emma is sensitive to the person she’s visiting with. She adjusts to the energy of the person. She calms active kids and stimulates older people in assisted living settings. She sees people for what they are—getting in close and comforting those who need it, and sensing when a person is having an off day.
It’s in these moments, the impact of therapy dogs really shines through. In memory care settings, these residents are dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s and often can’t recall what they had for breakfast that morning but will talk about visiting with a therapy dog for days after the event. There’s something about that human-therapy dog connection that triggers a long dormant memory from their youth and a pet they may have had. The dogs have also alerted to strokes and other serious health conditions before they happened.
As an author, therapy dogs unlock a viewpoint that cuts through all the filters and preconceptions we humans bring along with us. Dogs see the good in people—they see the world around them in simple terms. Who will pet me? Who will give me treats? And who do I need to be wary of? Looking at people in the way a dog might, for an author, a valuable avenue into character development. What is this character really showing us in their behavior, versus whatever they might be saying? What do they really want or need?
People who visit with therapy dogs tend to lower their inhibitions and “shields” while they love on a furry friend. You get to see them for who they really are as opposed to who they want the world to think they are. And you see how they interact with those around them. Gruff, crusty old guys in assisted living drop that protective shell and get emotional petting a therapy dog. In memory care facilities, these interactions helped me portray residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in Black Label (2021) and Face of Greed (Nov 2023). I had some experience in this world, serving as a caregiver for my mother who suffered from dementia in her later years. But during therapy dog visits I witnessed, through a detached “dog’s eye view,” how families are affected by or ignore those affected by the disease, how the memory loss leads to fear and confusion, and the lengths people with dementia or Alzheimer’s will go to cover up their failing memories by making up new ones, pulling from fragments they can recall.
Working with therapy dogs has made me a better observer—not in a law enforcement sense, because I’ve done that before—but by not being responsible for intervening in, or controlling the behavior, but simply being there as a detached observer. You get to feel the joy from an encounter with a person who recalls a dog from their youth, and you get to hear all about it as if they are telling you that story for the first time. You also experience the indescribable feeling when a hospice patient wakes briefly to stroke the soft fur between a Corgi’s ears before drifting off again, perhaps for the last time.
Maybe it’s a matter of slowly shedding a thick “law enforcement skin” I needed to survive in that world, but I think witnessing what therapy dogs can do has made me appreciate the world of emotion and joy they unlock when they tuck their head into the outstretched hands of a lonely memory care resident.
I know working with therapy dogs makes me appreciate the small things in life, and as I scratch Emma behind the ears, I have to wonder what she thinks of me?
James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, and director of California’s state parole system to influence his award-winning novels, short stories, and screenplays. His most recent novel is the Lefty and Anthony Award-nominated Dead Drop. Look for Devil Within and Face of Greed, both coming in 2023.