Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Brute Strength- A Dog Lover's Mystery by Susan Conant

Holly Winters is a gal who has it all- loving husband who just happens to be a vet, a fulfilling life as a columnist for Dog's Life and three wonderful dogs of her own, the Alaskan Malamutes Rowdy, Kimi and Sammy. She also has many friends and acquaintances who love dogs, and many people in Boston around her have that same love, which gives her many friends and people to talk to.

But when Holly decides to help the local Malamute Rescue by determining who would be right as owners for these wonderful dogs by doing callbacks to people wanting to adopt, it certainly makes her no friends. The applications she does are for the problem applicants- the ones who you can immediately tell they are almost certainly not acceptable to own a malamute. From the people who don't believe in fencing (or neutering) their dog, to the ones who have all sorts of pets that already get along- which the malamute will see as a feast on legs, to those who don't think dogs ever need to go to the vet, Holly talks to and rejects them all, some for cursing her, and one woman takes her and her husband out of the running when she realizes that her husband has lied to her about Malamutes not shedding.

She also gets a call from local dog breeder Pippy Neff, who wants to use Rowdy in her breeding program. But Pippy won't give Holly a copy of her dog's hip X-Rays, and Holly won't let Rowdy be bred without them- the last thing she wants is to bring more puppies into the world with Hip Dysplaysia. But Pippy isn't happy with her, and Holly knows it. She's just not going to budge on such a thing.

But a visit from her stepmother reveals a problem that her stepmother is unwilling to tell Holly's father, and she asks Holly to keep the secret as long as she can. Holly isn't happy about it, but she agrees. She is happy to see another Malamute owner move into the neighborhood, but soon after, she receives a death threat in the mail, letters cut from a newspaper and pasted to a blank sheet of paper. Holly is concerned, but not out of her mind- until people around her start dying unexpectedly, she has to find out who sent the threat in the first place, and who might be bumping off those people around her in the dog show community. And to what end? What do they hope to gain by killing these people, and is Holly herself next on their list?

I'm not a big dog lover (I love all animals, but I have a decided preference for cats), but I really do love Susan Conant's Dog mysteries. Yes, she did one cat mystery, but unlike Holly Winters, the character at the center of that one had no love for cats to begin with, while Holly just completely loves her dogs. It's this that makes reading the series so much fun. Holly is a dog evangelist- she believes that having a dog, and loving a dog (while taking care of it properly and getting it spayed or neutered unless you intend to breed that dog) can save people from themselves.

But not all dog owners, or dog breeders, are responsible, and Holly is finding that out in spades- but she doesn't have time to deal with a Dog owner or wannabee owner that is downright murderous towards her. And is the killer only targeting Holly, or is she just the latest in a long line of victims and soon to be victims? Sadly, it seems that the second is the case, and the ending still shocked me more than a little, as the killer decides that if they can't get Holly by hook, they'll just put her in a dangerous situation at gunpoint and make her do the dirty work to kill her herself. But the identity of the killer, while not a surprise by the end of the book, paled in comparison to the number of people they had bumped off to get the life, and the dog, they wanted.

I loved this latest Holly Winters mystery, and even if I will never own a Malamute, I still love the dogs as she describes them, and how they are depicted in this book. Susan Conant definitely has insight into the doggy mind, and Holly Winters shares that insight. Just as Rita Mae Brown has insight into the Cat mind, it's Conant's insight into dogs, and people, that make these books so interesting and engaging. Highly recommended.

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