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November 7, 2015


By coincidence, not long ago, I read two mysteries featuring a dog as one of the lead characters. At least I THOUGHT it was by coincidence. But I've realized my subconscious was probably at work when I selected both titles. Having spent so much time writing about Queenie, the smart, loyal, loveable  German shepherd in my upcoming YA novel, PUNISHMENT SUMMER, I suspect I've had dogs on the brain.


In PUNISHMENT SUMMER, 16-year-old Nicki is sent to stay at her grandfather’s cabin near the town of Punishment in the Mendocino Forest. As always, she hides her burn scars and keeps quiet about the mother who ran out on her. But soon after arriving, she begins to suspect Grandpa is also keeping secrets. Her exile brings an unexpected bright spot: Grandpa’s German shepherd, Queenie. The hunky neighbor boy’s another plus, though she quickly starts to doubt his honesty. As Nicki tries to adapt to this strange new world of no electricity, no internet, no – gulp – cell phone, Queenie helps her feel at home. The two become fast friends and Queenie helps Nicki feel brave as she explores the woods.


Queenie is also an air tracker – which as fascinating to learn about. Air tracking dogs follow scents carried by the wind – rather than working with their noses to the ground. German shepherds reportedly have 225 million scent receptors in their noses! Besides their amazing sense of smell, dogs are love on four paws – something Nicki needs during her summer in Punishment, CA.


But back to the two dog-centered mysteries I read... In both BURNING MAN and SUSPECT, canines are partnered with damaged LAPD officers. In Alan Russell's Burning Man, the author brings the writing advice of 'rescuing the cat' to make a protagonist likeable to new heights. The story opens with LAPD detective Michael Gideon saving his canine partner, Sirius, from dying in a fire set by a serial killer. Gideon and Sirius, make it through the ordeal, both emerging scarred and famous. As one of the LAPD's latest heroes, Gideon is able to pick their next posting at Special Cases Unit, working on the murder of a high school student found crucified in a park. Gideon's physical and psychological scars become part of the fabric of his and Sirius' first big post-fire case.

In Robert Crais' Suspect, LAPD officier Scott James and his partner are gunned down in the street. James survives his wounds, but his partner dies at the scene. His new partner, Maggie, is a German shepherd who has survived tours of duty sniffing out explosives in both Iraq and Afghanistan. With her last handler killed by an IED, Maggie suffers from the canine version of PTSD. When she and James pair up, they each find someone who understands their damage and will watch their back. Crais successfully writes several chapters from Maggie's point of view and we root for her and her new two-member pack.


Both are fast-;aced reads and, though there are overlaps in the characters' scars, each story is unique. Plus, they've got dogs -- what's not to like about that?

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