Furry Friends and Other Characters
By Amy M. Reade
We mystery writers have a thing for pets. There’s Mutt, the half-wolf, half-husky in Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak mysteries; there’s Baxter, the dachshund in Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries starring Mags Rogers; and there are Hodge and Boswell, the cats belonging to Agatha Raisin in the mysteries by M.C. Beaton. There’s Leslie O’Kane and her main character, Allida Babcock, a dog therapist in Colorado; there’s Linda O. Johnston’s main character, Lauren Vancouver, head of a no-kill animal shelter; and there’s Kitty Karlyle, a gourmet chef for pets in the books by Marie Celine.
When I sit down to write, my dog Orly is never far away. She either plants herself on the floor to my right (occasionally, though far less often, to my left) or directly on my feet in front of me. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to write. The only thing that will distract her from her job of keeping me company is when she hears a squirrel at the back window—we have one of those bird feeders that attaches directly to the window and the squirrels claw their way right over the screens to get to the feeder. When the squirrels come calling, all bets are off.
I also have two cats, named Porthos and Athos (after characters in Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers). If your cats are anything like mine, when they deign to notice me at all they will find their way to my keyboard and stand on it until I pay attention to them (usually happens pretty quickly). Or they’ll try to shed sit on my legs howling until I pet them with both hands, thus rendering useless my attempts to write. When they see they’ve annoyed me sufficiently, they leave. Incidentally, they also like to sit on whatever I happen to be reading.
I suppose, then, it was only natural that I would write mysteries that include animals as characters. I don’t even put pets in my stories intentionally—they just show up. I’ve written seven books and there have been animals as pets in four of them. One dog (The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor), one cat (House of the Hanging Jade), a stable of horses (Murder in Thistlecross), and two dogs (The Worst Noel). The animals play important roles in each story, each in his or her own way.
Pets have long been considered practically essential in cozy mysteries, but they can add interest and depth to other mysteries, too. In The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, a Gothic mystery set in South Carolina, the dog is not just a pet; she’s a stray that ends up being part of the family. She plays a protective role and readers have found that she’s a loveable and crucial character. In House of the Hanging Jade, another Gothic-style set in Hawaii, the cat, Meli, takes center stage in one scene where the main character is being stalked by an old boyfriend. Even early in the story, the cat seems to have a better grasp of the boyfriend’s personality than the main character does.
In Murder in Thistlecross, a more contemporary mystery set in Wales, two of the horses in the stable at Thistlecross Castle have a role in helping two of the characters fall in love. And one of the more shady characters wants to use the horses for his personal gain.
Finally, in The Worst Noel, (my first cozy!) there’s Barney, the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. I chose that particular breed of dog because it reminds me of Asta, the dog made famous in The Thin Man book (by Dashiell Hammett) and subsequent movies (starring William Powell and Myrna Loy). There’s nothing better than a crime-fighter with a canine sidekick. And while Barney doesn’t accompany his human when she’s searching for clues and bad guys, he’s always around to provide comfort and unconditional love when she needs him.
But wait…I mentioned two dogs in The Worst Noel. What about the other one? Well, the other one is a surprise. You’ll have to read the book if you want to know more about him.
Amy M. Reade is a cook, chauffeur, household CEO, doctor, laundress, maid, psychiatrist, warden, seer, teacher, and pet whisperer. In other words, a wife, mother, community volunteer, and recovering attorney.
She’s also a writer. She is the author of The Worst Noel, The Malice Series (The House on Candlewick Lane, Highland Peril, and Murder in Thistlecross), and three standalone books, Secrets of Hallstead House, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, and House of the Hanging Jade. She lives in southern New Jersey, but loves to travel. Her favorite places to visit are Scotland and Hawaii and when she can’t travel she loves to read books set in far-flung locations.
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