by Cynthia Chow
& Waverly Curtis
When we heard about the Chihuahua mysteries by Waverly Curtis it was an obvious perfect fit for KRL! Mysteries & pets are 2 of our big loves! So here we have reviews of the first 2 books in the series, an article by Waverly Fitzgerald (half of Waverly Curtis) about falling in love with Chihuahuas and how their series came to be, and a chance to win a copy of both books-details at the end of this post.
Dial C For Chihuahua: a Barking Detective Mystery By Waverly Curtis
A divorce, the tanking of the real estate market, and being forced to move into a one-bedroom condo all have home stager Geri Sullivan in dire need of some unconditional love. That’s what she’s looking for when she goes to the Humane Society to pick out one of the 40 Chihuahuas shipped to Seattle after a certain celebrity made the purse dogs so popular that the Los Angeles shelters could no longer house them once the pets lost their trendiness. What Geri got was a sidekick with his own forceful personality, who nudges her into a new profession and becomes her companion, best friend, and life coach. Oh, and he also talks, telling Geri that his name is Pepe, now Pepe Sullivan.
While Geri initially writes off his vocal ability due to her raised stress levels and a bottle of Chardonnay, she can’t deny that his input proves essential when she learns that she was just hired as an investigator for the Gerrard Agency where she interviewed three weeks previously. Without a license, advice, or any training, Geri is ordered by Jimmy Gerrard to go to Millionaire’s Row to meet with a client who is missing a husband. However, David Taylor is no longer missing but lying dead in his home with his wife Rebecca denying ever hiring a detective. With Geri held by the police on suspicion of murder and Pepe on suspicion of rabies (he bites), Geri’s grateful when her calls to the agency bring in attorney Sherman Foot who manages to free her but also brings the bad news that Stewart Gerrard, Jimmy G’s older brother, actually owns the agency and did not authorize her employment.
Referring to himself in the third person and dressing like a noir detective from the 1940s, Jimmy G nonetheless under-the-table hires Geri as a detective/administrative assistant/secret operative for his next client. Gathering evidence on the culprit who is responsible for walking his/her dog through Mrs. Snelson’s flowerbed to do his business is not the most prestigious of detective jobs, but it does allow Geri the credibility to investigate who may have attempted to frame her for murder.
Although Geri is the only human able to hear Pepe’s unsolicited advice on detection, fashion, and dating, he definitely is not shy about expressing his experience as a bull fighter, drug as well as a search-and-rescue dog, and even his record of selecting the Oscar dress for celebrity actress Caprice Kennedy. While his antics and realization that his career as a purse dog may be limited due to claustrophobia frustrate Geri to no end, Pepe’s misbehavior does result in Geri meeting Felix Navarro, a dog trainer and animal communication specialist. As attractive as he is Felix will be challenged by the extremely stubborn, independent, and definitely un-obedient Pepe.
Once the reader falls into the surreal world of a naïve, insecure, and wounded Geri being guided and supported by her four-legged vociferous partner the novel becomes an extremely enjoyable read with a unique twist on the traditional mystery. Pepe thankfully never becomes too irritating or wears out his welcome, and his unwavering support of Geri outweighs his stubborn insistence on being involved in all aspects of her life. The early loss of her parents, Geri’s judgmental older sister Cheryl, and a missing younger sister does much to explain Geri’s insecurity and lack of self-esteem.
Pepe and Felix seem to be the support she needs when her ex-husband appears with dire news that may connect her family with David Taylor. Not surprisingly, the humor of Geri figuring out how to cope with a talking companion without appearing to be insane combines with Pepe’s sharp tongue to make this a hilarious and extremely entertaining read. The possibility of a stint on “Dancing with the Dogs” ensures that Pepe will not subside to being a quiet sidekick and that his Mastiff-sized personality and confidence will continue to be make him Geri’s most loyal partner.
With part of the proceeds of sales of the books by the author team of Waverly Fitzgerald and Curtis Colbert going to support the ASPCA, dog lovers have even more reasons to rejoice!
Chihuahua Confidential: A Barking Detective Mystery By Waverly Curtis Kensington
Having successfully solved their first murder as a detecting team, Geri Sullivan and her diminutive four-legged partner Pepe are on their way to Hollywood to compete in the reality competition show, Dancing with the Dogs. Yes, it’s exactly as the title proclaims. While Pepe’s ability to talk to Geri has her therapist diagnosing mania and possibly a nice stay at a hospital, Geri and Pepe instead find themselves the frontrunners on a competition show partnering people dancing with their four-legged companions.
The reality show forces Pepe to again meet Caprice Kennedy, an actress and celebrity train-wreck with multiple DUIs, rehab stays, quickie marriage, and who Pepe claims was his former owner. Abandoned and rescued by the Humane Society from where Geri was so fortunately able to adopt him, Pepe has no end to tall tales of being a junkyard dog, search-and-rescue dog, deckhand, and world-traveling fashionista, so she wonders if this is yet another figment of his imagination. Caprice’s inability to remember Pepe only fires his jealousy and competitive spirit and he believes that as long as Geri can compensate for her human weaknesses (bad hearing, no sense of smell, oversizedness) they will be a shoo-in to win. Unfortunately the Simon Cowell of hated judges Nigel St. Nigel gets himself murdered before the competition can even begin and there’s no shortage of suspects wanting the most hated man in television dead. With her relationship with dog trainer Felix Navarro on uncertain grounds back in Seattle, Geri can’t help but be intrigued by Ted Messenger, a dance instructor working undercover for PETA and intent on exposing animal abuse on the show. Jimmy Gerrard, Geri and Pepe’s nominal employer who refers to himself in the third person as “Jimmy G” and dresses like a 1940s noir detective, returns to offer dubious advice and investigate the appearance of a mysterious package.
Curtis reunites the reader with the highly entertaining and somewhat dysfunctional detecting duo for this fun sequel to the debut, C is For Chihuahua. In this surreal world Pepe’s overly confident wisdom/criticism balances Geri’s more timid insecurity to bring out the best in both. Having already endured the death of her parents at an early age and being abandoned for another woman by her ex-husband, Geri once again faces loss when she learns that a microchip in Pepe may prove his true ownership (not that dogs belong to people) and lure him back to a world of celebrities, wealth, and indulgence.
While this is most definitely a light-hearted comedic mystery that pokes fun at reality competition shows, Hollywood, and celebrities, the author team of Waverly Fitzgerald and Curt Colbert have also compassionately and believably portrayed a progression and growth in Geri’s character that has allowed her to mature and survive a difficult childhood and bitter divorce. Pepe plays no small role in Geri’s development, and while the mystery is fun and the characters eccentric the series retains its heart and sweet sentiment of two characters forming a close bond.
This is a very enjoyable series for animal lovers with a weakness for their furry friends, and with a portion of the earnings going to support the ASPCA readers can also know that their love of animals will be shared.
Falling In Love With Chihuahuas By Waverly Fitzgerald
I did not intend to fall in love with a Chihuahua. My first encounter with a Chihuahua when I was a child did not inspire me to seek any further acquaintance. My Aunt Catherine had a Chihuahua named Bunny, a fat, asthmatic, cross-eyed Chihuahua, possibly mixed with pug since Bunny had bulging eyes and a constant snort. Bunny also wheezed and humped legs enthusiastically. So when my daughter decided to adopt a Chihuahua, I did not approve, but Shaw had moved out into her own apartment, and so I did not expect to have much contact with her dog.
She set out to adopt a long-haired female Chihuahua and came home with a short-haired white male Chihuahua who she named Pepe. Isn’t that the way it happens? No matter what we intend, our pets pick us. At least that’s how it happens for Geri Sullivan, the protagonist of the series of mystery novels I’ve written with my friend, Curt Colbert. Geri goes to the pound to adopt a dog and comes home with a short-haired white Chihuahua, one of many Chihuahuas flown up to Seattle from Los Angeles where they are being abandoned in record numbers. To her surprise, he starts talking, in a mixture of Spanish and English and introduces himself as Pepe.
Despite a busy job and a busier social life, my daughter did a good job of socializing her Pepe. He went everywhere with her and as a result is very friendly. When I visited her I would occasionally take him for walks but other than that our contact was limited–until my daughter moved back in with me, so she could attend the local college. Pepe moved in too. For the first time, I was living with a Chihuahua and I found it fascinating.
I sometimes think that Chihuahuas are more like cats than dogs. Pepe loves to cuddle–he is truly a lap dog–and he likes to perch on the top of the sofa, where he gazes out the window. He also loves to burrow and is often found under the pillows on the sofa. He has various nests around the house; boxes filled with blankets and spends many minutes arranging the fabric around him, pushing at it with his nose and feet, until he is completely covered up.
The origin of the breed is a mystery. Some claim they were raised by the Toltecs for food, others that they were bred as temple dogs to be sacrificed to the Aztec gods. The latest research suggests they descended from a breed of dogs found in Mexico called Techichi (a name which simply means dog). What seems clear is that they are used to being cosseted, admired and spoiled. No working dog here. Their main task is to be adorable.
Chihuahuas typically rank low in trainability. Some people think that’s because they’re stupid. I actually think it’s because they’re smart (but I recognize my bias). That’s another way they’re like cats. I believe they view us as servants–at least, I’m pretty sure that’s how Pepe views me.
Chihuahuas have some bad habits. Many are quite noisy, though Pepe is not. He only barks when we leave the house and only in one desperate volley as we go out the door. He also suffers from Little Dog Syndrome. Whenever he sees another dog on the street, he growls and snarls. It’s terribly embarrassing, especially when the other dog is a well-behaved pit bull or Great Dane who passes by without a glance. The owners, however, usually give me the eye, a contemptuous look which implies: “Why can’t you control your dog?”
I don’t blame them. They have obviously put some effort into training their dogs and we could do much better at teaching Pepe to feel safe around other dogs. I assume he’s trying to scare them away by appearing to be much bigger than he is, but he doesn’t behave like this around other Chihuahuas. I recently heard that Chihuahuas are the only dogs that recognize their own breed. I’m not sure this is true, but the dog who acts so ferocious around big dogs becomes mild-mannered when I take him to Chihuahua meet-ups.
If you remember the scene in Beverly Hills Chihuahua which takes place in an Aztec pyramid valley full of Chihuahuas, you know what a Chihuahua meet-up is like: a number of small dogs wandering around aimlessly. Chihuahuas in a group don’t behave like other dogs. They don’t chase each other around or play wrestle. They just wander around, sniffing each other and look confused.
Just as I never intended to become a Chihuahua aficionado, I never intended to write mystery novels that feature a talking Chihuahua, but here’s how that happened:
I had been meeting with my friend, Curt Colbert, for many years. For a while I was his writing coach while he was writing a series of historical novels set in 1940s Seattle. Then we were writing buddies, each of us writing PI novels set in contemporary Seattle.
In 2008, Curt was invited to be a judge for the Edgars (the Oscars of the mystery world), which meant he had to read over 200 books in one year. He had so many books arriving at his house that he seriously considered the advice of one of his fellow panelists who suggested the bathtub in the spare bathroom made a great place to store books.
After that exhausting year of reading, a year in which he got little writing done, Curt wanted to take revenge by writing a novel called Who’s Killing the Edgar Judges? The premise was that someone was bumping off the nominees for best novelist and in order to make the book work, Curt had to invent the five nominees. One of his fictional authors was a man writing a humorous mystery about a talking Chihuahua named “Pepe.”
I said, “I would totally love to read that book.” And the next time we met, Curt showed up with ten pages about a woman who goes to the pound to get a dog, takes home a Chihuahua and finds out he talks. I asked if I could collaborate with him on writing it (because Curt has an unfortunate habit of not finishing books. He had seven brilliant but unfinished manuscripts lying around at that time and he accepted my proposal. Thus began the collaboration which resulted in Dial C for Chihuahua. At the request of our publisher, Kensington, we adopted a female pen name: Waverly Curtis.
Curt does not have a Chihuahua of his own–in fact; he is much more of a cat person, so I often have to correct some of his misperceptions about the breed. For instance, he frequently writes scenes in which the Chihuahua is desperate for a treat, but the real Pepe is totally unmotivated by food. He would much rather play than eat.
Curt also tends to write the fictional dog’s personality as grouchy and critical. I think maybe he’s channeling his cat. The real Pepe is sweet and good-tempered. The fictional Chihuahua speaks in a mixture of Spanish and English (much like Skippyjon Jones, the kitten who thinks he’s a Chihuahua, one of Curt’s influences in developing the character) but we disagree about how he learned Spanish. Curt thinks he came from Mexico. I think Pepe acquired his Spanish while living in Beverly Hills and watching telenovellas.
We also have not agreed on how the fictional Chihuahua actually talks. Curt thinks he barks and our protagonist, Geri, can translate. I actually think it’s more like telepathy.
Last year, Curt and I were on a panel with other writers of animal mysteries. To our surprise, we learned that there are authors and readers who love mysteries featuring animals, but who disdain mysteries in which animals talk. The implication was that talking animals only belong in children’s books (actually people frequently assume our books are for kids). I was surprised by this as I’ve always wanted to be able to talk to animals. And I love mysteries in which animals talk, for instance, Judi McCoy’s Dogwalker mysteries, the Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn told from the dog’s point of view, and Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series).
I wonder if some of the distaste for talking animal mysteries comes from the same place as the scientific scorn for anthropomorphism–behavior that indicated that animals have feelings and can communicate with each other–which prevented scientists for years from talking about what they were observing in animals. In her recent book, Animal Wise, Virginia Morrell describes recent studies that show all of the above, plus more: how rats like to be tickled and birds practice songs in their sleep. Stanley Coren, in his book, How to Speak Dog, estimates that some dogs have about the same vocabulary as a two-year old, at least in terms of words they can understand. They just don’t have the vocal equipment to speak. But as anyone who loves a pet knows, they talk to us all the time. They may not speak English or Spanish, but they use body language, tail wagging, ear twitching and imploring gazes to make their needs and feelings crystal clear.
To enter to win a copy of both Chihuahua mysteries, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “Chihuahua”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 22, 2013. U.S. residents only.