by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of a fun dog related mystery by Laurien Berenson, along with an interesting interview with Laurien. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Murder at the Puppy Fest. We also have a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Murder at the Puppy Fest: Melanie Travis Series by Laurien Berenson
Review by Sandra Murphy
Puppy Fest is set up similar to the annual Puppy Super Bowl. It’s a fundraiser for a local shelter run by Jane Brody. Her dad is Lou Brody, always referred to that way, never as Dad. Lou was married three times and has nine kids. They know how much he’s worth and none of them, including grandkids, are happy about the amount of money he’s left to charity in his will. Of late, he’s given thought to increasing that amount which in turn, increases their unhappiness.
The day of the Puppy Fest is a hectic one. Claire, a one-woman event planner, is in charge with more help from Jane than she’d like. Claire’s recruited Melanie to act as puppy wrangler or more accurately, Jane wrangler. In spite of the fact that Claire in now married to Melanie’s ex-husband, the two are good friends.
When the puppy kickoff happens, Lou is nowhere to be seen. He’s not one to be on camera but never misses his pet project, so Melanie is sent to find him. The house is huge, but she does find Lou’s office—and his body and a woman wailing over it. The woman says she’s Lou’s girlfriend, fiancé really, but says not to call the police because Lou would be embarrassed. While Melanie is checking for a pulse, the woman makes her escape.
Lou was allergic to peanuts, as everyone knew. Although his death is ruled an accident, his daughter Libby thinks otherwise. Since Libby knows Peg, Melanie’s pushy aunt and poodle breeding/judging expert, Libby’s heard about Melanie’s previous exploits in solving murders. Libby decides Melanie should take this on too—no matter what Melanie thinks, Peg and Libby have spoken.
In spite of wanting to know what happened, Libby is pretty rude, entitled, and not very forthcoming. Melanie manages to interview seven of the adult children and meets three of the grandchildren. None of them are pleasant or helpful. Most are downright obnoxious.
With all that going on, the home front is no less hectic. Thirteen year old Davey has daily soccer camp, he’s within one major of finishing his Poodle Auggie, Kevin is three and constantly on the move, there’s a rescued dog (not a Poodle? a Terrier? Yep). With two kids, activities, dog shows, Aunt Peg, and seven dogs to deal with, Melanie and husband Sam have their hands full.
Melanie and Sam are a delight in how they get along, their obvious affection for one another and how they raise both the kids and the Poodles. Aunt Peg, well, she’s still a little pushy, but she shows signs of calming down a bit. Just a bit. The side characters like Claire, friends, and other relatives take turns in the spotlight. Melanie’s calm in the face of a storm is envious. Kevin, an active but cheerful three year old, highjacks every scene he’s in. Since Bud, the rescue Terrier, has claimed Kevin as his kid, expect the same from him. Faith, Melanie’s first Poodle, is a wonderful Mother’s Helper, in control of the other Poodles, even goofy Tar, the clueless boy.
This is book twenty in the Melanie Travis series. You can start anywhere, but to get the full effect, you’ll have to resign yourself to twenty good mysteries with red herrings, scattered clues, and laughs, all in a row. Readers won’t get bored while following Melanie and her family through investigations of mysterious deaths—there are always Poodles to liven things up.
Kings River Life Interview with Lauren Berenson:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Laurien: I always wanted to be a writer, even when I was a small child, and I wrote all kinds of things (short stories, bad poetry) all the time. I have been writing successfully since I was in my mid-twenties.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Laurien: My first book came out in 1983. It was a romance novel called Sweet Temptation. I had written several previous mystery novels that no one was interested in publishing, and the romance market was booming, so I dove into that genre to see if I could do it. The heroine of that first book owned a candy store and ended up with a very handsome hero.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Laurien: The first ten books I had published were romance novels. I then wrote a YA book and two thrillers. Since I was breeding and showing dogs, I really wanted to write a cozy mystery set on the dog show circuit. A Pedigree to Die For became the first book of the long-running Melanie Travis mystery series.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Laurien: The setting for my series is the competitive dog show world. At the time I began writing the books, I had been breeding and showing Standard and Miniature Poodles for about 20 years. My mother also bred and showed dogs, and my grandmother was a dog show judge, so it was a milieu I was very familiar with. I am a lifelong dog lover, so I really enjoy being able to have lots of canine characters in my books. I also thought that the show circuit was a backdrop that would lend itself well to mayhem.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Laurien: To be honest, I write to entertain. I read for pleasure and I really want readers to have a great time reading my books. But at times I can be a little preachy about how dogs (and other animals) should be loved and treated by their human caretakers.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Laurien: I am very disciplined about my writing. When I’m working on a book I write between four to six hours every day. Usually seven days a week. I need a very good excuse to take a day off.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Laurien: I used to outline, but now I keep copious notes instead. They are stacked all in piles over my desk. The problem I had with an outline is that as a book progresses the characters tend to take over and go in directions I haven’t anticipated. So I like to stay flexible.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Laurien: Over the years, I’ve found that the schedule that works best for me is to work from about 9 a.m. to noon, take a break, then come back and write again between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Laurien: YES. (Does anybody not say that?) It took me nearly eight years of steady writing before my first book was accepted for publication. By then, I had also written numerous magazine articles and I was freelancing for The New York Times.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection, critique, or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Laurien: I was living in a very small town in Connecticut and I wrote an Op-Ed piece for the local weekly paper, which was rather rudely rejected by the editor. At that point I decided that if I was going to be rejected, I might as well be turned down by someone at the top of the food chain rather than the bottom. Knowing no one at The New York Times, I stuck the piece in an envelope and sent it off. To my utter shock, it appeared in the newspaper the following Sunday. Moral of the story: aim high!
KRL: What a great story! Most interesting book signing story—in a bookstore or other venue?
Laurien: I always have the most fun doing book signings at dog shows.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Laurien: I hope the Melanie Travis Canine Mystery Series continues for a long time. And someday I would love to write a thriller about the world of horseracing.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Laurien: Sue Grafton and Nancy Pickard for showing me what was possible. And Maeve Binchey because she always wrote from her heart.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Laurien: Everything is available on the internet now! Usually the stuff I need to look up involves things like very specific laws, or the side effects of poisons. I hope no one ever needs to look at my browsing history.
KRL: What do you read?
Laurien: I love to read and I will read anything but horror. I am currently reading mostly cozy mysteries and historical fiction.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Laurien: I love The Big Bang Theory on TV. And Hidden Figures was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Laurien: Don’t give up! Write your own story, don’t try to fit into someone else’s mold. And the more you write, the better you become at it.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Laurien: I don’t think so. You have asked terrific questions.
KRL: Thanks! What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
LB: That I breed and race Thoroughbred horses.
KRL: I love Thoroughbreds!
Website? Twitter? Facebook?
To enter to win a copy of Murder At the Puppy Fest, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “puppy fest,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 29, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
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