by Cynthia Chow
& Heather Day Gilbert
This week we have a review of the first in a brand new series by Heather Day Gilbert featuring an exotic Pet-Sitter. We also have a fun guest post by Heather about why she chose that setting for her series. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass. There is also a link to purchase it Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass: An Exotic Pet-Sitter Mystery by Heather Day Gilbert
Review by Cynthia Chow
Having a python wrapped around her neck is not an entirely unusual experience for Belinda Blake. It wasn’t what she planned on wearing for a first-time meeting with her landlord Stone Carrington the fifth, but as a Manhattan exotic pet-sitter she’s learned to expect the unexpected. Belinda is attempting to build up a clientele closer to her new home in Greenwich, Connecticut, but unfortunately the carriage house is looking far less appealing after the discovery of a body in the backyard flowerbed. The Louboutin-donning (the foot Belinda sees, anyway) Margo Fenton was last seen attending the billiard party regularly hosted by the Carrington family, and their protective staff are reluctant to spill information. Stone is more than a little concerned that their discretion might lead to the police further being suspicious of his family, which is why he asks for Belinda’s help in questioning those who last saw the victim. Feeling responsible as the body-finder, and more than a little attracted to the charming Stone the fifth, Belinda is drawn into the investigation and the secrets within the Carrington family manor.
As Belinda finds herself helping Margo’s parents clean out her room, she discovers that Margo was hiding many secrets of her own. The evidence Belinda finds, and wisely shares with both the police and Margo’s family, reveals that the young woman’s propensity for falling for the wrong man may have led to her death. It’s a trait that Belinda shares as well, which is why the trusting and often gullible Belinda grows suspicious of Stone as well. She’s right to be concerned, as Belinda soon learns that Stone the Younger has been telling numerous lies about himself, his connection to Margo, and his family. So it’s a relief when Belinda is able to return home for a family Thanksgiving in upstate New York, where her off-the-grid mother rather alarmingly delves into turkey raising and…their preparation for dinner. It also gives Belinda the chance to see a new side of neighboring farmer Jonas Hawthorne, whose participation in a classics bookclub makes him as intriguing as the wealthy but secretive Stone.
This new debut series introduces an adorably quirky heroine, one whose interests make her unique in the mystery world. Not only is Belinda the willing caretaker for pets most people would prefer to remain behind a glass and far away in a zoo, she is a professional video game reviewer in a field mostly filled by men. There are hints that her adventurousness and gamer skills make her a target for crushes and admiration, and it will be intriguing to see how this could further complicate her life. Her complexity definitely makes readers wanting to know more, along with her adorably supportive and protective family. A surfeit of suspects and plot twists keep the reader guessing to the end, and the vast cast of characters promise for more surprises and adventure in the future.
Why I Chose To Write an Exotic Pet-Sitter Cozy Mystery Series
By Heather Day Gilbert
Exotic pets are something that’s been trending for a while now. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “More than 13 percent of U.S. households owned a specialty or exotic pet at year-end 2016, a 25 percent increase from 2011.”
So when I was trying to decide on an unusual occupation for an amateur sleuth Belinda Blake, exotic pets did come to mind—along with titles to match. Once I came up with several titles, I allowed the series trajectory to determine which pet Belinda would be sitting in each book.
The exotic pets I chose for the first three books were a ball python, wolves and wolf-dogs, and homing pigeons. The titles for the first three books were: Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass, Belinda Blake and the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, and Belinda Blake and the Birds of a Feather. Each title reflected not only the animal I wanted to highlight, but quality traits of the murderer, as well.
I went into Book 1, which featured a ball python, pretty clueless as to what is necessary for snake-keeping. I also went into it totally averse to snakes (kind of like Belinda herself). But as the story developed and I got to “know” the lead python Rasputin, I began to see why ball python owners enjoy hanging out with their pets, even allowing them to sit next to them and watch TV! If you want to see a real python owner, check out this Ball Python 101 video (bonus—the blonde narrator reminded me of my amateur sleuth, Belinda Blake!).
Wolves have long been an interest of mine. My own dog, a Shiloh Shepherd, is a breed that allegedly had a little wolf thrown into the mix. No one knows if that’s true or not (save the breed’s founder, I suppose), but I have included wolves in my books before (God’s Daughter, a Viking historical), and since my dog is very much a pack animal (we’re her pack—along with our outdoor cat), I loved observing her behavioral nuances. Now, I know dogs and wolves are very different animals—even wolf-dogs can have major issues with humans—which is why I also did a lot of research as to wolf preserves and the kinds of things that have happened there. One outstanding video on wolf behavior is the National Geographic documentary called The Rise of the Black Wolf. But beware—yes, this video did make me cry at the end, just like it did Belinda Blake.
Homing pigeons (as opposed to passenger pigeons, which are extinct) are often used as racing pigeons, and the white ones can be used in place of doves to release at weddings and events. I decided the pigeons in book 3 would be used as pets and for “dove release.” I enjoy bird-watching around my house—this spring I was thrilled to have a Baltimore Oriole hanging around—so it was enjoyable to learn more about the inner workings of the homing pigeons. Bonus fact—did you know Mike Tyson keeps homing pigeons? Maybe Belinda Blake needs to sit those for him sometime…
Exotic pets are so interesting to learn about, and I hope this cozy mystery series brings some of that unusual flavor to readers. I have some ideas for future pets…but which exotic pets would YOU enjoy seeing turn up in this series? Drop a comment and lt me know, or you can find me at heatherdaygilbert.com.
To enter to win a copy of Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “snake,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen August 3, 2019. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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