Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Doggy detectives

kw: book reviews, mysteries, animal fiction

There is an interesting twist to A Nose for Justice by Rita Mae Brown. Two murder investigations run in parallel, although the murders occurred a century apart. First, the two dog heroes of the book, King and Baxter, a shepherd mix and a wire-haired dachshund, dig up the bones of a long-dead Russian in a barn. Then, in a conflict over water rights and land purchases a series of murders occurs. The dogs figure importantly in the solution to these murders as well, about the time their owners, women called Jeep and Mags, have figured out why and how the Russian died in 1902.

The author drew upon three rich veins of history to produce the milieu for the action. First, Jeep, the great aunt of Mags, was a pilot in the WASPs during WWII. Her ranch, Wings, and the friends she still has among former service women form one thread. Then, the dead Russian is found to have been a performer with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, which played in Nevada in the early 1900s. Thirdly, water rights struggles going back before the founding of Nevada as a state are the primary backdrop, and the millions to be made from land and water as Reno expands provide all the motive needed for not just the murders, but chicanery of several kinds.

The characters, human and canine, are richly rounded; Ms Brown has a gift for reifying her creations. The dogs' gradual accommodation as they get to know one another is paralleled by Mags's growing fondness for a deputy named Pete. Jeep, in her eighties, is in a class by herself. A real character, bright, a beauty when younger and still handsome, witty and irascible, she is clearly the queen of the land. This enjoyable read made me care about them all, even the bad ones.

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