I don't know about you but starting a book that has a dog on the cover or in the title always gives me pause. I want to know beforehand that any pets in the book will be properly taken care of. Now I understand that there are times when animals get hurt in novels. Sometimes a dog's or cat's death is an important part of the plot and although I try to pass over that part as quickly as possible it's not the thing that really bothers me. What I can't stand is willful neglect.
It happens more often than it should. I remember reading a crime novel in which the protagonist took his dog for a midnight walk during which some events happened that moved the plot forward and sent the sleuth haring off to Vegas for four days. Wait a minute, I wanted to shout at him. What about the dog? The last we saw of the poor pooch was on that ill-fated walk. The author simply forgot all about him once he'd served his purpose of digging up the weapon.
This kind of thing makes me crazy and therefore I was somewhat hesitant to start Kate Atkinson's most recent novel, Started Early, Took my Dog. Was it going to end up as started early, forgot all about my dog? No. As it turned out, I needn't have worried. After a madcap scene in which an abused border terrier is rescued, the series sleuth turns out to be an admirable dog owner and the pooch turns out to be a great companion and foil for the hapless Jackson Brodie. Kate Atkinson is one of the funniest and most creative crime novelists writing today and this book is terrific.
Now, I have to confess to a little mistreatment in my own story in the January issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The protagonist hates animals and goes to no end of trouble trying to kill her son's dog. A couple of my dog-walking friends took me to task over this and I had to explain that the animal is really the heroine of the tale. She not only survives but turns the tables on the dog-hater.
Believe me, I love dogs. I've rarely been without one since I was a kid. And the authors in whose books I know I can lose myself safely are all dog owners. In Mary Jane Maffini's Charlotte Adams novels Truffles and Sweet Marie are alter egos for her own Lily and Daisy. Charlotte nips home between bouts of sleuthing and decluttering to feed and walk them and is even undertaking therapy training with them. I'm told Joan Boswell who has three retrievers of her own is introducing a new puppy in her next book. If Hollis's care of McTee is any example, both dogs will be walked and fed regularly and I'll be able to abandon myself to the plot. Similarly Barbara Fradkin's fictional dog is as well treated as her own pair of Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers. Indeed the majority of authors I read do attend to the needs of their pets. It's the odd one that abandons them for days on end that bothers me.
Have you got a pet peeve?
Sue Pike has published a couple of dozen stories and won several awards including an Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story. Her latest, Where the Snow Lay Dinted will appear in the January issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
Sue and her husband and an opinionated Australian Shepherd named Cooper spend the winter months in Ottawa and the rest of the time at a mysterious cottage on the Rideau Lakes.