Friday, January 9, 2009

Pets in Mysteries

A scientist by training, a romanticist at heart, Maggie Toussaint loves to solve puzzles. Whether it’s the puzzle of a relationship or a who-dun-it, she tackles them all with equal aplomb and wonder. Maggie’s cozy mystery from Five Star, IN FOR A PENNY, is about a terrible golfer trying to save her best friend from a murder rap. Her three other published works are pet-laden romantic suspense books, one of which won Best Romantic Suspense in the 2007 National Readers Choice Awards. Her day jobs include freelancing for a weekly paper and leading a yoga class. Visit her at

Readers love sassy felines and lovable pooches. In the mystery genre, pets are often instrumental in solving the crime. Whether pets hog the limelight or play the role of sidekick, their presence in a story is often sought-out by mystery fans.

Some writers employ an animal’s natural abilities, such as a cat’s curiosity or a dog’s keen sense of smell to solve the riddle of who-dun-it. These writers intuitively understand the affinity people have for animals. Readers may connect with pets on a physical and emotional level. In return, pets often display loyalty and affection for their humans despite the species language barrier. A few examples of dogs and cats in mysteries follow.

In my cozy from Five Star, IN FOR A PENNY, a grieving St. Bernard helps sleuth Cleopatra Jones run down the villain. Carola Dunn writes about a perfectly normal mutt, Nana, who finds a vital mystery-solving clue in MISTLETOE AND MURDER; Nana also finds the body in BLACK SHIP. In Glynn Marsh Alam’s upcoming March release, MOON WATER MADNESS, swamp dog Plato helps sleuth Luanne Fogarty by digging up a weapon. A four-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback named Baraka shines in Maris Soule’s mystery, THE CROWS.

Marcia James has a Chinese Crested hairless dog named Smokey, a DEA drug-sniffing dog, who goes undercover in AT HER COMMAND. (Janes includes Chinese Cresteds in all her books; her upcoming short story in TAILS OF LOVE benefits a no-kill animal shelter.) And who can forget Asta, the playful terrier tugging Nick and Nora Charles around in THE THIN MAN series? Tom Shreck has an adventurous Muslim basset hound named Allah-King in his Duffy Dombrowski series, of which TKO is the latest release. Shrek’s series was recommended by author Barbra Annino, who has a similar pet in her series, which is in acquisitions. Phyllis Humphrey is penning a cozy in which the dog’s behavior helps her sleuth solve the mystery.

But mysteries aren’t just populated with dogs. Felines Koko and Yum Yum from Lillian Jackson Braun’s THE CAT WHO… series solve crimes in book after book. Author CP Perkins recommends the five-book Dixie Hemingway Pet Sitter Series, written by Blaize Clement, in which amateur sleuth Dixie has all manner of interactions with her pet clients.

Other authors seek to up the stakes by adding a twist to animals in mysteries. They include an enhanced level of communication that goes beyond routine pet/owner interactions. This information exchange ventures into the realm of extrasensory perception, allowing direct thought transference between sleuth and pet or animal to animal. To illustrate, I’ve included a few titles from this subgenre of books.

Piper Rome told me about an upcoming pet series by Judi McCoy. In McCoy’s books, Rudy the talking dog communicates with Ellie the NY dogwalker. Look for McCoy’s titles to release soon: HOUNDING THE PAVEMENT (March) and HEIR OF THE DOG (October); McCoy reports that her books have been optioned into a weekly television series. Angie Fox writes a paranormal mystery/romance series, the first of which is THE ACCIDENTAL DEMON SLAYER, where Pirate the talking dog is a reader favorite.

Let’s not forget the cats. Rita Mae Brown has another installation in her sleuthing cat series, THE PURRFECT MURDER, coming out this month, where felines Mrs. Murphy and Pewter share duties with Tee Tucker the Corgi. THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE by David Wroblewski, a literary thriller, mixes fact and fiction as the dog Almondine communicates with a deaf mute boy.

Other authors change it up even more. They write about pets as sleuths. In Vic diGenti’s WINDRUSHER series, the story is told entirely from a feline point of view. Author Karen McCullough reminded me to include Carole Nelson Douglas’s Midnight Louie series, where the cat is the private investigator.

Why are so many authors inspired to write pets in their books? I believe it is due to their experiences with pets. The unconditional affection of dogs and grudging respect of cats that occurs when animals and people cohabitate creates lasting feelings and memories. Pet stories speak a universal language, one that pet owners understand intuitively.

To put it another way, characters populate stories. Story characters have their own agendas, their own means, motives, and opportunities. Pets come pre-programmed with where they want to sleep, what they want to eat, when they want an adventure, etc. For writers and readers, an agenda-driven pet is pure gold.

Lists of pets in mysteries are available online. Here’s one such list that may provide more information:

My examples of mysteries with pets are by no means exhaustive, and I apologize if I’ve omitted anyone’s favorite. Be sure and add any omissions to the comments.

A special thanks to Evelyn David and her friends at The Stiletto Gang for inviting me to be here today. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

IN FOR A PENNY, ISBN 9781594146466 (hardcover and large print) Buy it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or ask your librarian to order it!

HOUSE OF LIES, Best Romantic Suspense, National Readers' Choice Awards ISBN 9781601540317 buy it: Amazon, The Wild Rose Press, Kindle

NO SECOND CHANCE, buy a book, help a horse ISBN 9781601541628 buy it: Amazon, The Wild Rose Press, Kindle

SEEING RED (ebook) Buy it at Fictionwise

Maggie Toussaint


  1. Hi, Maggie! Great blog! I love to read books that feature dogs and cats. Hollywood uses the phrase "petting the dog" to denote the way a character can be made more appealing to the audience by having him or her interact with an animal. (A wonderful example of this is Jack Nicholson's character in "As Good As It Gets".) Readers know that a person who is kind to an animal is worth caring about. But that's only one reason I have Chinese crested hairless dogs in my books. ;-)

    I look forward to reading those books you mentioned that are not already in my TBR pile!
    -- Marcia James ;-)

  2. Hi Maggie!
    What a great topic :)) And one dear to my heart as fur people are often some of my very favorite people of all. I loved your pair of St. Bernards in In For A Penny---you gave them such wonderful personality I think anyone who'd ever known a furperson would adore them.

    Take care and all the very best to you! Ellen

  3. Hi Maggie,
    Loved your blog! Animals are amazing and as you pointed out, especially with dogs, give us unconditional affection. They're amazing. Thank you for blogging on this topic. :) My sincere best to you, you're a wonderful writer!

    Diana Cosby
    His Captive/Alexander MacGruder
    His Woman/Duncan MacGruder - 4 star Romantic Times review
    Title TBA/Seathan MacGruder - Date TBA
    Title TBA/Patrik [Cleary] MacGruder

  4. Informative blog. I have a dog in 'the book in my head' that has been barking to be let out. LOL

    I love it when an author writes about a dog and you wish that it was yours.

  5. Godd morning All! First thing, I must apologize to Marcia JAMES for goofing on her name. She doesn't even have a crazy last name like mine and I still goofed. So I'm sorry, so sorry, for that inadvertent typo. I glossed right over it even though I proof read the post. Marcia Janes has some great books and I highly recommend them.

    Thank you for stopping by, Marcia.

    who is currently digging her head out of the sand of screwups

  6. Ellen,
    I love your term "furpeople" meaning pet lovers! How fun! I have been a pet lover my entire life, and I must confess my inspiration for Madonna and her freewheelin' sidekick were ... my Granddogs. Madonna in real life is Missie, and she's very particular about the "ie" on the end of her name. She is generally easy going, lovable, and affectionate; however, when she decides to do something, she really sets her mind to it. My daughter has on occassion refered to Missie being a supertanker on a walk. And off the leash, Missie is extremely fast for a large fluffy dog. I believe her picture is on the slide show on this blog. If not, she's over on the slide show at MySpace:

    Thanks for stopping by, Ellen!

    who's feeling better because she didn't mispell Ellen's name.

  7. EEEE! I did it again. I'm sorry Marcia James. Maybe I am a nutcase

  8. Don't worry Maggie, no typo that can't be fixed. The spelling of Marcia's name is now fixed in the blog text. Note that I avoided typing her last name in this "comment" for fear the spelling problem was contagious.

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  9. Diana,
    I'm so glad we share a love of animals, and I thank you for your kind words about the blog. It didn't occur to me until after 4 published books that pets were an integral part of every book I wrote. My husband came with a dog when I married him, and we both loved Max even though he ate my husband's prized Ernie Banks autographed baseball. After Max we had another black lab, Zak, and St. Luke the holy terror (that's terrier to folks outside the family). Our cats were Puffy and Missy, guinea pigs were Frederick and Brownie, the paint horse was Eureka, and we never got around to naming the fish and hermit crabs.
    Currently, we're petless, but we're traveling an awful lot and have agreed to wait a few years before we re-pet. Although my boss has a golden retriever that I dearly love...


  10. Hey Donna,
    Thanks for stopping by. Don't shoot me, but I have to say this: Let your inner dog out!!! You're such a talented, fun writer, I know a pet story from you would be solid gold.

  11. LOL, Maggie! I appreciate your mentioning me no matter how you spell my name. ;-)

    And we definitely share a love for animals and supporting animal causes. All the author proceeds for TAILS OF LOVE, the June Berkley anthology you mentioned (that I was honored to be asked to contribute a short story to), are being donated to a no-kill animal shelter. And an online PR workshop I'm presenting in Feb. also supports a no-kill shelter.

    I find that authors who include pets in their books often also adopt animal charities as their "pet" causes (pun intended) in their personal lives.
    -- Marcia James ;-)

  12. Rhonda,
    You're my hero! My heroine too. Thanks for saving me from my stupid mistake.
    What fun to be here.

    And thanks to you I can almost spell stiletto without having to back up and fix that too. I want to have a word with Mirriam Webster and though and tell them the word needs another "l".

  13. Marica,
    Thanks to Rhonda the computer whiz my spelling goof has been eliminated from cyberspace. Like you, I want to help animals, which is why the proceeds from my NO SECOND CHANCE are helping Days' End Farm Horse Rescue in Lisbon, MD. They are always strapped for operating expenses and in this down economy, more people are abandoning their horses. Its a big job to take care of horses. Their website is

  14. I got an email at home from HENRY DANIS who had a list of pets in mysteries that struck a chord with him. I'll cut and paste his message here to add to the list of pets in mysteries.

    Lilian Jackson Braun, The Cat Who series. Supposedly James Quilleran’s two cats KoKo and Yum Yum guide Mr. Quilleran to a solution

    Donna Andrews, the Meg Langslow series. All the stories revolve around animals (both in the title and central to the storyline) and Meg’s pet (Spike) is often a central character.

    Nancy Bush’s, Jane Kelly series introduces a pet (The Binkster) for Jane who is instrumental in the second book of the series and involved in the first.

    A new series:

    Linda O. Johnston’s, Kendra Ballantyne, Petsitter Mysteries. I’ve read the first book, Sit, Stay, Slay which was wonderful. I’ve got the rest on my to read shelf now.

    From my childhood, I remember a few Lassie mysteries:

    Lassie and the Mystery at Blackberry Bog

    Lassie the Mystery of Bristlecone Pine (a special favorite of mine)

    Lassie Lost in the Snow

    Lassie: the Secret of the Smelter's Cave (also a big favorite)

    From publisher Grosset and Dunlap a kid’s science/adventure series (aka mysteries) Rick Brant by John Blaine. This series is in the same vein as The Hardy Boys, except better written and less well known.

    Rick’s dog Dismal plays a role in several stories.

    -- thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Henry!

  15. Hi Maggie,

    I had problems spelling Stiletto too when we started the blog a year ago.

    "Whiskey" the Irish wolfhound in "Evelyn David's" books is our hero's sidekick and furry sounding board. "Whiskey's" photo, shown on the cover of all our books, is actually a photo of a rescued Irish wolfhound in England. The owner allowed us use of the photo in exchange for a page in our books on Irish wolfhound rescue groups.

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  16. Hi Rhonda,
    Thank you for posting about the Irish Wolfhound, Whiskey. I'm thrilled about there being a tie between the Evelyn Daivd books and animal rescue. And I love Whiskey's face, sorta a cross between I-know-what-you're-thing and who-me? I think pets sense things aren't right long before humans figure things out, and your Whiskey looks like an ace detective!

  17. Thanks so much for writing about pets in mysteries!!

    I have a new series called "Cats in Trouble Mysteries." The first title is The Cat, The Quilt and The Corpse and will be released May 5th by Obsidian/Penguin. My helpful felines in the mysteries are Chablis, Syrah and Merlot. Wine is great inspiration!

    Leann Sweeney, who also writes the Yellow Rose Mysteries.

  18. I can think of Pearl (two of them, actually) in the Spenser series, and I love Rex the hamster in the Stephanie Plum series. And there's the bulldog in Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware novels (two of them in that one, too.)

    The hero of Finding Sarah is a big "nothing matters but the job" cop, but he's got 2 cats -- Starsky & Hutch. And in my newest, When Danger Calls, a German Shepherd named Wolf is a very important character (along with a stuffed dog, "Mr. Snuggles.)

    Great post.

  19. Hey, Maggie:

    I always have a cat or dog in my books, too. If nothing else, it gives my heroine someone to talk to (and since I write first-person mysteries, that can sometimes be useful!)


  20. Maggie, thanks for your insight. Maybe it's because I don't write mysteries and don't read many, but I never thought of using an animal as a contributing character. As usual, you've given me something to think about.
    Thanks again,
    Dianne Higbee

  21. Leanne,
    I love your wine-themed cats. There's a certain feeling I get after a few sips of wine when I feel like I have that cat-like Zen mode. Its a fleeting mood, and probably the guys in white coats will come after me for saying it, but I believe cats are extremely perceptive. I am very interested in reading your series. Thanks for posting!

  22. Great list here, Maggie

    Barbra Annino

  23. Terry,
    So many pets in books! Pearl, Rex, Starsky and Hutch, and Wolf. You mentioned Rex the hamster and it jogged my memory about Bob the dog, also in the Stephanie Plum series. He's pretty unforgetable, LOL! Thanks for stopping in.

  24. JL,
    I adore your big titled books, and your pets are fun to read as well. I'm going to share a secret about JL. She's a whiz at writing clean and fast and her books get rave reviews. Thanks for stopping by!

  25. Dianne,
    Thanks for dropping by! There's a good bit of mystery in many romances, so I'm sure you would enjoy dipping your toe in the mystery pool as well. Come on in, the water's fine!

  26. Barbra,
    Thanks for stopping by! Best of luck with placing your mystery. Be sure and let us know when it is picked up.

  27. Great post. I love to read about animals in books - they're such a part of our lives, why not have them in our mysteries?

    People laugh because the dog in my series always seems to make it onto both the front and back covers of the book. But why not? He's a lot of fun. And since The Accidental Demon Slayer is a paranormal, Pirate the dog gets to talk, and say the kinds of things that we all know our pets are thinking anyway.

    And, yes, Bob the dog in the Janet Evanovich series makes me laugh everytime. :)

  28. Hi Angie,
    Thanks for stopping by to comment. The Accidental Demon Slayer is definitely on my to-be-read list. I can't wait to hear what Pirate has to say. best of luck with this book and the rest of your series.

  29. Hey again, Maggie!
    I just had to stop back by and let you know I absolutely adore your Granddoggie. What an adorable little sweet face :)) Yeah, I talk all gooshie about furbabies just like I do the bald variety. Thanks for sharing Missie with us both today but also in In For A Penny!

  30. I love animals in mysteries, though I prefer them to be 'real', rather than talking or in communication with their owners. I added a dog to my next Chris and David mystery L.A. Boneyard, where Chris rescues an abandoned Doberman. David is not thrilled by the idea, which brings tension in to their relationship which mirrors other issues they were having, so the dog stands between them as a physical representation of their emotional issues.

  31. Hi PA Brown! LA Boneyard sounds like a fun book. Nothing like a pet to add to the tension already existing between a couple. I'll bet the fictional abandoned Doberman has issues; though I must say there are many dogs of that breed that are quite pleasant to be around. Thanks for stopping by!

  32. Hi PA Brown! LA Boneyard sounds like a fun book. Nothing like a pet to add to the tension already existing between a couple. I'll bet the fictional abandoned Doberman has issues; though I must say there are many dogs of that breed that are quite pleasant to be around. Thanks for stopping by!

  33. Uh oh! I'm self replicating. Sorry. I thought I'd misspelled the Catcha thingy and my last comment posted twice. Maybe my alternate self will get in here and shovel out my office.

  34. Hi, Maggie! Great post!

    I also love animals in books - Spenser's Pearl, Bob and Rex in the Plum series, Midnight Louie in Carole Nelson Douglas's Las Vegas series, Linda O. Johnston's pet sitting series, Angie Fox's Pirate. And those are just the mysteries!

    I had a panther-to-house cat shapeshifter in La Vida Vampire, one who comes back in the second book for more fun. She's not a pet, and I didn't think about having an animal in the story. She just showed up.

    Maggie, you're a super fine writer, and I look forward to you next releases!!

    Viva the Stiletto Gang!

    Nancy Haddock

  35. Hi Nancy!
    I love your comment about the pet that just showed up in your story. Isn't that just the way these things happen? I can't imagine a world without animals. Your panther/house cat sounds like a fun character. I can't wait to try out La Vida Vampire. Thanks for stopping by!

  36. Hey Maggie! Great to see the blog! I'm a dog person from way back. They make a place in your heart. Some of the dog friends I've had are better than people. Keep writing. I can't wait to read more.

  37. Hi Eden!
    So nice to see another friendly face from First Coast Romance Writers. I just knew you were a dog person. Thanks so much for dropping by the blog and leaving a comment.