Read David Handler's exclusive guest post about why he included his sidekick dog Lulu in his acclaimed Stewart Hoag mystery series, then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of the long-awaited return of Hoagy and Lulu in The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes!
I confess. I never intended to give a sidekick to Stewart Hoag, that major American novelist turned major burn-out case turned preeminent ghostwriter of celebrity memoirs. And I definitely never planned to give him a sidekick with short legs, long ears, and a taste for 9Lives mackerel for cats and very strange basset hounds.
This was back in 1985 when I was a very young writer. After I’d drafted the first 50 pages of the first Hoagy novel, The Man Who Died Laughing, I sent them to my agent, the late Roberta Pryor. It was my first stab at crime fiction, and I was hungry for feedback. Roberta kindly gave me hers: she hated it. Thought that Hoagy was a bitter, dislikeable loser. “No one will spend their hard-earned money on this,” she informed me. “They can already get it at home for free.”
Two different forces then converged to give the crime fiction world one of its most beloved canines. After I spoke to Roberta, my mind headed straight for the Edith Bunker Principle. I was still writing sitcoms in those days, and one of the most famous sitcom characters of the recent past had been Archie Bunker of All in the Family. Archie was a totally horrible person—a racist, sexist, homophobic boor—and yet, we were curiously fond of him. Why? Because we adored his sweetie of a wife, Edith, and Edith genuinely loved him. This meant that Archie had to be a good guy inside, and so we forgave him his gruff exterior.
Meanwhile, a few weeks after I spoke to Roberta, I was visiting friends with a farmhouse in the Hudson River Valley who were babysitting a basketful of basset hound puppies. They had already chosen to keep one and had named him Lulu, which ardent fans of The Honeymooners will recall was the name of Ed Norton’s childhood dog.
That settled it. I decided to apply the Edith Bunker Principle to Hoagy and give him a faithful, neurotic basset hound named Lulu. As I rewrote the opening chapters, I discovered that Hoagy instantly became more likable. I also discovered that Lulu had the potential to function as a valuable crime-solving partner. She could hear and smell things that Hoagy couldn’t. She had unerring instincts about people. If Lulu didn’t like someone, then you could be sure that she had a damned good reason.
I’m no expert on the subject of canine heroes in crime literature—maybe because I’ve never thought of Lulu as a dog. I write her as a person who doesn’t talk but understands everything that’s being said. A person who has a large, wet black nose and bad breath.
Naturally, I am a huge fan of Asta, Nick and Nora’s wire-haired terrier in Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. But the only other dog in crime literature who has ever made a major impression on me is Toby, the lop-eared scent hound that Sherlock Holmes sends Dr. Watson to borrow from Mr. Sherman at No. 3 Pinchin Lane in The Sign of Four, which has been my favorite Holmes novel since I was ten years old. Toby can track the scent of creosote through the streets of London like nobody’s business. I was immediately captivated by him and still think of him often when I’m working on a Hoagy novel. Toby reminds me that Lulu must serve a vital plot function in every book. I have to make use of her unique set of skills. She’s not just there to provide glamour.
After I completed the manuscript for The Man Who Died Laughing, Roberta sold it to a mystery editor at Bantam named Kate Miciak, and it was nominated for an Anthony Award. I wrote eight Hoagy and Lulu novels for Kate, including The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald, my Edgar winner. Years later, Kate confessed to me that she wouldn’t have bought The Man Who Died Laughing if it hadn’t been for Lulu.
I moved on from Hoagy in 1997. Ever since then, I’ve received gazillions of letters and e-mails asking me when Lulu was coming back. Not Hoagy. Lulu. In truth, it never occurred to me that it would ever happen. But thanks to a generous invitation by Dan Mallory of Morrow Books, Hoagy and Lulu are indeed back, after a brief 20-year hiatus, in The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes.
Before you start to panic, I assure you that they haven’t aged 20 years, which would be particularly awkward in Lulu’s case. The novel is set in the year 1992, which is the era when I originally wrote them. It’s also an era before there was e-mail, cell phones, the internet, viral videos, Facebook, Twitter … trust me, I had so much fun writing this book.
The one question that I’ve always been asked ever since I began the Hoagy series is whether I own a basset hound myself. I never have. In fact, I’m not a dog person at all. I’m a cat person. I suppose that makes me a bit odd, but we already knew that, didn’t we?
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David Handler is an Edgar Award winner and Anthony, Derringer, and Dilys Award finalist. He has written extensively for television and films. David lives in a two-hundred-year-old carriage house in Old Lyme, Connecticut.