Fresh Meat: A Dog Gone Murder by Elaine Viets

A Dog Gone Murder by Elaine Viets is the 10th cozy murder mystery in the Mystery Shopper series featuring amatuer sleuth Josie Marcus (available November 4, 2014).

Elaine Viets’ Mystery Shopper series is always a delightful mix of zany murder and family togetherness. In the latest entry, Josie Marcus, an animal lover with a dog and cat of her own, along with a veterinarian husband, is asked to check out doggy day care center and make sure they’re up to snuff. When she manages to stumble upon a man whose face she’s seen on her TV screen multiple times, the owner of Uncle Bob’s Doggy Day Camp, keeled over his salad in his office, it’s not just her work life that’s affected. When her mother's neighbor, Franklin Hyzy (who she suspects has more than a friendly interest in the elderly woman), becomes one of the prime suspects, the case gets personal.

What also makes this series fun is that even with murder in the air, Josie always takes her job seriously, no matter what potentially dodgy business she has to explore. She’s already found out that Bob’s dirty little secret was that he didn’t like dogs, but did like being on TV.

The canine capers mix both humor and sob stories that will make pet lovers wince. Yet while Viets can tug on a fur fan’s heartstrings, she can mock those who go overboard when it comes to canine consumer culture in her own unique way. When she’s sent to investigate an upscale doggy day care, though, her and her best friend Alyce have trouble containing their laughter:

“The beds are designed for dogs and have orthopedic mattresses to support their hips and shoulders. We have sizes for big, small, and medium dogs. The covers are washable and changed after every guest.”

Each dog suite is about the size of Amelia’s bedroom, Josie thought.

One looked like a hunting lodge with pine log walls, a fake deer head over a fireplace, and a plaid dog bed.

“We're popular with Labradors, beagles, and other outdoorsy dogs,” Mark said.

Josie didn’t dare look at Alyce.

Another room was done in white and gold with a crystal chandelier. An extra-large dog bed nestled under a sheer white canopy. “This is our honeymoon suite,” Mark said. “Were booked for weddings through July.”

After they looked at a pink princess suite and a seaside suite with its own beach, Mark took them into a white room with stained-glass windows and a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

“This is our nondenominational chapel for ceremonies, including bark mitzvahs,” he said.

Josie’s job is as interesting as her investigating sideline, but what also consistently stands out in this series is how seriously Josie takes being a mother and daughter, and, since the last book, wife. Her family is of the utmost importance to her and her mother’s concern about the case spurs her to go all out to solve it.

“Josie, I know it’s six in the morning, but can you come over right away?” Jane’s phone call woke her up.

Even half-asleep, Josie heard the urgency in her mother’s voice. She dragged herself out of her deep Saturday slumber and said, “Mom, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“It’s not me,” Jane said, her voice low and quick. “It’s Frank. The police are parked outside. They’re at Mrs. Mueller’s house right now, but I’m afraid they’ll be here next. A police officer is on my front porch and another one is parked in the alley at the back gate. We’re surrounded!”

Josie fought back a giggle at the idea of her law-abiding mother surrounded by cops like a fugitive, and reached for her jeans. “I’m getting dressed now, Mom,” she said. “I’ll be at your house in ten minutes.”

“Make it fifteen, Josie. You don’t want a ticket. The police are everywhere.”

As Josie looks into who may have planted the poisonous azalea leaves on Bob’s salad, trying to clear Frank’s name, she finds multiple possibilities in the form of Bob’s estranged wife and various women he’s had dalliances with, all of whom have relatively easy access to azaleas. Viets makes various subplots zip along, including one over her tween daughter’s encounters with older boys at a party and One Direction fandom. Like the mother/daughter relationship in Joan Hess’s Claire Malloy series, Josie is deeply committed to being the best mother she can be to Amelia, while Amelia wants to help her mom solve the murder with her own online sleuthing.

Viets takes a wacky premise and brings it perfectly to life, and doesn’t skimp on the extremely sharp descriptions along the way. She makes each new character stand out, such as this passage, when an irate customer finds her pet injured:

Sharon was a series of triangles from her tented eyebrows to her ski-jump nose and sharp chin. Even her brown hair was a wedge. The reception area’s cheery schoolroom colors—blue, red, and yellow—mocked her anger.

Yes, this one had me turning the pages fast as could be to find out who the killer amidst many worth suspects was, but just as much made me admire Josie for going the extra mile and risking her own safety, and Viets for caring about the details enough to make them all vivid and memorable. This one’s perfect for pet lovers, but you don’t need to have a warm furry creature to curl up with to savor this family-oriented cozy.

See more new releases at our Fresh Meat feature page.

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Rachel Kramer Bussel is a freelance and erotica writer, and editor of over 50 anthologies, including The Big Book of Orgasms69 Sexy StoriesOnly You: Erotic Romance for Women; Serving Him: Sexy Stories of Submission and others. She tweets @raquelita and blogs at Lusty Lady.

Read all of Rachel Kramer Bussel's posts for Criminal Element.

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