Dog Dish of Doom by E. J. Copperman is the first book in the new Agent to the Paws series.
Show business is in Kay Powell’s blood. Her parents (Jay and El) were successful Catskill performers back in the day, and when she was a kid, she had her own spot in the show—a bit called “Oh Kay” where she sang and danced. Opting out of the limelight, she headed for college to play around with organic chemistry and history classes before heading for law school. Now, she’s a theatrical agent specializing in animal actors because they’re much easier to deal with than humans. (Her company logo is a cat playing Hamlet that she privately thinks looks more like Donald Trump’s toupee has grown arms.)
Unfortunately, even though her clients are a delight, she still has to deal with their people. Tent Barclay—owner of Kay’s client Bruno, a talented mutt up for the role of “Sandy” in a new production of Annie—is the kind of person Kay would happily ignore if she could.
And she’s not really all that fond of theatrical legend Les McMaster, who is directing the revival and has taken an instant dislike to Trent (not that Kay blames him). Kay’s a professional though, and it annoys her that after she’s put so much time and effort into Bruno’s career, McMasters seems to be dissing her when he summons Bruno for a callback without notifying Kay’s office.
As soon as the conversation was over, I asked Consuelo to get me Les McMaster’s office on the phone, but she was already punching the number into her keypad. She waited perhaps four seconds. “Kay Powell calling for Mr. McMaster,” she said into the phone. “Sure.” She punched Hold and looked at me. “On two.”
We have two phone lines because theater is still an old-fashioned enough business that a fax line is a sporadically used necessity. I punched the button and nodded thanks to Consuelo as I said, “Les?”
“This is Akra, his executive assistant,” the woman’s voice said from the other end of the line. “Mr. McMaster is not currently available. How can I help you?”
It has been my experience that people who ask how they can help me usually are capable of doing so, but often aren’t willing. I decided to test my theory with Akra, whose name in third grade I would bet was Alice or Alex.
“I brought a client to see Les about the role of Sandy in Annie yesterday,” I told her. “I’ve just been told that he requested a callback with my client for today at two. Can you tell me why your office didn’t call mine to request that callback?” The agent always gets called about auditions. It is never okay to contact the client (or in this case, the person who walks the client three times a day) directly. That is a breach of professional protocol.
Kay’s not happy about the snub, but by the time she finds out she’s out of the loop, she’s got bigger problems. Trent Barclay has been killed—literally stabbed in the back—and the police are asking a lot of questions. This is bad news for Kay on so many different levels.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a hard time coping with the idea of death. It’s always seemed hideously unfair to me that life ends, that we have no control, and that there’s no Reset button. You’re dead, and that’s it. When I was small, I’d lie awake trying to reconcile the facts and invariably end up crying.
Actually, I’m still not that crazy about the whole business to this day. But it’s more my death and those of my loved ones that bother me.
Kay’s dad knows her weakness, so when Trent’s murdered and Kay ends up a “person of interest,” he shows up at her East Harlem office in his “official clothes” (khakis from the ’90s and a denim shirt with the logo of a cruise line on it) to give her some help. Of course, he has an ulterior motive, and when Kay probes, he admits that he’s worried about his show-biz gigs drying up and is hoping he can meet McMaster and wheedle a job out of him. Neither he nor Kay’s mother is a spring chicken anymore, and he frankly tells his daughter that he’s grasping at straws since even the bookings for cruise-line entertainment are getting scarce.
The author keeps the tone light, but this is a moment that feels real, and there are enough of these emotionally truthful bits to anchor the whole frothy construct. Kay’s office manager is also a character who has seen her share of heartbreak, and we get the sense that it’s not just stray animals that Kay adopts.
This novel by E. J. Copperman is the first in a new series, a book that manages to straddle the line between light-hearted and totally silly. Kay’s family reminds us an awful lot of the quirky Plum family from Janet Evanovich’s bestselling Stephanie Plum mysteries, and that’s a good thing. The author gives Kay a voice that is a believable mixture of exasperation and vulnerability, and her attitude towards show business is equal parts fondness and despair. (Her comments about McMaster’s over-dramatic antics are hilarious.) Throw in some intriguing neighbors and Det. Alana Rodriguez and Copperman has the makings of a successful series, one that could break out and find a wider audience than just “cozy” readers.
To learn more or order a copy, visit:
Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir, Luna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird Noir, Pulp Ink 2, Alt-Dead, Alt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She sees way too many movies.