Friday, April 01, 2011

Turning the Pet Mystery from Cozy to Cool -- and Dark! : Clea Simon, DOGS DON'T LIE

Sure, watching groomed show dogs on TV can be sweet, maybe even inspiring. But for raw emotion, show me a recovering race dog, or an animal that's been trained to fight, or even a guard dog, bristling with awareness and barely contained aggression.

There -- that should be a good reminder that writing about animals and crime can get gritty. And as Pru Marlowe, animal behaviorist and protagonist of Clea Simon's ripping good mystery DOGS DON'T LIE discovers, depending on people's pets for clues on how they've been murdered is a tough business. And even when Pru begins to pick up communication from cats, dogs, and a ferret in something close to words, she's only getting the animal end of things -- sniffy arrogance from her cat Wallis, who twitches an ear in a derogatory comment and pronounces, "Dogs have fleas." And pathetic terror from the brutalized pitbull Lily, whose "person," Charles, is lying on the refinished oak floor of his living room with his throat torn out. Pru knows Lily can't have done this -- the poor dog is distraught, terrified, grieving -- but how can she convince the all-too-typical police investigator, who hears what Pru does for a living and immediately asks, "And do you train dogs to attack?"

Simon's other pet series are softer than this one, but you can see her progress toward "pet noir" as she's confronted the reality of death through her two other series, featuring Theda Krakow and Dulcie Schwartz. Better yet, Simon's a seasoned, professional author who knows how to hold the tension in a plot and keep the clues reasonable but still surprising and challenging. I shared my advance copy of DOGS DON'T LIE with a legally trained and highly critical friend, who came back a few days later and said with lifted eyebrow, "This is really good!" And it is.

There's a toothsome interview with Simon on The Conscious Cat blog site, well worth reading; Simon has a second book being released this week, Grey Zone, and the interview touches on how she's handled bringing both books to publication at the same time. She'll be touring widely, and we hope to see her at Kingdom Books, after the snow vanishes!

1 comment:

Clea Simon said...

Thank you so much for reading! I'm thrilled that "Dogs" (and Pru and Wallis) amuse. As for "touring widely," well, I'm doing what I can in my old Toyota (and with an "old Toyota" budget). Not sure I will make it up your way, but I will try!