Malamutes rule—at least in the life of one amateur sleuth.
When she's not solving murders, Holly Winter is aÂ Dog's LifeÂ columnist, a dog trainer and an investigator for Malamute adoption. Finding the right home for a Malamute is not easy, and Holly must tactfully tell many applicants that a Malamute is not for them. Some of them don't take rejection well, as she learns when she and others start getting nasty phone calls. One solace is her new friend Vanessa Jones, who's just moved in nearby with her Malamute, her internist son Hatch, her depressed daughter Avery and her hypochondriac father Tom. Holly invites all of them, including Hatch's fiancÃ©e Fiona, to dinner, where they meet her father Buck and her stepmother Gabrielle and enjoy a fine meal before a car crash kills Fiona on the way home. Although Holly (All Shots, 2007, etc.) wonders if her death was really accidental, she and her veterinarian husband Steve are distracted from following up her suspicions by many other concerns, from hiding her stepmother's cosmetic treatments from her dog-obsessed father to tracking down the source of a threatening series of phone calls. Even as the surprises escalate, Holly remains too involved in the world of dogs to realize her life is in danger.
The thin mystery takes second place to loads of information about dogs certain to appeal to those who love them.
For her leisurely 19th Dog Lover's mystery featuring Cambridge, Mass., "dog trainer and dog writer" Holly Hunter (after 2007's All Shots), Conant takes a cue from her protagonist's love for Jane Austen by contrasting the fraught world of human relationships with Holly's expertise in the canine realm. On the personal front, Holly tries to help a new friend and neighbor, Vanessa Jones, deal with the death of her son's fiancee in a car crash; find a new mate for her newly single friend and fellow dog owner, Rita; and preserve the marriage between her temperamental father, Buck, and her stepmother, Gabrielle. Meanwhile, Holly's job screening applications for the adoption of rescued Alaskan sled dogs has earned her enemies, including a threatening anonymous caller. The story's lack of urgency and focus may deter newcomers, but series fans should enjoy spending time with familiar characters, the warm humor, and the dog lore.