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Live and Let Growl (A Melanie Travis Mystery) Kindle Edition
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In this 19th book in the series, Melanie's Aunt Peg is traveling from Connecticut to Louisville, Kentucky, to judge a several-day series of dog shows. Having also learned that she has been bequeathed a thoroughbred broodmare, Peg determines to take the opportunity to visit the farm where the horse is boarded and learn about her new responsibility. Bertie, Melanie's sister-in-law and a professional dog show handler, is taking a large group of client dogs to the show, and she and Peg persuade (well, Bertie persuades, Peg demands) Melanie to join them on the trip which falls during spring break. In Kentucky, Peg arranges a meeting with Ellie Gates Wanamaker, whom Peg knew well when Miss Ellie was active in breeding and showing Standard Poodles. Ellie was raised on a Kentucky horse farm and agrees to help Peg come up to speed on her new horse. Melanie and Peg convince Miss Ellie to come to one day of the dog show, but her appearance seems to be somewhat controversial and both Peg and Melanie are troubled by what they learn of Ellie's family history with regard to what is no longer her family farm, but also whispers about the car accident that ended her dog breeding career . The next day, Melanie and Peg learn that Ellie has fallen to her death during a hike with her four Jack Russell Terriers, but they feel that there must be more to the story and begin to investigate.
I've learned so much about dog shows from Berenson's books, and now I feel like I could begin to carry on a conversation about horse racing, as well. Like a lot of people, my vision of that world pretty much begins and ends with watching the Kentucky Derby on television, and this was a very interesting look at a world in which the financial stakes are enormous and the principle product, the carefully bred and raised horses, are living, breathing, unpredictable poetry in motion.
There are lots of dogs in the book, too, of course. Most notably, Faith, Melanie's Standard Poodle, accompanies Melanie to Louisville and she is an integral part of the story. Berenson's dogs don't talk or think out loud, but Melanie does interpret Faith's body language, and, as the owner of several Standard Poodles, I can confirm that the Poodle's communications are very accurately (and often humorously, because that's what Poodles do) portrayed. I read a lot of mysteries and I don't often feel the loss of the murder victim as keenly as I did with this one. Miss Ellie's visit to the dog show after so many years away was really heartwrenching, and I wondered if a little of the author's own departure from an active role in that world informed Miss Ellie's emotions a bit.
Berenson writes really well. Her prose is lean and paints vivid scenes of often very unfamiliar situations without the words distracting from the reader's immersion in the story. She also managed the amateur sleuth situation (how does this "normal" person become involved in so many murders) with an off-hand confidence. If I had any quibbles with this story, I would say that some plot points were left unexplored/unresolved and that the ending seemed a bit rushed. Oh, and after the discussion of dogs in car accidents, I wish Faith was crated rather than riding loose in Aunt Peg's minivan. But those minor things certainly won't deter me from eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series!
While in Lexington, they meet Miss Ellie (shades of Dallas!), who once had a premium kennel of Standard Poodles and who was raised on a Kentucky horse farm. But Miss Ellie has lost her home to conniving relatives, and no longer breeds Poodles--and then she loses her life, too.
One of the things that I like about this series is the author's thorough knowledge of her chosen background. It's just as true of Thoroughbred breeding as it is of dog shows, and there's plenty of detail to enjoy. The culture clash between Northern brashness and Southern steel-magnolia charm is clearly defined as well. I read this book in one night, and my only regret is that now I have to wait for the next one.
I enjoyed this because it was a change of pace from Melanie getting involved with someone from the dog world who is murdered and her investigating the crime. Berenson describes the Kentucky bluegrass country with love and you learn something about how horses are traded like commodities, and of the sometimes shady bargaining that goes on behind the scenes. Neither is Aunt Peg's friend Miss Ellie a saint, as you find out something in her past that reveals she's not the sweet person she appears. I knew who did what and why when one clue clicked home, so it didn't keep me puzzled to the very end, but I enjoyed the change of venue and Melanie getting to spend a little quality time with her poodle Faith.
In the latest book we are introduced to the world of horses. Aunt Peg is bequeathed a broodmare that is being kept at a well known stable in Kentucky. As fate would have it, Peg was asked to judge at the popular four day dog show called the Kentuckiana Cluster that is near those stables. Bertie, Melanie's sister-in-law, is handling several dogs at the same show. Melanie is drafted to accompany Aunt Peg on the drive from Connecticut and to help Bertie at the show.
Of course, Aunt Peg had a few other things for Melanie to take care of while they are in Kentucky.
I enjoyed learning the ins and outs of horse pedigrees, breeding, buying and selling. There was also murder, dirty dealing, threats, grudges, new friendships and an announcement about a new baby to come. As always there are new characters and old that are well developed and believable. The plot was interesting. There is no graphic sex, language or violence. The bond between Melanie and her poodle, Faith is a fine example of what is possible when humans take the time to know what their animals need and supply it.