Murder, Mayhem, and Missing Animals

Playing Possum

by Lois Schmitt

February 1-28, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Long-term readers of this blog know I’m a fan of cozy mysteries–particularly those featuring dogs or other animals. Lois Schmitt is a new-to-me author, and after reading book #3 of her Kristy Farrell Mystery Series, I’m hooked!   

The classic elements of a cozy mystery are all here, framing a storyline that’s rich with suspense, misdirection, and intrigue. Our amateur sleuth, Kristy, is a journalist who writes articles for Animal Advocate Magazine. Her husband is a veterinarian, as is her daughter. Add in an assistant district attorney as her future son-law, and Kristy has a ready-made team of experts to supplement what she learns through her own research and hands-on investigation. 

The plot was paced in the style of a traditional cozy, with assorted characters introduced as multiple story lines emerge. In addition to investigating deaths and disappearances at a Long Island wildlife refuge–and butting heads with police along the way–Kristy searches for the truth about sick animals that were brought to her husband’s vet clinic. She takes a part-time job at the pet shop selling the sick dogs to unsuspecting customers and uncovers a puppy mill business and even more illegal activities. 

The author has a knack for writing short chapters that capture your interest and have you turning the page to see what happens next. She also does a great job of developing a protagonist with “forgivable” flaws–shortcomings we can identify with and may even have ourselves. Kristy could be described as direct, even forceful, when interviewing people. It’s fair to say subtlety isn’t her strong suit. She’s not deterred when suspects try to mislead her or withhold information. She’s relentless in chasing down clues, and isn’t easily discouraged when her efforts lead to dead ends.

Themes of family, politics, passion, and greed weave through the book and lead Kristy through a maze of motives in pursuit of the truth behind the crimes. 

This was an informative and interesting book. Thanks to Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours, I can share a synopsis of Playing Possum as well as an excerpt with you. Read on to learn more!

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Praise for Playing Possum:

Lois Schmitt’s Playing Possum does cozies proud. Fresh and traditional all at once.”
-Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of Sleepless City

“In her third book of the series, writer Lois Schmitt has crafted an intricately-plotted mystery full of twists and humor, with a cast of colorful characters, set in a wildlife refuge rehab center. Cozy fans, and especially followers of Schmitt’s animal lovers’ mysteries, will find great entertainment in Playing Possum.”
-Phyllis Gobbell, award-winning author of the Jordan Mayfair Mysteries

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Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Published by: Encircle Publications
Publication Date: December 8, 2021
Number of Pages: 296
ISBN: 1645993051 (ISBN13‎ 978-1645993056)
Series: A Kristy Farrell Animal Lovers Mystery, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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Synopsis: When animals mysteriously disappear from the Pendwell Wildlife Refuge, former English teacher turned magazine reporter Kristy Farrell is on the case. Days later, the body of the refuge’s director is found in a grassy clearing.

Kristy, assisted by her veterinarian daughter, investigates and discovers strong motives among the suspects, including greed, infidelity, betrayal, and blackmail.

As Kristy delves further, she finds herself up against the powerful Pendwell family, especially matriarch Victoria Buckley Pendwell, chair of the refuge board of trustees, and Victoria’s son, Austin Pendwell, who is slated to run for the state senate.

But ferreting out the murderer and finding the missing animals aren’t Kristy only challenges. While researching a story on puppy mills, she uncovers criminal activity that reaches far beyond the neighborhood pet store.

Meanwhile, strange things are happening back at the refuge, and soon a second murder occurs. Kristy is thwarted in her attempts to discover the murderer by her old nemesis, the blustery Detective Wolfe.

Kristy perseveres and as she unearths shady deals and dark secrets, Kristy slowly draws the killer out of the shadows.

Read an excerpt:

I waited until a man and a woman emerged from the county medical examiner’s van. I followed them into the wildlife preserve, maintaining a discreet distance while wondering what happened. Did a jogger succumb to a heart attack? Did a child fall into a pond and drown? I inhaled deeply, hoping to steady my nerves.

I passed the clearing on the right where the administration building was located. I continued trailing the two members of the medical examiner’s staff until another clearing came into view—this one bordered by yellow crime scene tape.

I gasped.

Not far from where I stood, spread out in full view was a female body with blood covering much of the head. The body was face down, but I recognized the small build, sandy colored hair, and jade green shirt.

I tasted bile. I wanted to scream, but I slapped my hand in front of my mouth.

After regaining my composure, I surveyed my surroundings. Three people wearing jackets emblazoned in the back with the words Crime Scene Investigator were near the front of the clearing. One was bent over the body and the other two appeared to be examining the nearby ground. When the medical examiner’s team approached, the investigator next to the body rose up and started talking. I couldn’t make it all out, but I did hear him say “Blow to the head.”

“Oh, no,” I mumbled when I spied two homicide detectives I knew.

Detective Adrian Fox, a thirty something African American, stood on the side of the clearing, near a small pond. He was talking to a woman who yesterday had been arguing with the preserve’s director.

The director had called this woman Elena, so I assumed this was Elena Salazar, the education coordinator. I couldn’t hear what she was saying to the detective, but she was gesturing wildly with her arms.

The other detective, Steve Wolfe, had marched over to the body and was now barking orders to the medical examiner’s staff, who didn’t seem pleased. As Wolfe turned around, the woman in the medical examiner’s jacket shook her head.

I sighed. Wolfe and I had a history. He was a bully who had gone to school with my younger brother Tim, constantly picking on him. Granted Tim was the classic nerd who might as well have worn the sign “Kick Me” on his back. I had recently solved two of Wolfe’s murder cases, which only irritated him more.

Wolfe spied me and headed in my direction, his face turning the color of a beet. His gray pants hung below his pot belly, his glacier blue eyes as cold as ever, and he wore the same annoying grin as when he was a kid that made me want to slap his face.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I’m here about a dead squirrel,” he said. “I’m a homicide detective. What do you think happened?”

“I know the victim,” I said.

He narrowed his eyes. “How do you know her?”

“I’m doing a story on the wildlife refuge and—”

“How come whenever you do a story people die?”

Not really a nice way to put it.

“Who found the body?” I asked.

“Three hikers.”

“What caused—”

“This is none of your business. This is a crime scene.” He pointed a fat finger at me. “You need to leave.”

“I’m behind the yellow tape,” I argued.

I didn’t think his face could get any redder, but it did. “Stay out of my way.” He spun around and stomped off toward the side where Detective Fox appeared to be jotting something in a notepad. Elena Salazar was no longer there. I had no idea where she went.

I had lots of questions, but I wasn’t getting answers from Wolfe. The crime scene investigators were packing up. Maybe I’d have better luck with them.

“When was she killed” I asked the one investigator, who looked young enough to appear on an acne remedy commercial.

“We need to wait for the autopsy.”

“Do you have an approximate time of death?”

“Sorry. We can’t talk to the public.”

I sighed. I’d have to get the answers somewhere else.

I wondered why the victim had been at the clearing. I glanced at the pond, guessing this was where the rehabilitated turtle would be released. Did she come here early to check things out before the release? But what would she be checking?

My thoughts were interrupted as the medical examiner’s team passed by me carrying a stretcher with the covered body. I figured I might learn something if I listened to their conversation. Eavesdropping was one of my talents.

I scratched my theory about arriving early to check on conditions for the turtle release when one of the attendants said, “I can’t imagine why anyone would be in these woods at midnight.”

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Excerpt from Playing Possum by Lois Schmitt. Copyright 2021 by Lois Schmitt. Reproduced with permission from Lois Schmitt. All rights reserved.

 

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About the Author:

Lois Schmitt

A mystery fan since she read her first Nancy Drew, Lois Schmitt combined a love of mysteries with a love of animals in her series featuring animal magazine reporter Kristy Farrell. Lois is member of several wildlife conservation and humane organizations, as well as Mystery Writers of America. She received 2nd runner-up for the Killer Nashville Claymore award for her second book in the series entitled Something Fishy, She previously served as media spokesperson for a local consumer affairs agency and currently teaches at a community college. Lois lives in Massapequa, Long Island with her family, which includes a 120 pound Bernese Mountain dog. This dog bears a striking resemblance to Archie, a dog of many breeds featured in her Kristy Farrell Mystery Series.

Catch Up With Lois Schmitt:

LoisSchmitt.com
Goodreads
Instagram: @loisschmittmysteries
Twitter: @schmittmystery
Facebook: @LoisSchmittAuthor

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Note: I received a complimentary review copy on behalf of PICT. All opinions expressed are my own.

Murder, Malice, and More

©Malice Domestic

Want to spend four days immersed in the world of fiction writers and fans? This year, you can participate in the legendary Malice Domestic convention–still going strong after 30+ years–without ever leaving your home. No need to worry about DC-area traffic, or hotels, or crowded venues amid the seemingly never-ending pandemic. It all happens July 14th-17th, and it’s as close as your keyboard.

Whether you’re new to the world of crime fiction or a long-time fan or writer, this could be your perfect opportunity to meet and mingle (virtually, of course) with some of the biggest names in the business. Malice is a fan-focused convention celebrating the traditional mystery–books written in the style of Agatha Christie. As described by the Malice organizers “the genre is loosely defined as mysteries which contain no explicit sex, or excessive gore or violence.” (I think the key phrase here is loosely defined. There might well be violence, or even–gasp!!!–sexual scenes, but that’s likely going to take place off-screen–or should I say off-page?)

When I checked the convention website this morning, here’s what I found:

Picture

​Go to the website to see information, cost, registration, Agatha Award nominees, and more.

Have you attended Malice in the past? If you’re so inclined, use the comment section to share your experience and talk about this year’s virtual venue.

Writing, Dogs, and Change

I’m delighted to welcome award-winning author Sue Owens Wright back to the blog. She is a twelve-time finalist and three-time winner of the Maxwell Medallion–that’s the Dog Writers Association of America’s prestigious award for excellence. She joins us today to talk about writing and dogs, along with photos and a commentary on life, loss, and change.

It’s been a while since your last visit to dogmysteries.com, and it’s possible some readers haven’t yet discovered your delightful dog-themed fiction. So let’s backtrack a little…what led you to create the Beanie and Cruiser mystery series?

The Beanie and Cruiser Mystery Series, featuring Native American Elsie “Beanie” MacBean and her basset hound, Cruiser, has been inspired by many things in my life. Since childhood, I have loved dogs and reading books about dogs. I adored the Albert Payson Terhune classics about his Sunnybank collies. I also read all the Judy Bolton Mysteries by Margaret Sutton. Secretly, I dreamed of writing a book of my own. When I was eight years old, I tried to write a chapter of a mystery, but decades would pass before I actually wrote the first novel in what would become an award-winning mystery series.

My writing has been greatly influenced by James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” series about a Yorkshire veterinarian. I once aspired to be a vet myself, but at college I did much better in English than science courses. In the 1990s, I had the thrill of visiting Thirsk, the picturesque village that inspired the fictional Darrowby, and seeing the location of Alf Wight’s (James Herriot’s) veterinary surgery. [Click to enlarge the photo below for more detail.] I also toured the set where the original British TV series was filmed. (The latest adaptation is currently showing on PBS “Masterpiece.”) I bought several of the author’s autographed books at the village bookstore.

Touring the TV set of James Herriot’s surgery for All Creatures Great and Small (from the first 1970s series); in front of James Alf Wight’s surgery in the village of Thirsk. Photos ©Sue Owens Wright; used by permission.

It so happened that the owner of the lovely cottage where my husband and I stayed was a close friend of the famous author. She said he often passed by on his walks up to Sutton Bank, an outcropping that overlooks the breathtaking panorama of the Yorkshire Dales. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet him.

Vale of Pickering in Yorkshire Dales seen from Sutton Bank. Photo ©Sue Owens Wright; used by permission

What’s the setting for your own series?

The setting for my mysteries came about from my love for Lake Tahoe, where I’ve visited since I was a child. My family owned a cabin that was surrounded by the El Dorado National Forest. In the late ‘90s, I began writing the first book, “Howling Bloody Murder” while sitting on the deck gazing out into the dark, mysterious woods, which sparked my wild imagination. The plot began with one question: What might be lurking out there?

Lake Tahoe has a wealth of history and local lore to inspire a writer. Whenever I stayed at the cabin, I worked on my Beanie and Cruiser novels. Many of the adventures I write about in the books were based on my own. One example is the forest fire that breaks out in “Ears for Murder,” winner of the 2018 Maxwell Award for Best Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America. I was at the lake in 2010 with my two bassets when the Angora firestorm forced us to evacuate. It was terrifying! That catastrophic event impressed upon me for the first time since I’d been coming to admire the Jewel of the Sierra, with its pine-covered landscape, that forests can and do burn.

Why Basset Hounds?

I’ve had eight basset hounds over the years, so naturally one or two would end up featured in my series. Cruiser and Calamity are canine characters based on my own dogs. They have provided me with endless plot twists and plenty of humor. My easy-going male bassets, first Bubba Gump and later Beau, were the real dogs who inspired the fictional Cruiser. They embodied all the delightful qualities and quirks of this funny, endearing breed. Cruiser is the star of the first three books, but I later introduced Calamity, who is the polar opposite of laid-back Cruiser. Calamity is a composite of my two most challenging rescued bassets, Peaches and “Crazy” Daisy, as I often called the wackiest dog I ever knew. Crazy Calamity causes plenty of trouble for Beanie. She has many of the same experiences I had with my own dogs, not all of them good.

Like Cruiser and Calamity, my bassets were rescued from shelters. Shelter dogs are often unfortunate victims of past lives with people who don’t understand the breed and can’t tolerate their obstinate nature. Buyers who are charmed by adorable basset puppies with those long, floppy ears don’t do their homework before embarking on becoming a basset slave, as fanciers laughingly refer to themselves. Don’t be fooled by the basset hound’s laissez faire demeanor; there’s a keen mind inside that pointy noggin, and it’s plotting the next assault on your dinner table. They are also champion counter surfers. Truth to tell, basset hounds are much better at training us than we are them.

Peaches, our last in a long line of beloved bassets, sadly had to leave us for Rainbow Bridge on July 3, 2019 at the age of 16, a very long life for a basset hound or any dog. Three months later, my mother passed on. We adopted her dog, Piccolo, an aging Shih-Tzu/Yorkshire terrier mix, or a “Shorkie,” as we call him. In 2011, I took Mom to the local SPCA, where she rescued him, so he’s actually been rescued twice. But who rescued whom? Piccolo turned out to be a 10-pound blessing. He has seen me through the traumatic loss of my mom and Peaches and the deadly pandemic of 2020. I caught the virus early in March, which fortunately did not require hospitalization, but it took me a month to fully recover. Piccolo may be a mutt, but he’s a registered Emotional Support Animal (E.S.A.), or Extra Special Animal, as my husband and I call him. We both adore that sweet, little guy. We’ve downsized from 60-pound hounds to our first toy breed, but I confess I’m still a basset lover to the bone. I fully expect that another one may waddle into my life at some point.

Meet Bubba Gump, the main inspiration for Cruiser’s character. Photo ©Sue Owens Wright; used by permission

What’s next in your Beanie and Cruiser series?

A sixth Beanie and Cruiser Mystery is in the works, though progress on the manuscript has been slow this past year. I do my best writing in coffee shops, and I can’t wait until they can open up again. I have more books to write!

Like my Sierra sleuth, Beanie, I’ve never met a dog I didn’t like, even crazy ones. Other dogs besides basset hounds have found their way into the series, including a Newfoundland, a Pomeranian, and a Scottish terrier. You never know, my little E.S.A. may inspire a new canine character that will join Cruiser and Calamity in a future Tahoe adventure.

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Beanie and Cruiser Mysteries, in order of release:

Howling Bloody Murder

Sirius about Murder

Embarking on Murder

Braced for Murder

Ears for Murder

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They are available wherever books are sold, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Waterstones (Britain and Ireland), Booksamillion, and Walmart.

Visit www.sueowenswright.com for more information.

The Middy Chronicles

In Dangerous Deeds (book #2 in the Waterside Kennels series) Maggie Porter’s dog Sweet Pea rescues an injured stray kitten she finds beneath the dock. Although Maggie initially describes him as  “not much more than bones and fur” the kitten turns out to have a tiger-sized attitude and soon claims the kennel—and Sweet Pea—as his own.

Whether real or fictional, kitties certainly make life interesting for us! Here’s an excerpt of the tale of one kitty who earlier this year joined the household of award-winning mystery author Susan Cox. Susan admits finding the new addition to be a challenge. As she says, “I’m used to poodles–and poodles are very smart–but this cat seems ‘nuclear physicist smart’ and I’m not sure I can keep up.”

Read on to learn the latest in The Middy Chronicles.  (Middy, by the way, is short for Midnight.)

I can’t sleep tonight (although Middy’s sleeping just fine, thanks), so I thought I’d let you know how Middy and I are doing as we spend more time in each other’s company due to social distancing and lockdown and such. Short form spoiler–we’re doing fine.

Photo ©Susan Cox

INDOOR/OUTDOOR:
For a cat who was an outdoor cat until a few weeks ago, scrounging for bugs on the driveway and drinking from sprinklers, Middy has entered wholeheartedly into indoor life. When I open the door to offer her an outing she dithers in the doorway (the better to let in as many mosquitoes as possible) and then declines my invitation. I’m not sure why, but outdoors has been crossed off her list of acceptable places to visit. Indoors however, preferably in a patch of sunshine, is the bomb.

THE RED DOT LASER THINGY:
She’s figured out I’m responsible for the red dot laser thingy, and stares at the pen in my pencil pot when she feels like chasing it. I of course immediately leap to do her bidding which is how it should be, she tells me. The red dot laser thingy was cheap, so I found I had money left over to spend on other things.

TABLE SETTINGS:
I bought her two new dishes because…I have no idea why. I have a bunch of little bowls that have been working just fine, but they don’t match and they’re not cute. The impulse to buy the matching pair of very cute square bowls (they were $59 each, btw) was something to do with the availability of one-click ordering, and a fairly large helping of guilt about the mis-matched bowls. Not that she’s ever said anything about them, but a person knows, somehow.

MENU ITEMS:
So far the things she likes to eat include tomatoes, apples, canned chili (with sour cream), Havarti cheese, roast beef, yellow mustard, mashed potatoes, tomato soup and Pepperidge Farm coconut cake. She likes her tea with milk, and lemonade holds a strange fascination for her. I hasten to add, before you call the SPCA, that these are mere morsels and licks, not huge helpings. The things she doesn’t like to eat include milk, ice cream and chocolate.

THE NECESSARIUM:
This week I bought her a chic new litter box because, while the other one was fine, it didn’t have much in the way of panache. And panache, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a critical component of one’s litter box. The new one is a top entry one and it looks nicer in the guest bathroom. After worrying that she would find switching to the new litter box stressful, I watched her hop in and use it before I could do any of the things Google recommends as helpful to the transition. I may use the old one–although “old” is stretching it when describing something that’s only a few weeks old–for raising seedlings in the garden. So there’s that.

FASHION:
I found her a cute black collar with gold moons on it and a tiny bell and a half moon charm with a little cat on it. The collar looks so incredibly cute I may buy her a couple more in different colors. For the first few hours she found the bell distracting, sure it was chasing her and not too happy about it, but we persevered and now she seems to appreciate being fashion forward. She looks completely adorable.

TOYS:
I’ve been trying to get some writing done on my laptop, which I suspect Middy is unhappy about, because she tends to stamp around on my keyboard a lot. So I’ve been tearing out pages of my notebook and crumpling them up for her to chase. I’ve also made her a couple of “enrichment” toys by cutting holes in my Tupperware and filling them with small balls, and I made her some pompoms on strings to hang from the dining room chairs. I found a packet of shiny gold and silver plastic coins in the kitchen junk drawer and I toss them around for her to chase and kick the crap out of. She likes that. The house seems a bit like a Traveller’s encampment, but we’re both happy with the stylin’ Boho look of the place.

Catnip fish –looks like a new favorite! Photo ©Susan Cox

SLEEPING:
Even though tonight it’s eluding me, I do generally sleep quite well until about 5:30 every morning. FYI, this is about three hours before my preferred time for getting out of bed. For a cat who doesn’t even weigh five pounds, Middy has extraordinary strength and powers of hypnosis or something. She purrs so loudly I can’t possibly sleep through it, insists on head rubs and ear scratches, and then drags me into the kitchen to prepare her breakfast. So, I do that and then, if she doesn’t want to play with the red dot laser thingy, I sometimes go back to bed for an hour.

In short, Middy and I are learning to give and take. She is taking pretty much everything she wants; while I’d give nearly anything for a couple of extra hours sleep in the morning.

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Note: Middy’s story and photographs are the exclusive property of Susan Cox and may not be used without the author’s express written permission.

Susan Cox is the author of The Man on the Washing Machine which earned the winning place in the First Crime Novel competition jointly sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America and Minotaur Books. Watch for The Man in the Microwave Oven (next in the Theo Bogart Mysteries) scheduled for publication this year. In the meantime, you can keep up with Susan (and Middy!) on her website and via Facebook.

If you like complex characters, strong plots, and a touch of humor, be sure to check out Susan’s work!

Pet-Friendly Travels

Alix The Great Traveler © Susan Holmes

Years ago, I was traveling with a group and we’d checked into a pet-friendly hotel. I left my spaniel, Alix, in the room while I retrieved the rest of the luggage. One member of the group–one of the few traveling without dogs of her own–wasn’t paying attention and left the door open. My dog decided she didn’t want to stay in a strange place unless I was with her so she slipped out of the open door and set off to find me. By the time I tracked her down, she’d charmed everyone she’d met and the front desk clerk was sharing her lunch. “She looked hungry,” the clerk explained. Fortunately, both staff and guests were amused by my dog’s antics and quick to accept my profuse apologies for an unleashed, unsupervised dog in the hotel.

I learned a lot from that experience, and I’m happy to report that Alix went on to become a wonderful travel companion. Far better, in fact, than I suspect my Sheltie will ever be. If Sasha ever got loose in a strange place, I seriously doubt I could catch her. Beyond our yard and whatever the destination might be, Sasha is always leashed and properly secured.

If you’re traveling this summer by vehicle or planes or even on foot, there are some basic practices that can make the adventure an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone.

© American Kennel Club

The American Kennel Club staff present some great suggestions that can help you plan for your trip. You’ll find excellent information about health, safety, crates, and best practices in the article titled The Complete Guide to Travelling With Your Dog.

Jenna Stregowski, RVT has a thoughtful article titled How to Travel With Your Dog that addresses different types of travel accommodations. The article also includes a handy “what to pack” checklist.

Lisa Bernier at Barkpost offers 18 Ridiculously Easy Travel Hacks That Will Change How You Travel With Your Pup. Some of these might surprise you, so be sure to check them out!

And for a totally different perspective, check out How I Bring My Dog With Me While Traveling The World and Working Remotely

If you’re planning to travel on foot with your dog, The American Hiking Society has great information online at the site Places to Hike With Your Dog.

Although fractured bones have kept me off the trail for the past several months, reading about a hike with a dog is almost as good as the real thing–especially when the writer is as gifted as Jim Warnock. If you’ve never hiked with a canine partner, check out the 12 qualities of a good trail partner.  And for more great reading, check out his blog post Just Perfect

Hiker-Dog Photo © Jim Warnock

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Wherever your travels take you, I hope the information included in the links above will help you enjoy a peaceful–and safe–adventure!

p.s. If you’re looking for a pet-friendly hotel, these resources might help:

https://hotels.petswelcome.com/

https://www.bringfido.com/lodging/

http://www.pet-friendly-hotels.net/

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha © S. Holmes