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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New Adventures

I’m back after a long hiatus, the result of my website having mysteriously disappeared while I was offline dealing with other matters. The site fell into a technological black hole and seemed lost. (And before you ask, the site and its contents are backed up regularly. The back-ups proved irretrievable. But that’s a story for another day.) Faced with the options of starting over or abandoning the site altogether, I decided to consider the experience a cue from the universe to focus my energies on other projects. Since then, I’ve been writing, teaching, and planning for change. And while I was busy with all that, my website decided to return from its interstellar walkabout. So, with fingers crossed that the site stays around for a while, I’ll do my best to “catch you up” as an English writing colleague likes to say.

I’ve lived in the Ozarks for 27 years, and every season still holds surprises. Fall dawdled its way through December and the early weeks of winter, teasing us with record high temps, bright sunshine, and gentle breezes. Green shoots appeared long after the garden should have gone dormant. People and dogs crowded the trails and parks through long sunny days reminiscent of early spring. Sasha added tracking (the “I’ll teach myself” version) to her hobby list and learned to sniff her way across the meadows in pursuit of the wildlife that left tantalizing scents through the grass and the woods.

Then came winter.

After spending hours in the yard each warm day (he’s not allowed to go beyond the fence), Buddy the Wonder Cat did not appreciate the wicked winds that brought us freezing temps, and sulked because he couldn’t go out and play. He spends his days watching the squirrels scurry in search of acorns or raiding the bird feeders that hang from the lower branches of the oaks in front of my home office. Most of the time, though, he naps while I write.

“Wake me when it’s spring!”

In contrast, Sasha is showing her Shetland Islands roots by wandering outside for long stretches of time, seemingly impervious to the bone-chilling temps. Convincing her to wear a warm coat is a struggle, but she gives in with a grumble of agreement when I tell her “Wear the coat or stay inside.”

That doesn’t last long, though. Despite straps, buckles, and buttons, Sasha–who seems to have Houdini genes–manages to wiggle her way out of the coat and leave it behind as she zooms around the park. Fortunately, she hadn’t been to the groomer recently, which left her with a super-thick double coat to block the wind.

Then came freezing rain and snow, with single-digit temps and wind chills falling below zero. The street became an impromptu skating rink for the neighborhood kids and our sloping drive looked like a bobsled run. Even the covered patio was layered in ice, causing Sasha to lose her footing and fall while trying to reach the snow-covered grass. We hauled out carpet remnants to give her safe passage.

Smartest command I ever taught Sasha: “Foot.” I tap the leg I’m drying, say “Foot” and she patiently leans against me and stands on three legs while I remove the ice and snow packed between her toes. And since she loves to plunge through the snow (including the drifts) there’s usually ice and snow on her belly and chest as well. So she gets her exercise running around the back yard and I get mine drying her off. After that, it’s treats for her and tea for me.
There are more wacky weather swings in the forecast. We’ll take advantage of the warmer days and set up “zoom” games in the yard before the next round of snow and/or freezing rain arrives. In the Ozarks, every day is an adventure!
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Do You Know The Danger Signs?

Courtesy of Dogster.com

Did you know that hot temperatures can be dangerous for your dog? Add in high humidity and that danger can turn deadly. Here’s what you should know…

Feel confident you know the signs, but want a quick refresher? Check out these 11 Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion in Dogs, courtesy of Noah’s Ark Veterinary Hospital.

Want more info? The AKC’s Canine Health Foundation  has an easy-to-read bullet list of contributing factors, signs, prevention, and management in heat stroke situations.

UCDavis Veterinary Medicine shares the clinical signs of heat-related illnesses and risk factors for heat stroke in dogs. They note:

Causes of heat stroke may be non-exertional or exertional. Non-exertional heat gain is the result of being in a hot environment, such as a hot car, or spending time outside in direct sun. Exertional heat gain is due to exercise, such as playing catch or running. It is important to note that increased body temperature due to heat stroke is not the same as fever, which is caused by the body’s reaction to an infection or other disease process.

If you’re interested in learning more from an academic perspective, check out Today’s Veterinary Practice.

And one more infographic (click once to enlarge; click twice to read all the small print). Save and share!

Be safe!

This Writing Life

For reasons that totally escape me now, I convinced myself it would be a good idea to plot my current work in progress (WIP) Dangerous Deeds by writing segments based on themes, characters, and key plot lines.

So what, you might wonder, was wrong with that approach? The short answer: everything. Imagine dumping dozens of jigsaw puzzle pieces onto the table and you’ll have a glimpse of the mayhem I’ve been sorting through for far too long.

On the bright side, I have an editor who’s intelligent, patient, and open to the back-and-forth that so often accompanies plot development, revision, and rewriting. Then there are all those who send a steady stream of support and encouragement, and my ever-present writing companions Sasha and Buddy The Wonder Cat.

With all this support, it’s time to be the green arrow and aim for the finish line!

 

Pet Safety: Keep Calm And Carry On

I live in a community that lights up the sky by setting off roman candles, skyrockets, and any other sort of firecrackers–legal or otherwise– guaranteed to delight thrill-seekers. Everyone else, not so much.

Buddy the Wonder Cat was a rescue who came to us at just three months of age, so we’ve had lots of time to create positive experiences for him. Still, those first three months on his own are etched in his memory, and the Feral Cat Within emerges in times of stress or pain and his first instinct is to hide.

My Rescue Kitty Buddy

We’ve done our best to create a calm environment for the holidays like the Fourth of July. We’ve managed Buddy’s anxiety by keeping doors and windows closed and fans running. We have one pedestal fan that’s so loud–even on its lowest setting–that I’m reminded of C-130 cargo planes and B-52 bombers. We set that up in the bedroom and watch one of his favorite non-scary movies. He’s still prone to diving under the covers, but otherwise he’s reasonably calm. We bolster that sense of calm with catnip, soft treats, and tickle-time with his favorite brush.

Fireworks tend to invoke an Aaugh!!! reaction in Sasha, although we’ve worked hard to help her manage anxiety over noise. Instead of barking wildly at every burst of thunder, for example, she’s more likely to grumble her way through a storm. We’ve conditioned her to be calm (well, calmer) through a barrage of fireworks by keeping her close beside me, and tossing tiny bits of cheddar cheese  or chunks of cucumber her way. She’s agreeable to Buddy’s choice of movies as long as there are no monsters, mummies, gunfights, or battle scenes. If she has to go out in the fenced backyard after dark, we keep her close by using a short leash. That seems to add a sense of security for her, as does having her travel crate set up next to the bed with a favorite toy for company. She clearly views that as her safe zone:

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Here are some helpful tips to remember:

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Wherever you are and whatever you celebrate, I hope you find ways to keep your pets calm and safe!