Nosing Out a Series

Mysteries, amateur sleuths, and dogs: a common combination, some might say. Browse the shelves of any bookstore (physical or virtual) and you’ll find a fascinating collection of mystery fiction, with no two books alike. Each of us brings a different twist to the story; sometimes it’s the regional setting, or perhaps the sleuth’s occupation, and it’s certainly the dogs! You’ll find all sorts featured, to include Basset Hounds, Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, and Poodles. Then there are hybrids, mixed breeds and of who-knows-what dogs, all equally loved and cherished for the wonderful companions that they are. That’s certainly true about the dog in the series featured today.

First, an introduction to today’s honored guest:

KroupaSue&Shadow400Susan J. Kroupa is a dog lover currently owned by a 70 pound labradoodle whose superpower is bringing home dead possums and raccoons and who happens to be the inspiration for her Doodlebugged books. She’s also an award-winning author whose fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, and in a variety of professional anthologies, including Bruce Coville’s Shapeshifters. Her non-fiction publications include features about environmental issues and Hopi Indian culture for The Arizona Republic, High Country News, and American Forests. She now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwestern Virginia, where she’s busy writing the next Doodlebugged mystery. You can find her books and read her blog on her website, as well as her Amazon Author page.

Now here’s Susan, sharing the background that inspired her terrific series:

Doodle, the highly independent labradoodle who narrates the Doodlebugged mysteries, is not afraid to admit he’s a service-dog flunkee. “Smart and obedient don’t always go hand in hand,” he says unapologetically about his “career change.” In the series, he works as a bed-bug-detecting dog for “the boss”, Josh Hunter of Hunter Bed Bug Detection. Doodle and Molly, the boss’s ten-year-old daughter, who’s equally independent, always seem to end up in trouble and with a mystery to solve. Bed-Bugged cover

I can see you crinkling your nose already. “Bed bugs?” you ask, barely suppressing the “euwww” that comes to mind. “How did you happen to write about that?”

The answer lies in the misfortune of one of my sons, an attorney who lives in the Arlington, VA. He called one day, quite upset, to tell me he was covered in tick bites.

“Ticks?” I asked. “Are they still attached to you?”

“No,” he said. “Just bites.”

“Can’t be ticks, then,” I told him. I live in the woods near the Blue Ridge Parkway where there’s no shortage of ticks. Inevitably, a tick bite comes complete with a tick, at least for the first few days. (And can also come complete with months or years of disease, but that’s another story.) “Could the bites be from bed bugs?” I asked.

bed-bug-dog (1)At the suggestion, my son investigated the possibility and discovered that bed bugs had infested the apartment directly over his. He complained to the manager, who promptly sent out a bed bug inspector. With a dog. The sniffer dog, as scent-detection dogs are often called, promptly found evidence of a substantial colony of bed bugs in my son’s apartment.

Bad luck for him, but great for me, because I’d been toying with the idea of writing about a scent detection dog that—how should I put it?—wasn’t in one of the glamour jobs of nose work. And I envisioned the books to be light cozy mysteries, suitable for dog lovers from kids through adults. Sniffing out bed bugs wouldn’t put Doodle in the potentially gritty situations that being a narcotics or police dog would.  Plus, I’d already decided that he would be a labradoodle, a cross between a poodle and a Labrador retriever, not the kind of dog that generally works in those professions. As Doodle puts it in Dog-Nabbed, when an undercover cop asks if he’d like to be a police dog, “Not sure what he means, since everyone knows German shepherds are the ones who go into police work. A little too intense for my taste, but in my experience German shepherds are all about intensity.”

I set out to do research and discovered that while sniffer dogs in the bed bug profession generally tend to be beagles or Labrador retrievers, there were, in fact, some labradoodle bed-bug dogs. I already had a model for Doodle in mind—the extremely independent, often challenging, and sometimes affection-impaired labradoodle we’d adopted as a puppy a few years earlier. His antics gave me plenty of material for a starting point.

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But I wanted the series to be more than “cute dog solves mystery”. Other than the fact that he’s the narrator, with some admitted stretching of his understanding in certain situations, Doodle acts like a dog: nose driven, literal (as in metaphor-impaired), attuned to body language more than words, and prone to misunderstanding what the humans around him are saying. He can’t speak except through his own body language, and he’s the first to complain how clueless humans are in understanding that.

And more than having him be a semi-realistic dog, I wanted him in a real family who has real problems outside the mystery of the moment. Though Molly drives the action and is the one who solves the mysteries, throughout the course of the books, the reader sees “the boss”, Josh, struggle as a single parent, sees his own fears and triumphs, and the budding possibility (beginning in book two) of romance—all filtered through the eyes of a dog, who sometimes gets it and sometimes doesn’t.

The series now has four books with a fifth one due out in the fall. You can read an excerpt of Bed-Bugged, the first Doodlebugged mystery, here. And you can read all about the books on Susan’s Amazon sales page or on her website.  And here’s a special offer from Susan:

And, for a limited time, you can get Bed-Bugged for only $0.99 at most ebook retail sites and learn just how Doodle got himself into the bed bug detection business, and, more importantly, how he met the boss and Molly.

Doodle would call that a win-win situation. I hope you will too.

Doodle