Hair of the Dog by Susan Slater is a cozy mystery that is not quite so cozy. If you are a dog lover, this one is for you. It has a cast of characters that will have you sifting through the evidence in search of the guilty party. Susan did not make it easy for me to find the answers I was looking for, but she did make the journey enjoyable.
Fucher Crumm most always has his faithful dog, Sadie, at his side, until now. She has been missing since the murder of one of Daytona’s biggest kennel owners and the fire at the Daytona track. Aww no. I don’t want anything to happen to her.
Fucher had won a settlement against the city when he was hit by one of their trucks. He is a bit slow, friendly and generous with his money, but his main love is the dogs at the kennel. He loves working with them and went above and beyond to save them during the fire. Now he is accused of causing the fire and murdering Sanchez. Is he an easy target for a frame-up or is he guilty?
Dan was on his honeymoon with Elaine in Daytona. When his boss, United Life and Casualty called about the fire and the missing dogs, he figured he could mix business with pleasure. Elaine was game, in fact she was ready to make a career change and thought now was the perfect time. She was going to train to become a private investigator and they could team up. Her job is snooping and she thought that quite funny.
I loved Dan’s description of his dog’s, Simon’s, doggy resort. A bed, a pool and plenty of toys for the pushy Rottweiler.
Susan Slater mentioned that Elaine was surprised at all the pine trees in Florida. I thought that was funny, because I marveled at the same when I moved here. Florida is so much more than sand and palm trees.
Dan went to the track and Elaine went for a walk, thus we meet Sadie and the picture on the cover delivers a clue.
The treatment of Fucher by the guard in the jail really pissed me off. It is deplorable and mean and I would like to reach into the pages and punch him. The warden seems okay, or is he just covering his butt?
Dixie Halifax is a co-owner of the track and has five of her dogs kenneled there. Now they are missing. Bit suspicious don’t you think? I love Susan Slater’s description of Dixie, she has the characteristics of a greyhound. Isn’t it a common theme that owners take on the looks of the critters they own? What about if you own a lizard? LOL
Susan Slater proves she is a talented author by including so many plots and subplots into a Hair of the Dog, her latest cozy mystery. The cast of characters are interesting and the murderer…well, Susan had a surprise or two for me. I enjoyed the humorous writing and lively banter that comes with a cozy mystery, making it easy to relate to the characters. I look forward to reading more of her work.
I received an ARC of Hair of the Dog by Susan Slater in return for and honest and unbiased review.
It sounds like some work and mostly play when United Life and Casualty sends its investigator Dan Mahoney to Florida. Five greyhounds—all heavily insured—were lost in a fire at the Daytona dog track.
So simple. Five dogs dead by smoke inhalation, bagged, tagged, and cremated. Papers all in order. Ashes in specialty urns on the desk of Dixie Halifax, track and casino co-owner. In jail, a young employee charged with arson to cover a murder he’s blamed for committing.
Then the body of kennel owner Jackson Sanchez is found face down in a pool of blood, a knife stuck in his back. But Sanchez didn’t die from a knife wound. Someone has carved “thief” on his forehead. The blood pooled underneath his body isn’t his. Should Dan be looking for a second corpse? And the one man who can answer questions, the track vet, dies in a motorcycle accident.
Working this case is not as complicated for Dan as having his mother Maggie move into the FBI’s favorite mob slob haven in nearby Palm Coast, while his fiancée Elaine Linden, on sabbatical, works on a PI license. Perfect the FBI can set Maggie up to spy on her boyfriend who may be laundering cash in some geriatric mafia scheme in this follow-up to Flash Flood and Rollover.
Morning. The gold-orange glow shimmered in the narrow window high above him barely illuminating the computers and file cabinets. He turned over and rubbed his right hip bone. Musta slept on that spring poking up through the cotton batting. Cheap mattress, cheap cot, but when he was working with the dogs late, he could sleep in the office—didn’t have to travel ten miles to get home. On his bicycle. If his mother had taught him one thing, it was not to look the gift horse in the mouth and to thank the Lord for small favors. All in all, he didn’t have no regrets.
He could hear the dogs. Mostly barking but there were a couple howlers out there. And it was breakfast time. They never waited much past sunrise to let him know they were expecting a bowl of raw meat and kibble. These dogs were as precious as race horses, even if they only chased a mechanical rabbit a couple times a week. He swung his legs over the cot’s side and sat up, taking a deep breath. Acrid smoke settled around his head and the deep breath sent him to his knees in a spasm of coughing. Fire. Oh, God, help him. He had to get the dogs out. The barking was at a fever pitch now. Had the fire reached the kennels? He grabbed his pillow and pressed it to his nose and mouth. Better. He could take them to the turnout. That area of scruffy grass where potential bettors could size up the day’s might-be stars. No time for muzzles. Bites would be the least of his worries
He moved the pillow away from his mouth, “Sadie? Come here, girl.” She never left his side that sleek, brown-eyed silver greyhound. Knew without words that he’d saved her life some four years back. Slept with him curled into a ball at the foot of the cot. Shared his lunch and dinner. She was a real pushover for shrimp fried rice and pot stickers. Frantically he tried to see in the haze. The office door was open. That was odd. Could he have forgotten to latch it? Oh well, he’d find her outside in the hall or maybe in the kennel. She wouldn’t be far.
But he couldn’t go out in his skivvies. He put the pillow down and pulled on overalls, no time for a shirt or shoes and, bending low, pillow again over his mouth and nose, with eyes squinted almost shut, he sprinted for the door. And went sprawling. Through the doorway, crashing with a thud on one knee, slamming head-first onto the tile, shoulder scraping against the doorjamb, propelled forward, splayed out on all fours. And all because he caught his foot on … on … on a body. He pushed up, sitting back hard on his haunches, then bolted upright, heart pounding, slipping in the blood pooling beside the inert man dressed in Levis and plaid shirt, lying facedown, but with a knife handle sticking straight up out of his back. He couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. He backed up against the wall knowing the keening sounds were his, a low-pitched wail that rose in intensity. Help me. God and my mama, help me.
The smoke was thick now. He had to do something. He bent over, dropped to all fours, grasped the knife handle and closed his eyes. The jerk threw him backwards as the knife slipped out easily and clattered across the tile. It was out, but he knew it wouldn’t matter none to the man on the floor. He was dead. Absolutely, totally not getting up anytime soon. He knelt beside the body and leaning across it firmly put his left hand on the shoulder opposite, and right hand around the man’s upper arm and pulled. The man flopped over against his thigh, then slipped down leaving a smear of red and settled into the pooled blood.
He stared down at the biggest kennel owner at the Daytona track. But no time to wonder about what had happened, that fire wasn’t slowing down. Smoke billowed thick above his head. He grabbed up the pillow, and squinting into the acrid gray cloud, raced along the corridor to the room of large metal crates lining every wall, each holding a dog. Much less smoke back here. He tossed the pillow aside and set to work. He started with the crates closest to the hall. He twisted handles and jerked doors open as fast as he could, stopping only to cross the hall and throw wide the double doors to the outside.
Dogs pushed against him, jostling to enter the run that emptied into the observation and exercise area. Fifty dogs. All being held over for Thursday’s races, with a hundred more arriving that morning. They had sent a whole bunch for training earlier that evening. And now the transport carrying the new racers was due at nine. Thank the Lord they hadn’t gotten here yet. He needed to make sure the dogs still kenneled at the track were all accounted for. But no counting now. He’d save that for later; he needed to keep going. He didn’t stop until the last crate had been opened and the last greyhound had bolted for what they thought might be freedom. But had he gotten everyone out the exit? Dogs were everywhere, and the smoke wasn’t clearing. Thin tendrils hung in the air.
Only one thing to do. He grabbed two packages of stew meat from a fridge in the hall and waved handfuls above his head to get the attention of the errant few still circling frantically. He led them through the exit to safety, slamming the door behind him.
Still, no Sadie. He yelled her name but doubted she could hear over the raucous, panicked dogs. Had she run with the pack and was already safely out in the chain-link enclosure? He could have easily missed her in all the confusion. Maybe she was fighting over turf or circling the fence looking for him right now. The smoke was thinner outdoors, but behind him, the office was engulfed in flames. No time to check now. She’d wait for him. She wouldn’t run away.
The body. Oh no. He’d forgotten. He wasn’t thinking straight. He should have pulled it out of the doorway. He couldn’t just leave it to burn. Dead or not, that wasn’t showing respect to the family. He knew Jackson had a mother. You could find her every Wednesday when the programs were free, putting down a big chunk of her Social Security check at a betting window. He had to give Jackson back to his mama.
He started to run. The closer to the office, the thicker the smoke. He dropped to all fours and crawled forward. He stopped. Had he passed the office? No. He was in front of the door. There was the blood spot darker now around the edges. But no body. Jackson was gone. Maybe he’d been wrong about him being dead; maybe Jackson had crawled away. And he took his knife with him. There wasn’t any knife where it used to be. That was a puzzle. What if the body had been a dream?
He could hear sirens, trucks turning in from South Williamson Road. Tendrils of fire now licked out of the office coming way too close to his clothing. No more wondering, he needed to leave. He crawled backwards and then stood and ran toward the dogs. He needed to do a count and find Sadie and then feed the dogs their breakfast. He’d grab some muzzles—he hoped there hadn’t already been fights. Funny how some dogs were just jealous and needed to have their way. He’d bet old Pete had already put the chomp on somebody. Sadie’d be smart. She’d stay out of the way. He tried to whistle for her but there was too much noise. She’d never be able to hear him.
Dan liked to watch her look at the ring. Hold out her left hand, ring finger crooked ever so slightly, then turned slowly to let the light catch the faceted sapphire flanked by 4-C perfect diamonds. Tiffany stones, a platinum setting with a world of memories. The case in Wagon Mound, New Mexico, had put a crimp in her sabbatical and left him with a cast on his wrist, but the ending was pretty nice. Yeah, she liked it. And he liked being engaged. It gave him a feeling of permanence—somehow grounded and warm and fuzzy all mixed up together. They’d shelved Ireland, not forever, just for now. There was still some time left before she had to return to the university. The sabbatical was for a full year. And just maybe she wouldn’t return. Elaine had held true to her promise—she’d enrolled online in a six-month course for a certificate in private investigation. Time would tell, but co-mingling a shingle might not be a bad thing.
He tried to be persuasive with United Life and Casualty about getting a couple weeks’ vacation before picking up a new case. Played the engagement card. Didn’t he need a little time with his fiancée? Pointed out how between Tatum, New Mexico, and then Wagon Mound, the summer and fall had been a little hectic. Two cases wrapped up pretty neatly with some big savings for the company. Instead, UL&C came back with a tantalizing opportunity in Daytona Beach, Florida, and suggested he combine business with pleasure—hinted they’d look the other way if his work time got a little heavy on the beach side. Not a bad offer. Now he needed to convince Elaine.
“What would you say to a little vacation/work combination?” They were starting their day at a Starbucks in Santa Fe. And like a broken record, Dan kicked himself again for not buying coffee-shop stock way back when. He wished hindsight didn’t have a way of defining his life. But he was turning that around. The woman in front of him wearing his engagement ring would attest to that. And, boy, did he have good taste. He noticed for the umpteenth time how nicely her jeans accentuated every curve.
“Sounds great. When do we leave?” Elaine leaned forward, elbows on the table. With her hair pulled to the side, secured by a magenta scarf sporting little turquoise howling coyotes, she looked thirty—not forty-six. He wondered if there would ever be a time when someone would mistake him for her father. He had to stop thinking that way. Fifty-two wasn’t that much older. Could six years make that big of a difference? Any gray in his hair stopped at the temples. No, he could shave off a couple years, too.
“Tomorrow.” He almost cringed. He was used to taking off at a moment’s notice, but he wasn’t sure about Elaine. Did she really know what she was signing on for?
“Nope. Fire at a greyhound track cost the life of five dogs yesterday. Five heavily insured ones. UL&C wants me on the scene as quickly as possible.”
“And this track happens to be?”
“In Daytona Beach.”
“Florida? NASCAR heaven, by any other name?”
“The same. But I might throw in Atlantic Ocean, miles of fantastic beach, company-guaranteed R&R&—” Dan paused. That last might be a bit of a fib, but they did say they’d look the other way if billables were stretched to cover beach time. He figured a couple long weekends wouldn’t be questioned.
“Guaranteed R&R? Well, then, count me in.”
Why did he think she didn’t sound convinced? A touch of sarcasm even? If truth be known, maybe he wasn’t convinced either. He needed to stop letting work interfere with his love life—now that he had one.
* * *
He was able to get a flight into DAB, the Daytona Beach airport and, after setting up two-weeks’ boarding at Simon’s favorite Pet Paradise doggy resort in Albuquerque, they were on their way. The Rottweiler was usually pretty good about short bouts of separation—the pool at the boarding facility was a favorite. Heated, no less. Dan watched from the parking lot as the big dog dove in and knocked two Labs out of the way, paddling to get a ball. It wasn’t exactly comforting, but Dan realized he might not be missed at all.
Enterprise met them when they landed. The LR2 was low-end Land Rover but would more than meet their needs for the next week or so. Great for cruising the beach. The GPS was a welcome addition and Dan quickly punched in the dog track’s address—960 S. Williamson Blvd. Someone said the world’s largest year-round flea market was nearby. A square couple acres of other peoples’ castoffs and a few booths of rinky-dink, made-in-China collectibles—using that term loosely. He could probably do without anything they had to offer. Wasn’t he trying to cut back on the junk—that stuff that never got thrown out? He’d never use a word like “hoarder” to describe himself, but the Nordic Track under the bed was vintage. Really vintage. And wasn’t he planning on combining households fairly quickly? Shut down that apartment in Chicago. Add Elaine’s stuff to his stuff … Settle into that comfy house or apartment together. That might push him to a forced “throw-out” of keepsakes. No, there couldn’t be a flea market visit anytime soon unless he was setting up a booth.
Anyway, there was no time to take a look today. He needed to check in at the track even before finding a place to stay. UL&C was adamant about closing the time-gap. Seventy-two hours post event wasn’t bad; still every hour out diluted the quality of information gathered in an investigation. It was always amazing how quickly memories started to fade. Or took on aspects of fabrication.
Dealing with animals put a big emotional tag on the package: a breeder’s hopes and dreams, plus an owner’s money, in addition to a live animal with its own feelings. UL&C was one of the few large insurance companies that still insured animals—race horses, Alpaca farms, cattle, show dogs, working dogs … it wasn’t his favorite kind of case, but, then, what was? Necklaces belonging to little eighty-five-year-old women? Jewels that survived the Titanic only to meet their doom in a small town robbery? He sighed. Wagon Mound wouldn’t be soon forgotten. So he guessed there wasn’t a favorite or an easy case. Five dead dogs already put this one out of the running.
* * *
The track’s parking lot would probably hold five hundred cars. In its heyday that kind of space would have been needed, but now dog racing was supplemented by other types of gambling—horse racing, harness racing, and multiple types of card games. Some of these were closed-circuit only, like horse racing, and some were live on the premises. From the looks of the people walking through the doors, this was just another form of retiree recreation. Dan didn’t think he’d seen one person under sixty in five minutes.
“Not sure how long I’ll be gone. I’ll leave the car keys unless you want to tag along?”
“I think I’ll take a walk. Too much sitting for one day.” Elaine gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
“That was a little chaste.”
“Don’t look now, but we seem to be of interest to about fifty elderly women on the tour bus behind you.”
“Should we give them something to stare at?” Elaine barely dodged what was going to be a pat on her backside.
“You’re terrible. Go to work.” Elaine laughed and waved once before heading back down the entrance road.
* * *
The late afternoon was beautiful. Wasn’t October one of Florida’s best months? Humidity low, lots of sunshine, only a whisper of a breeze—she could get used to this. Even if the amount of green almost made her eyes hurt. A person couldn’t come from the high desert of New Mexico and not be almost overcome by the sheer vastness of vibrant color. Spread before her was a carpet of grass, short stocky palms and majestic towering ones, flowering plants edging the sidewalks, thick oak trees hung with Spanish moss, and looming over everything, giant pines. Yes, pines this close to the ocean. It surprised her, but she remembered reading that the area was known for its turpentine production in years past. She idly wondered if the pines were indigenous or from stock that was brought in. They were certainly flourishing.
She took a deep breath and stretched. It felt so good to walk after hours on a plane and in an airport. She turned down a recently mowed grassy path that ran along a hedge row and was startled to flush two white ibises from a nearby drainage ditch. It looked like dinner had been a tiny frog, judging from the frantic hopping of several amphibians. Though more than able to fly, the ibises simply looked at her, then sauntered onto the asphalt and continued their slow walk across the parking lot. They seemed so tame.
A rustling in the hedge row caused her to turn back. Was she being foolish to go off walking by herself? There were snakes and alligators in this state. A man on the plane made it sound like every puddle potentially housed an alligator. He shared tales of cities in the surrounding area keeping alligator handlers permanently on city payrolls. Farfetched? He seemed convincing.
This is a giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for Susan Slater & Poisoned Pen Press. There will be one US winner of 1 Box of Poisoned Pen Press books including Hair of the Dog by Susan Slater. The giveaway begins on August 1st, 2015 and runs through August 31st, 2015.