The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Sunday, August 18, 2013


            The newest book in the Roger and Suzanne series, The Deadly Dog Show, is getting excellent reviews (see a couple of previous posts below, July 26th and August 1st) and four of the more recent ones at the end of this entry.  It’s also selling well, apparently both to dog lovers and to mystery fans.  As indicated in the book’s foreword and this blog, the canine heroine of the novel, Juliet, is very much modeled after our middle dog, Jolie.  This post explores the real-life origins of a few specific scenes in the novel and takes you "behind the scenes" to illustrate the integration of reality and fiction in my creative process.
            One of the reviewers singled out the scene in the Kosher delicatessen in New York City for comment, based on their reminiscences of similar meals they themselves had enjoyed when they lived in The Big Apple many years ago.  In an earlier post on this blog (“LEFT BRAIN, RIGHT BRAIN”, May 15th), I discussed the original version of the scene and the how it changed after implementing several key editing changes my wife suggested.  Elaine and I both did much of our growing up in New York City---me in midtown Manhattan and she in the suburbs.  We both drew upon our childhood and young adult memories to picture this scene as Roger and Suzanne might have experienced it.

            We live almost exactly in the epicenter of the Northern California dog show circuit described in the novel.  Woodland’s Yolo County fairgrounds are less than 10 miles from our house.  Stockton, Vallejo, and Sacramento are less than an hour’s drive away, while The Cow Palace and Fresno are about a 1.5-hour drive from our home.  Elaine has been showing her dogs in these local shows for more than 30 years, so she knows the venues intimately.  She’s dragged me to as many of the shows as she could, so I’ve been to all of the places described in the book at least once, and for some of the show grounds a lot more frequently.  Elaine shared her memory of the details for each venue as the book evolved and we decided exactly where to find a body or to interview a suspect.

            Bruce’s training techniques as described in the story are also authentic.  Bruce, and Elaine, uses the methods we learned from modern show and field trainers who work with positive rewards, mainly praise and food, as opposed to the old time approaches that stress discipline and physical punishment like ear pinches for errors.  The positive rewards not only work well (we currently have three well trained senior hunters, two of whom should complete their master hunter certification in the near future), but also make the entire experience a lot more fun both for dog and trainer.  I did a short course on nose work with Vinia, much like Bruce’s training of Juliet in the book, a year or two ago.  This is easy and instinctual for a GSP, so she excelled at it----if she could figure out the scent you wanted her to find, she found it.  Schoene, her granddaughter, has an even better nose than Vinia.  It would be a lot of fun to train her for search and rescue work or as a cadaver dog.  Time permitting I’ll try doing this in a year or two after she finishes her MH degree and her current cycle of puppy making.

            GSPs are really as fast and as athletic as Juliet is described in this novel.  Schoene likes to do chins on the top of our 6-foot wooden fences between our back yard and the neighbors to see what’s going on next door.  She has easily jumped over 5-foot fences when she wanted to get out of a fenced-in area.  The only thing that keeps the dogs in our yard is their training and their desire to please their humans.  They know they’re supposed to stay in the yard, and they do.

New Reviews:  The reviewers still seem to be very happy with this novel.  All of the 15 Amazon reviews are reproduced here in the blog (twelve in earlier entries and three newer ones here) and quoted in their entirety.  Thirteen = 5-star, two = 4-star.  Average score = 4.9.

1.  Best in Show”   “I really enjoyed the storytelling vibe of the latest mystery featuring Los Angeles PI Roger Bowman and his cast of interesting characters--brainy wife Suzanne, gay former Seal and current nanny/chef/jack-of-all-trades Bruce, and junior detective/former spook Vincent. In this novel in the series Bowman is hired by the AKC board of directors to investigate funny business with regard to dog shows in the western US and Roger will tell us how the case goes every step of the way.

As a narrator, Roger leans heavily on description, with much of the dialogue following that formula for consistency, and some of his wry observations are true gems. In particular, don't miss the descriptions of the different board members of the AKC, which are very clever with several laugh-out-loud bits.

Mystery lovers will appreciate the homage paid to Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, with Bowman talking to a woman who wants to hire him but can't give specifics a la the opening of many Spenser novels, and the Pearl the Wonder Dog breed selected to be the canine star of the book.

Dog lovers, especially those who know anything about show dogs, and those who like their mysteries more cerebral than noir--although be ready for a surprising bit of raw action towards the end--will enjoy this book.”

2. “Good Story” “The first couple lines were a couple slow/ But it definitely picked up and had a lot of accuracies regarding dog shows and the breed German Shorthairs in general. Of course it is a story line to keep it interesting.”

3.  Enjoyable evolution in the Roger & Suzanne series”  I've read most of Jerold Last's mysteries based on the character of private investigator Roger Bowman. The first novel, The Empanada Affair, introduced the ex-LA cop, ex-lawyer PI, who collaborates with a smart and beautiful client, Suzanne, to solve the mystery of her father's murder in far off South America. In this latest installment, Roger's investigative skills are once again combined with the deductive insights of Suzanne (now Roger's wife), as well as the footwork of fellow investigator, ex-CIA agent Vincent, and the undercover help of the Bowmans' domestic assistant Bruce, a gay ex-Navy SEAL.

Roger's client in this case is the leadership of the New York-based American Kennel Club (AKC), who as sponsors of competitive dog shows, seek his help looking into vague, but potentially scandalous, concerns over judging irregularities on the West Coast dog show circuit. A fat retainer plus other generous perks offered by the deep-pocketed corporate client persuade Roger to take the case, which initially seemed too easy at best, or a bit fishy at worst. As subsequent events bear out, there was more to the case than Roger's clients let on.

The novel represents an enjoyable evolution in the Roger and Suzanne murder mystery series. As fun and interesting as the earlier South American story lines were, I found the shift to the California, U.S. Southwest and New York settings to be no less interesting and entertaining. Just as Last drew on his personal knowledge of South American culture and locations in his earlier books, he uses his extensive knowledge of the competitive dog show world to provide a detailed and credible new setting for his latest mystery. And his cast of characters continues to expand and develop, adding interest to his largely narrative story-telling. Unlike the previous books I read in the series, Last takes more time to set up his story for the action to follow. Readers not familiar with the world of dog breeding, training and competition will appreciate the time Last takes to provide context and background. Once the first murder is uncovered, events move quickly with both action and suspense.”

4.  Lover of good mysteries”  Thoroughly enjoyed The Deadly Dog Show, the author's best I believe. A good mystery set in a world I know almost nothing about. Now, as with other Jerold Last books, I have learned much.”

No comments:

Post a Comment