THE BARKER STREET REGULARS
Susan Conant

 


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The 11th Dog Loversí Mystery
Random House, 1998
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Holly Winter wants to have the title of Therapy Dog awarded to her beloved malamute Rowdy, so she is sponsored by a canine therapy organization, making regular visits to a nursing home. Even elderly people who never respond to anyone respond to big, friendly Rowdy. Holly can empathize when they tell her about dogs they have loved.

Oddly enough, the kindred spirit Holly finds at Gateway Center is not another dog lover. She understands Althea because Althea has an obsession with Sherlock Holmes as strong as Hollyís obsession with dogs. Through Althea she meets two more of the Holmes-obsessed, Altheaís devoted friends Robert and Hugh, and her sister Ceci, who cares nothing about Holmes but is obsessed with one dog, her dead Simon. Ceci has fallen under the spell of a psychic animal communicator, Irene Wheeler, who charges very high prices to serve as a conduit between Ceci and Simon.

Irene Wheeler is currently making a splash in the Cambridge dog world. Our first view of her makes it plain she is speaking out of ignorance, because she is causing trouble by disagreeing with the unmistakable diagnosis of an veterinarian. But she is so persuasive that even Holly doesnít know what to make of her. Ceciís grandnephew Jonathan isnít able to make any progress whatever in protecting Ceci from Irene Ė in fact, when he tries he is immediately murdered.

Hollyís policeman friend Kevin insists con artists donít commit murder. He also refuses to do anything about the horrible man Holly interrupted while he was drowning a cat. And there it stands. It is up to some emulators of Sherlock Holmes to bring Jonathanís murderer to book, show Ceci who she is really dealing with, and bring punishment to the animal abuser.

Author Susan Conant is at the top of her form in THE BARKER STREET REGULARS. The first sentence brings a laugh, the first chapter is a moving description of Rowdyís effect on the aged people he visits. Chuckles follow thick and fast, as Dog worship meets Holmes worship and each throws a satirical light on the other. Conantís mysteries have always been rich with humorous reflections on the culture of Cambridge, home of Harvard University, and on the world of dog showing. Now humor rolls off the page from yet another source.

Conantís Dog Loversí Mystery series is a standout among animal mystery series because she makes it so easy for us to feel with her narrator, Holly Winter. Hollyís first person accounts poke fun at her enthusiasm for dogs, while striking in the reader a vein of admiration for her expertise. She takes for granted her contradictions and excesses in a way that can be laugh-out-loud funny. Now and then she dips under her own surface for a moment of self-revelation. Conant has developed a heroine perfectly suited to her writing voice.

The Dog Loversí Mystery series begins with A NEW LEASH ON DEATH. Another standout in the series is GONE TO THE DOGS. To date it has sixteen books (giving me five more to read Ė anticipated bliss), and Conant has begun a new Cat Loversí Mystery series with SCRATCH THE SURFACE. She publishes a new book almost every year.

March 2006 Review

 

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