Melanie Travis, elementary-school teacher and single mother since her divorce had summer free this year, or thought she did, anyway. When her uncle Marvin, a poodle breeder, died of an apparent heart attack his wife Peg was certain he’d been the victim of foul play. Her main evidence is that their young stud, Beau, had disappeared at pretty much the same time. That’s how Melanie found herself coerced into finding the dog for her aunt.
Hunting a show dog meant many a visit to shows and other poodle breeders, so Melanie needed a quick education in the world of high-end dog breeding. Along the way, she managed to meet a hunkalicious breeder who didn’t seem fazed by the presence of her rambunctious four-year-old, Davey. The young woman did some sleuthing, discovered a dead body, and tried desperately to pry information out of her tight-lipped aunt. And – naturally – she found the dog.
A Pedigree to Die For was Laurien Berenson’s debut Melanie Travis mystery. As such, a reviewer can give the author a little latitude and hope for improvement in future installments. For the seventh or seventeenth novel in a series, it would rate one star – since it’s the first, a more generous two is in order. Here’s my reasoning:
- Travis all by herself is about as annoying as fingernails on a chalkboard, but everyone else in the plot is a social disaster.
- Melanie’s relatives are fools and all those poodle people are self-absorbed jerks.
- Davey Travis is about as realistic a character as Dennis the Menace, right down to that frog hidden in his pocket. Where’s the slingshot, huh?
- All the lengthy explanations of breeding and showing dogs (it seems to be about 25% of the text) get old after just the first few pages, and then it goes on.. and on...
- Sure, the B-word is proper when applied to a female dog. I know it, you know it, most of the world knows it. But that’s no excuse to use it more times than a rap album – by my count, almost 200 times!
But those quibbles pale compared to the fact that, as a mystery, this just isn’t very good. The villain of the piece and his/her motive arrive from someplace out in left field, without a clue of any sort. The resolution of the disappearing poodle case, supposedly the reason for Melanie’s involvement, is VERY disappointing. A mystery writer, whether it’s a PI thriller filled with gore and violence or a cozy tea-shop mystery, is duty-bound to give the reader all the clues necessary to solve the case him- or her-self, which Berenson simply doesn’t do.
The Melanie Travis series is now nearing its 20th installment. Either the writer has improved since A Pedigree to Die For, or people who read cozy mysteries lack high standards. Based on my rare trips to the “cozies” shelf, it seems that low standards are more likely the culprit.