Monday, June 21, 2010

You and Me Were Meant to be For Each Other*

The bond between humans and their animal companions can be a particularly strong one. Whether one’s a “dog person,” a “cat person,” or has another kind of pet, relationships with pets are a very important factor in human life. What’s interesting is that research shows several benefits to pet ownership. For instance, owning a pet is associated in some studies with longer life, lower stress levels and reduced anxiety. Little wonder that so many people are devoted to their animal friends. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we find a lot of examples of pets in crime fiction.

Animal companions figure in more than one Agatha Christie novel. For example, in Dumb Witness (AKA Poirot Loses a Client), we meet Bob the terrier. He lives in Littlegreen House in the town of Market Basing with Miss Emily Arundell. Miss Arundell is a wealthy elderly woman with several financially-strapped relatives. Over Easter Bank Holiday, her nieces and nephew come to stay, and Miss Arundell knows very well that they want to ingratiate themselves with her, and she’s having none of it. One night, Miss Arundell takes a dangerous fall down a flight of stairs, injuring herself. At first, her accident is blamed on Bob, who has the habit of leaving his favorite ball at the top of the stairs. Soon enough, though, Miss Arundell thinks matters through, and it occurs to her that Bob couldn’t be guilty; he’d been let outdoors, and wasn’t in the house at the time of the accident. So she writes to Hercule Poirot, asking him to come and investigate. However, Poirot doesn’t get the letter until two months later, and by the time he and Hastings come to Market Basing, it’s too late; Miss Arundell has died. Her death is put down to liver failure at first, but it’s not long before poison is suspected. In the end, Poirot and Hastings find out who murdered Miss Arundell, and Bob actually provides some assistance to them.

In Christie’s The Clocks, Poirot helps Colin Lamb, a member of the Secret Service, discover the truth behind a mysterious dead man found in a house in quiet Wilbraham Crescent in the town of Crowdean. Lamb’s in that neighborhood on a mission of his own when a young woman comes out of one of the houses screaming that there’s a dead man in it. Lamb goes into the house and sees that the young woman’s right. So he calls the police, and Inspector Richard “Dick” Hardcastle begins to investigate. In the course of questioning the neighbors, Hardcastle and Lamb meet Mrs. Hemming, who lives next door to the house where the man was found. She shares her home with a large family of cats whom she adores, and around whom she centers her life. In fact, Mrs. Hemming is so besotted with her cats that she’s hardly noticed what happened next door. Mrs. Hemming may be more than a little eccentric, especially about her cats. But she has interesting insights, and she actually gives Hardcastle and Lamb a very important clue about the murder, almost without being aware of it. And in her character, we can really see the bond between people and their animal companions.

And then there’s Hannibal, the terrier who owns Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. He’s an opinionated, but loving and protective pet who’s not afraid to rush to his family’s defense. In fact, that’s just what he does in Postern of Fate, the last of Christie’s Beresford novels. In that novel, the Beresfords have just moved to the small town of Hollowquay, where they hope to retire. No sooner do they move into their home than Tuppence finds a cryptic message in an old book. The message mentions a name, Mary Jordan, and says that she did not die naturally. Tuppence can’t help being curious and it’s not long before she and Tommy are investigating the mysterious death of a German maid who lived in Hollowquay years before. The Beresfords discover the truth behind the death, but not without risk to themselves. In fact, it’s through Hannibal’s intervention that Tuppence is saved from a very dangerous situation.

Of course, lots of other sleuths have animal companions as well. For instance, Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole shares his home with a black cat who’s only really comfortable with him and his partner, Joe Pike. In fact, the cat’s devoted to Pike. That in itself is interesting, because Pike’s not exactly someone you’d peg as the pet-owning “type,” if there is such a thing. He’s an ex-Marine who works part time as a mercenary. He owns a gun shop and frequently travels with more than one weapon. Pike’s not what you’d call the warm, loving “type,” but he and Cole’s cat have established a bond.

Marshall Karp’s Mike Lomax is an L.A.P.D. detective who partners with Terry Biggs. Lomax and Biggs have formed not only a police partnership but a friendship as well. We see clearly the way they work as a strong team in novels such as The Rabbit Factory and Blood Thirsty. In The Rabbit Factory, we meet Andre, Lomax’s black Standard Poodle who’s a great source of comfort and solace to Lomax after the death of his wife, Joanie. When Lomax ‘s strange (and often long) hours make it hard for him to spend the kind of time he wants with his companion, Andre moves in with Lomax’ father, Big Jim, where he still gets to be a part of Lomax’s life, even though they don’t see each other as often.

Lilian Jackson Braun’s sleuth, Jim Qwilleran, is a former investigative news reporter who’s relocated to the small town of Pickax in Moose County, “four hundred miles north of nowhere,” where he writes a twice-weekly column for the Moose County Something, and still has the reporter’s “nose for a story,” especially when he’s investigating a crime. Qwilleran’s had to battle with personal demons, including a failed marriage and a bout with alcoholism, but his life has become more or less stable. Qwilleran shares his home and his life with two seal-point Siamese cats: a large male named Kao K’o Kung (Koko) and a smaller female named Yum Yum. His companions not only enrich his life, but also help him on his cases. In fact, Qwilleran is convinced that Koko knows more than he’s saying, so to speak, about the cases Qwilleran investigates.

Rita Mae Braun’s Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, the sleuth in her Mrs. Murphy series, is the postmistress (in several novels) of tiny Crozet, Virginia. She also runs a farm. Harry’s animal companions are Mrs. Murphy, a tiger cat, Tee Tucker, a Corgi and Pewter, a grey cat who’s more interested in food than in just about anything else. Harry’s got a habit of curiosity, which is one way in which she gets herself into more than one dangerous situation as she investigates cases. Very often, her animal friends travel with her and have come to the rescue more than once.

In my own Joel Williams series, Williams and his wife, Laura, share their home with Oscar, a friendly brown mutt that Williams “inherited” after the sudden death of Oscar’s former human companion.

There are also many cosy (that’s for you, Bernadette ; ) ) series that feature animal companions. For instance, there’s Melissa Cleary’s Jackie Walsh series that features Jake, the German Shepherd. There’s also Laurien Berenson’s Melanie Travis series featuring Travis’ family of black Standard Poodles. Lorna Barrett’s Book Town series is focused on bookstore owner Tricia Miles and her cat, Miss Marple (an irresistible name!). There are plenty of others, as well.

The strong and deep bond that we can form with our animal companions can enrich our lives immensely. That bond can also add to the depth of a character, create an interesting twist in a story, and add welcome humor. Even crime fiction that isn’t what you’d call “cosy” can be made more interesting. After all, how many times in crime fiction has someone been walking a dog and found the body that’s the focus of the story? Do you enjoy that added feature of animal companions in crime fiction? Which novels have you liked?

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Paul McCartney’s Martha, My Dear.

In memoriam... This post is dedicated to the memory of Angel (She’s the black Tibetan Terrier in the center of the ‘photo), devoted friend and companion, who left us this past weekend at the age of 14 ½. She will be sorely missed.


  1. oh, you must really miss Angel. She looks like a sweetheart. My faithful companion is Hoagy, a sharpei/lab of nine years. He keeps me true. I have a dog or two in my mystery series and animals show up in my other books too. I was going to be a vet or a writer when I was a kid!

  2. Jan - Hoagy sounds wonderful! You put that so well, too, that our pets keep us true. I so like it that you have pets appearing in your mystery novels and your other books. They're such a natural part of our lives, aren't they? And you know what? There's at least one veterinarian mystery series I know about, so why shouldn't you have dreamed of doing those things? And yes, thanks, we miss Angel terribly...

  3. What a beautiful post in memory of your Angel. I love it that so many mysteries feature animal friends as part of the story.

    You've been in my thoughts - I know this is such a difficult time. I love the photo of Angel - it looks like she had the perfect name, her face looks so sweet, and, well, angelic. And I'm honored that you used photos of my two babies in the frame around Angel.

  4. Sorry to hear about your wonderful pet, but I do love this post. I'm a dog person myself but for some reason loved all the Braun mysteries with Koko and Yum Yum. And I read all the Berenson mysteries because I grew up with poodles, or as she would write, Poodles. :)

    I also came across a new-to-me series about a pet sitter, written by Blaize Clement. I'll be posting a review on Saturday if you're interested. (By the way, it does include the walking-the-dog-who-finds-a-body plot device!)

    Glad you had so many good years with your pet.

  5. Ingrid - It's my great pleasure to include your girls in this picture; what special friends! And yes, Angel really was a sweet dog with a terrific personality. Make no mistake; she was an Alpha. But yeah, her name suited her. I truly appreciate your kind thoughts. This is a sad time for us, but Angel is at rest, and that (plus all the support we're getting) is giving us peace.

    I think it's wonderful, too, that lots of mysteries acknowledge how important our animal friends can be in our lives. They're often woven into the fabric of human life, so why shouldn't they be in mysteries, too?

  6. Karen - Thanks for letting me know about that upcoming review! Folks, Karen's blog, How Mysterious is a terrific resource for book and movie reviews. Please do pay it a visit.

    Funny thing is, I'm a dog person, myself, and I liked the Braun books an awful lot, too! And yes, the Berenson books are terrific, aren't they?

  7. So sorry to hear about your loss. Angel looks adorable in the photo.

    The Braun books are some of my favorite. Funny thing is I never read one, but listened to so many of them on audio.

  8. Mason - Thanks for your kind thoughts. Angel was even more adorable in real life : ). Funny you'd mention audio books. They really are getting more and more popular, and for many people, they're the only convenient way to experience stories. I'm not surprised you've read all of the books in that format.

  9. Such a nice tribute to Angel! And I love your photo montage. :)

    Hamish Macbeth has some interesting pets...Towser, Lugs, and his wildcat, Sonsie. :)

  10. Elizabeth - Thank you : ). And also, thanks for reminding me of Hamish Macbeth and his pets. That's always the way when I'm blogging. It's after I post that I'm reminded of other examples. I'm glad you brought that up!

  11. Oh, I'm so sorry for your loss. I've lost a few pets in my time and I know it can be extremely difficult. I'm glad he got to live a long life.

    I love the examples you quoted. I especially loved the AC book with Tommy and Tuppence. What a great novel. I don't remember the dog in the book but I remember it being quite an exciting book.


  12. Clarissa - Thank you : ). It is very hard, but yes, Angel lived a long life, and we are grateful we had her for as long as we did.

    You know, many people have said that Postern of Fate was one of Christie's weaker novels. I found it intriguing on a few levels, and of course Hannibal is a great canine case-cracker ; ).

  13. Margot, so sorry to hear about Angel.
    I will never forget our beautiful King Charles Spaniel Lucy, who thought she was a guard dog, and wanted to go for walks at 2.00 am in the morning. When she sadly got run over no other dog could replace her.
    In the last of the Swedish Wallander series Jussi his dog saves Kurt's life.

  14. Margot this is such a lovely tribute to Angel, thank you for sharing it. I know you will miss her terribly, as we all do whenever our animals leave us, but they bring such joy into our lives that it is worth it.

    Thanks also for spelling cosy with an s - I realise I'm fighting an uphill battle but I do appreciate it :)

    It is certainly a reflection of the importance of animals in the read world that they pop up so often in fiction too I think. I like the Laurien Berenson books you mentioned for the way dogs are key to the plots, I also like Annie Darling's cat (named Agatha I think) that rules over the bookshop in Carolyn Hart's death on demand novels. Even in the book I just finished, Tonino Benacquista's Badfellas the family pet dog plays a crucial role.

  15. Norman - Thanks for the kind words. I'm sorry, too, to hear about what happened to Lucy. Dogs become such important parts of our lives, don't they? And King Charles Spaniels are beautiful animals.

    You know, I truly wish we got that Swedish Wallander series here. Unfortunately, we don't. I have to start looking for those DVDs. Several people have said it's a terrific series.

    Bernadette - Thank you; you put that so well about the joy pets add to our lives. I can't imagine not being owned by a dog ; ).

    You're right, too, that it makes sense that pets would work their way into crime fiction, too. The Berenson series is, I think, one of the better series that really focuses on pets, and I live the character of Aunt Peg in that series. And thanks for mentioning Carolyn Hart's novels. As always, I posted this and then later thought of bunches of other examples, so I'm glad you brought this one up. I have to admit I haven't read Badfellas yet, but it's coming up soon on my TBR. I'll look forward to it now even more : ).

  16. I love animals. Sorry to hear of your loss. Dean Koontz likes to add dogs in supporting roles in his books. Animals are great to add into a story.

    Stephen Tremp

  17. Stephen - Thanks : ). I appreciate the kind words. Dean Koontz's novels are definitely solid examples of stories where animal friends play a role, so I'm glad you brought his work up.

  18. There are no words other than I'm so terribly sorry. We lost a much-beloved cat more than 3 years ago and I still miss him every day. I have, however, written him into my manuscript.

  19. Elspeth - Thanks : ). Your kind words really mean a lot. I'm very sorry that you lost your cat, and I know what you mean about still missing him. We lost a beloved dog two years ago and I still sometimes think I see him out of the corner of my eye. And he's written into my Joel Williams series. Maybe our minds do work alike. If so, you're in trouble ; ).

  20. As one who has never enjoyed a pet, I am out of the loop here. I am sure I missed something important.

  21. Patti - Pet ownership is a special, special bond. At least I've found it that way. "Missed out" is pretty categorical, though. I've really treasured the animal friends I've made, though.

  22. I really liked the relationship between the main character and his cat in No-One Loves a Policeman by G. Orsi - it was quite a noir, unsentimental novel so this aspect of it was rather nice - two independent characters, the protag and his cat, coexisting and understanding each other rather well. (I write as a cat person ;-) )

  23. Maxine - Thanks for mentioning that book. I haven't read that one, but it sounds terrific. And I'll bet it was nice to read about that relationship, especially if the rest of the novel wasn't sentimental. Folks, Maxine's excellent review of No-One Loves a Policeman is here.