Agility can be murder for cats, dogs, and people!
Animal photographer Janet MacPhail is training for her cat Leo’s first feline agility trial when she gets a frantic call about a “kidnapping.” When Janet and her Australian Shepherd Jay set out to track down the missing party, they quickly find themselves drawn into the volatile politics of feral cat colonies and endangered wetlands.
Janet is crazy busy trying to keep up with her mom’s nursing-home romance, her own relationship with Tom, and upcoming agility trials with Jay and Leo. But the discovery of a body on the canine competition course stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.
by Sheila Webster Boneham
Setting is an essential part of many mysteries, as well as other types of fiction. Some settings are important enough to be regarded as “characters” of a sort – Tony Hillerman’s Southwest, John Connolly’s Maine, J.A. Jance’s Arizona and Seattle, Carl Hiassen’s Florida, Elliot Pattison’s Tibet–I could go on for pages!
My Animals in Focus mystery series featuring animal photographer Janet MacPhail, her Australian Shepherd Jay, and her orange tabby Leo, occupies a number of settings, if you will. Some of these might be unnecessary in a stand-alone novel, but because this a series with an “accidental” amateur sleuth, several series sub-plots weave through the stories, and each has what I call a “sub-setting.”
The primary setting is, of course, geographical—Fort Wayne and other parts of northern Indiana, with occasional forays to other parts of the state or across state lines. I chose the area partly because I grew up there and know it well, and partly because it is a beautiful part of the country that often gets short shrift from outsiders who think all of Indiana is the fairly flat stretch of farmland from just west of Toledo to just east of Chicago. To dispel the “nothing but corn, beans, and steel mills” stereotype, I send my protagonist, Janet MacPhail, to the lakes, rivers, forests, and ravines of the state as well as the cities, small towns, and occasional quirky attractions. (Seriously, have you ever been to a pickle festival?) She also gets around her hometown a lot, and spends her time and money in local small businesses like The Firefly Coffee House and The Cookie Cottage (real places and worth a visit!).
Each book focuses on an animal activity that interests Janet, so the venues for those activities also serve as settings. In Drop Dead on Recall, we visit a dog show, an obedience trial, and a competition dog-training facility. The Money Bird lets us tag along with Janet to retriever training sessions as the new handsome guys in her life—Tom Saunders and his black Lab, Drake—get ready for upcoming competition. I have been involved in the world of dogs for more than two decades as a competitor, breeder, rescuer, instructor, judge, and writer, so like northern Indiana, it’s a setting I know well. Even better, it’s populated with all manner of characters, with and without fur.
Catwalk, the newest book in the series, casts Janet’s cat, Leo, in the spotlight as he gets to show his stuff at a feline agility trial. Yes, there really is such a thing! There’s also a canine agility trial—most people have seen dogs running in agility on TV or the Internet by now. And still more cats, as Janet becomes caught up in the politics of feral cat colonies and trap-neuter-release programs when she helps a friend.
All of which is to say that the Animals in Focus series is not a “dog mystery” series. I don’t know why people try to make a distinction between “dog people” and “cat people” since many of us—like Janet—love dogs AND cats!
One final setting that is crucial to the series is the nursing home where Janet’s mother is wrestling with dementia. She happens to be in a great one, complete with therapy animals and a garden therapy program. There are some difficult moments for both Janet and her mom, but there’s humor, too. There may even be some romance!
Writing a series with multiple settings has been great fun for me, and I hope my readers enjoy moving through Janet’s different worlds with her and her friends, too.
About the Author
Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, won the Dog Writers Association of America Maxwell Award for Best Fiction Book. She is also the author of 17 nonfiction books, six of which have won major awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association. For the past two decades Boneham has been showing her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports. She has also bred top-winning Aussies, and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham holds a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University and resides in Wilmington, N.C.
For more information, please visit Sheila online at:
Sheila’s website and writing blog – www.sheilaboneham.com
Sheila’s Writers & Other Animals blog for readers & writers who love animals, and animal lovers who read – www.writersandotheranimals.blogspot.com
On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sheilawrites and https://www.facebook.com/groups/writersandotheranimals/
Autographed copies of Sheila’s books are available from Pomegranate Books – ordering information at http://www.sheilaboneham.blogspot.com/p/autographed-books.html
Also available in paperback, ebook, Audible, and large print formats from your local bookseller and online.
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