Brought to you by OBS reviewer Daniele
*Beware of Spoilers*
The Sugar Maple Inn in Wagtail, Virginia, is the country’s premiere vacation hot spot for pet owners who can’t bear to leave their furry friends behind. But this tourist town smells trouble when a killer goes on the prowl….
Holly Miller’s life has gone to the dogs. She has no job, her boyfriend’s former flame is sniffing around, and a scruffy but loveable Jack Russell Terrier is scattering crumbs all over her borrowed car. Just when she thought things couldn’t get worse, a troubling phone call about her grandmother sends her rushing home to the family inn on Wagtail Mountain.
The staff—and a frisky Calico kitten named Twinkletoes—adopts Holly and her new dog on arrival. But someone in this friendly town is bad to the bone. One of the employees at the inn has been killed in a hit-and-run accident—which is looking anything but accidental. Now Holly and her furry companions will have to nose out the murderer before someone else gets muzzled. (Amazon)
Murder, She Barked opens shortly after the protagonist, Holly Miller, has lost her job as a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. While she and her lawyer boyfriend, Ben, are attending a winery dinner with Ben’s boss and family (which includes Ben’s former girlfriend), she receives a phone call from her grandmother’s best friend that Oma needs her. Thinking that her grandmother, Oma, is ill, Holly leaves immediately to drive the six hours southwest of Washington to Wagtail Mountain. The drive through the mountains is miserable; Holly is full of worry for her grandmother, and it is raining heavily and foggy.
Along the way, Holly stops at a gas station and a stray Jack Russell Terrier jumps into her car and will not leave. The station attendant tells Holly that the dog has been there for a couple of weeks and has refused to go with anyone. Resigned to the notion that the dog has adopted her, Holly continues on with dog in tow (she eventually names the dog Trixie). Not far from her destination, she almost has an accident when a man suddenly appears out of the fog in the middle of the road. But when she stops to check on him, he has disappeared, and then there is an explosion in the valley near the road. After Wagtail’s only police officer, Dave, comes to investigate her 911 call, Holly finally arrives at the Sugar Maple Inn.
Holly spent summers at the inn as a child, and though she has not been back in five years, she still considers the inn her home. A lot has changed since she was last in Wagtail. Oma has renovated and expanded the inn. It has become a premier pet resort destination. In fact, the whole town of Wagtail has morphed from a small mountain community with a lake and natural springs to a pedestrian and golf course community with shops and restaurants, all catering to vacationers and their four legged companions.
Since she arrived during the night, Holly does not see her grandmother until the next morning. She finds that Oma’s night auditor and local ski instructor, Sven, was killed in a hit and run accident the day before. Oma was also grazed by the car but only has a sprained ankle. Soon after meeting the town’s mayor, Jerry, Holly and her childhood crush, Holmes, discover his body in his office. He had been hit on the head and then strangled with a dog choke chain collar. There have also been a string of thefts in neighboring Snowball Mountain.
What is going on in this quiet community? Are all of these incidents connected? Was Oma really the target of the hit and run? Who had it out for Jerry? One of the guests of the inn is attacked outside the inn; what is he up to? Who was the man, or was it a ghost, in the middle of the road? The explosion on the side of the mountain turns out to be Ben’s boss’s stolen car. How does that fit in with everything? Why did Ben’s boss’s daughter, Kim, come to town to deal with the stolen car, and why did Ben come as her escort? Have they rekindled their relationship? Is Oma really sick and just not being forthcoming or is she planning to retire and sell the inn? The townspeople surely have some secrets.
Ms. Davis does a good job of describing the inn, the town, and the various characters (potential suspects). Oma’s staff obviously cares for her and welcomes Holly into the fold, and they are not stock characters. There are a few nasty folks in town (Peaches, Prissy and Holly’s Aunt Birdie), but they are not so obnoxious that they put off the reader. This is Dave’s first murder investigation, but he handles it well and is not portrayed as a buffoon or bully. Kim, Prissy, Brewster (the local pub owner), and Philip (the ambitious owner of a rival B&B) all make good, viable suspects. The animals are featured throughout the story, and Trixie plays in integral part in solving the crimes.
The mystery itself was solid. I appreciate that Ms. Davis does not leave any plot thread unexplained by the end of the story, and nothing seems to be filler. The novel concludes satisfactorily (no cliff hanger and no pending love triangles). There are plenty of characters and potential situations to develop into further installments of the series, and I look forward to getting to know them and their adventures. There are recipes for people and dogs featured in the back of the book. Is the idea of a whole town centered on pets a bit cheesy? Yes, but I want to go there (I am one of those crazy people who considers her dog her child). I would recommend this to pet lovers and readers who enjoy the author’s Domestic Diva series.