4 star

Shepherds Crook

Animals in Focus, Book #4

By Sheila Webster Boneham


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Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele


Animal photographer Janet MacPhail has just arrived at a sheep-herding competition with her Australian Shepherd, Jay, when she learns that two dozen sheep have disappeared. Police think the animals have wandered off in search of greener grass, but Janet sees and hears things that convince her the sheep’s owners are right—the animals have been stolen.

Janet knows she should leave the snooping to the police while she attends to her own problems—new living arrangements, her mom’s wedding plans, puppy and kitten antics, and extremists bent on keeping people from having pets. But when a livestock handler turns up dead and the sheep’s owner disappears, the police and a pair of thugs pay Janet way more attention than she likes. She sets out to find answers, putting herself and those she loves in the killer’s crosshairs. (Goodreads)


Janet MacPhail is amply busy with her animal photography business and the agility work she does with her Australian Shepherd Jay. In addition to the every day activities, she is dealing with her boyfriend Tom’s looming cohabitation, her mother’s upcoming nuptials, a cranky new neighbor hell bent on passing a city ordinance that would limit the number of pets allowed per home, and a radical group who thinks all pets should be freed from “slavery”. She attends a sheep herding competition where Jay will compete and she take photos, but she becomes distracted by claims of missing sheep. The next day the stock handler Ray, who worked with the sheep, is found hanging in one of the outbuildings and Summer, the sheep’s owner disappears. A dubious pair of men is looking for Summer, and they begin following Janet, thinking that she knows where Summer is and that Janet must have taken pictures of the men. Even Summer’s husband claims to have no idea of her whereabouts or if it is connected to Ray’s death. Several plotlines converge here to make an interesting, twisty tale of manipulation, fake identities, and consequences. Janet does her best to talk herself out of looking into things, but her nosy nature, and her neighbor, just won’t let her leave things alone…even when she in the path of a bullet.

Shepherds Crook is the fourth book in the Animals in Focus mysteries, and it is great fun. The mystery itself is compelling, but for me the animals are the real draw that keeps me reading. I enjoy learning about the world of dog (and cat) agility and that the pets are so prominently featured throughout the story. I also like that animals are involved with the mystery itself. Janet has a dog and a couple of cats, Tom has two dogs, her neighbor has a dog and a cat, and even the police detective has a kitten. I cannot wait to read about the new puppy Winnie’s exploits in future installments.

Ms. Boneham obviously knows a great deal about the animal agility trial world and pets. What could come across as dry textbook information is instead woven seamlessly within the story with a deft hand. The characters are varied and well developed. Janet is realistically flawed, yet endearing, but I do hope she gets over her relationship insecurities soon.

Shepherds Crook was thoroughly entertaining and a quick read. I recommend it to all pet lovers.