Lauren Carr is the best-selling author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Each installment of Lauren’s hit mystery series, starting with It’s Murder, My Son which was released in June 2010, has made the best-seller’s list on Amazon. Twelve to Murder is the seventh Mac Faraday mystery.
Also receiving rave reviews, Dead on Ice, released September 2012, introduced a new series entitled Lovers in Crime, which features prosecutor Joshua Thornton with homicide detective Cameron Gates. The second book in this series, Real Murder, will be released in June 2014.
Last week, a friend told me that the animals in my books have “big character.” By this, she explained, that they have distinct personalities and sometimes serve an actual role in the plotline.
I took it as a compliment that the fur-bearing characters in my mysteries could be considered “big characters.” I think some pet owners would say their furry family members have big personalities—which is where this all originated in the Mac Faraday mysteries.
Now, animals in books is nothing new. They have played roles going way back in literature. Jack London’s White Fang was written from the title character’s viewpoint, that of a wild wolfdog and his journey to domestication.
In mysteries, there is a whole sub-genre devoted to pet mysteries, in which animals play a role in solving the mystery. Sometimes, admittedly the pet may only think he is solving the mystery. Some of these cozies are even told from the pet’s point of view.
The growing popularity of animals who play roles in books is an indication of how much pets have come to mean to people. According to US News, Americans Spend $61 Billion on Pets Annually! That’s a lot of kibble and bits!
Just take a look at my cell phone. In the photo gallery, I have dozens of pictures of Gnarly (the real Gnarly) from puppy-hood to adult hood. But none of my son. (Yes, I love Tristan, but Gnarly is … well, Gnarly!)
Last week, I spent ten dollars on a chew toy for Gnarly. The label read that it was indestructible, guaranteed. “Toughest chew toy on the market.” Its life-span in Gnarly’s paws was thirty minutes. I’d return it for my money back but it was a million pieces and Gnarly was very unhappy when I gathered them all up to throw out before he choked on the pieces. So not only was I out ten dollars, but my hundred pound German shepherd was mad at me for giving him a new toy that he was only allowed to have for thirty minutes.
I did not set out to write pet mysteries.
It just happened.
Animals have always been included in my books, just like in my life. A former farm girl, I have always had dogs or cats. When I was living in apartments in the city, I would have fish or birds. They were always there and played a vital role in my life, not unlike my family.
So, when I began writing mysteries, my characters would have pets as well. In the first Joshua Thornton mysteries, he had Admiral, a Great Dane-Irish Wolfhound mix. While Admiral had (and still has in the Lovers in Crime Mysteries) personality, he played no role in investigating or detecting the bad guys.
Then came Gnarly in the Mac Faraday Mysteries.
Believe it or not, as important as Gnarly has become to Mac and his friends, he was not in the first drafts of It’s Murder, My Son. Mac Faraday did have a dog, which was a German shepherd. However, this dog, which was his pet, was “simply there.”
Then, I took my son to a football game, and during half-time, a woman came up to my then seven-year old and asked, “Would you like to hold my puppy?” Tristan looked at me and I thought, “What harm can come from holding a puppy?” I said yes. The puppy landed in Tristan’s arms. The woman said, “You can keep him. He’s free.” Then, she was gone!
You might say this was the turning point of my mysteries.
Ziggy had (and still has) a huge personality. An Australian shepherd, he was a notorious thief, who would hide his stolen goods under our bed.
No matter what method of training I would try on him, he would see his way around it. When he became bigger than Tristan, he would steal food right out of his hand at the dinner table. One night, on the suggestion of a friend, I set a spray bottle filled with water in the middle of the table.
“When Ziggy tries to steal Tristan’s food, shoot this at him and he’ll leave him alone,” I instructed Jack and my father-in-law, who was living with us then.
Suddenly, in the middle of our chicken dinner, like an alligator spotting prey at the shore, Ziggy jumped out from under the table to grab the end of a chicken leg as Tristan was bringing it to his mouth. Tristan held on. The tug-of-war broke out.
Jack and Grandpa sat with their mouths hanging open.
At the other end of the table, I yelled, “Shoot him!”
Neither of them moved.
Meanwhile, determined to not let his dinner get away, Tristan was holding on.
I dove across the table to grab the spray bottle and shot it at the furry attacker.
Refusing to let go, Ziggy blinked. Realizing that it was only water, he resumed his fight for the chicken leg.
Their mouths still hanging open, Jack and Grandpa were still sitting motionless at the table.
Suddenly, I made a realization. “Tristan, are you really going to want to eat that leg even if you can get it off him?”
Tristan released and Ziggy carried off his ill-gotten chicken leg to his den under our bed.
That was when I called the dog expert who announced that Ziggy’s exceptional intelligence leads to boredom which results in his looking for trouble to get into. The solution, more walks and intense training to alleviate his boredom.
I thought, What if Mac Faraday had such a dog? So highly intelligent that he looks for trouble, but loveable, like Ziggy. In other words, the anti-Lassie.
Gnarly was born.
Most of the canine incidents that I have included in my mysteries have truly happened, if not with my own dogs, but with other home-owners—like the troll under the bridge in the opening of Shades of Murder. A husky named Sarge who lives in our neighborhood is guilty of holding up the UPS and Fed-Ex trucks for dog treats.
Cats, too, I believe can be big characters, as well.
In the Lovers in Crime Mysteries, Irving is based on a real Maine Coon I had when I met my husband twenty-five years ago. Duchess was twenty-five pounds and a one-woman cat. Like a dog, she would run to me when I came home. When I would write on my old desktop, she would stretch out across the top of the monitor (yep, all twenty-five pounds of her). Often her legs would hang over either side of the monitor. She would flick her tail down next to the computer screen.
My, how she resented Jack!
One night, shortly after Jack and I were married, I spent a whole afternoon preparing chateaubriand for two. Candle-light, expensive wine. It was the perfect romantic dinner for two newlyweds.
In our first home, the dining table was set against the back of the sofa in a great room. We had only started to eat when Duchess jumped up onto the back of the sofa and strolled casually along the length of the sofa in Jack’s direction.
“Look at this,” Jack told me with a chuckle.
I looked, just in time to see Duchess walk up to where Jack was sitting, turn to him, and propel a giant fur ball directly into the middle of his plate!
Dinner is never boring at my house.
Such a relationship between new husband and his wife’s cat was irresistible when I created the Lovers in Crime Mysteries. Joshua Thornton tolerates Irving, a twenty-five pound Maine Coon, who has the markings of a skunk, who resents the man who has taken his mistress away from him.
Like many blended families, at this point in the Lovers in Crime, Irving’s role is that of low key adversary to the new addition to his family–Joshua Thornton. Rather than investigate murders, Irving is more concerned with training Joshua in how to play hide and seek with a cat late in the evening—and find a dead body—which can be murder: Real Murder (coming June 1)
A Lovers in Crime Mystery
“It’s not a real murder.”
When Homicide Detective Cameron Gates befriends Dolly, the little old lady who lives across the street, she is warned not to get lured into helping the elderly woman by investigating the unsolved murder of one of her girls. “She’s senile,” Cameron is warned. “It’s not a real murder.”
Such is not the case. After Dolly is brutally murdered, Cameron discovers that the sweet blue-haired lady’s “girl” was a call girl, who had been killed in a mysterious double homicide.
Meanwhile, Prosecuting Attorney Joshua Thornton is looking for answers to the murder of a childhood friend, a sheriff deputy whose cruiser is found at the bottom of a lake. The sheriff deputy had disappeared almost twenty years ago while privately investigating the murder of a local prostitute.
It doesn’t take long for the Lovers in Crime to put their cases together to reveal a long-kept secret that some believe is worth killing for.