Title: Murder in the Dog Days
Series: Maggie Ryan Series #6
Author: P.M. Carlson
Publisher: The Mystery Company/
Crum Creek Press
Publication Date: May 15, 2014
From the publisher—
On a sweltering Virginia day in 1975, reporter Olivia Kerr, her husband Jerry Ryan, his very pregnant sister Maggie and her family decide to have a beach picnic. Olivia invites her colleague Dale Colby and his family to join them. At the last minute, Dale decides to stay home to pursue an important story. But when the beach-goers return, they find Dale lifeless in a pool of blood inside his locked office.
Police detective Holly Schreiner leads the investigation, battling Maggie—and demons of her own.
A funny thing happened (to me) on the way to my reading this book. Originally published in January 1991 (but copyrighted in 1990), Murder in the Dog Days came into existence a scant 15 or so years after its setting in 1975 and would not have been considered historical in nature. Returned Vietnam vets were to be seen everywhere, PTSD was in evidence but didn’t really have a name quite yet in the public lexicon, overuse/abuse of prescribed medications was probably not especially common yet but, at the least, very well hidden, and people were still split on the validity of our having been at war in a tiny country so far away. In 1990 or 1991, we didn’t yet have any real perspective on those times but it was beginning to become clearer and any reader’s personal experience and/or knowledge would have affected how he or she felt about this story.
Today, enough years have passed to consider the setting of Ms. Carlson’s novel to be historical or very close to it. As so often happens, our sensibilities about that period have softened somewhat and, although we now feel strongly that vets need the respect and assistance they so valiantly earn, we also have largely put the war itself into the past, shunted aside, I suppose, by the conflicts that have arisen since then. I bring up all this because the violence and repercussions of that particular war affected me in very different ways then and now and thus affects my reaction to certain people and storylines. I also confess that I had a less enlightened attitude towards some social issues then than I do now.
Anyway, getting to the actual mystery, this one is a keeper. There’s nothing I like more than a locked room puzzle and the author crafts her story with finesse and nicely developed plot points and characterizations, especially Maggie, Detective Holly Schreiner and Josie, the young daughter of the murdered man, Dale. A reporter who’s driven, Dale has been digging into a particular story with political implications but there are also other reasons someone might have had for killing him. The immediate question, though, is how since his study door was bolted and there seemed to be no way the killer could have gotten out. That one piece of the puzzle kept me going hither and yon until a most surprising denouement. My introduction to Maggie Ryan was a great success and I’ll be looking for the other books.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.
An Excerpt from Murder in the Dog Days
“I don’t understand!” Donna Colby cried out. Her self-control cracked. She reached toward Holly in appeal, tears starting. “It was bolted! How could anyone—even if Dale let them in, they couldn’t bolt it again after they—”
“Yes, Mrs. Colby.” Holly broke in, firm and reassuring, to deflect the outburst. “We’ll check into it. You can depend on it.”
‘Thank you,” said Donna with a little choking sound.
“Now, what did you do when you realized the door was bolted?”
“Well, he usually takes a nap. I thought maybe he was asleep.” Donna Colby was trying to revert to her numbed monotone again, but a tremor underlay her words. “Then Maggie went to look in the window and came running back in and said hurry up, we had to get the door open. So she did, and—” She stopped. The next part was the unspeakable, Holly knew. Donna Colby turned her face back to the pink flower on the back of the sofa, tracing the outline with a forefinger. “All that blood,” she murmured. “I just don’t… Why?”
“I know, Mrs. Colby.” Holly tried to keep her voice soothing in the face of the incomprehensible. A husband and father lay twisted in the den. Why? Tell me why. And the others, so many others. A flash of reds at the back of her eyes. A blue-green stench. A tiny whispered beat, ten, eleven. Twelve. No more. Hey, cut the bullshit, Schreiner. Just get the details. Ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die. Holly flipped to a new page, keeping her voice colorless. “What did you do when you got the door open?”
“We all ran in—I don’t remember, it was so—I couldn’t—the blood. Maggie went to him. Sent Olivia to call an ambulance. Told me to keep the kids out, take them to the kitchen.”
Holly noted it down. This Maggie sounded like a real take-charge type. “Okay. And then what?”
“I don’t remember much. She made me leave, take care of the kids.”
“What was she doing?”
“I don’t know. There was so much…” The word escaped Donna and she stared at Holly in mute terror before finding it again, with an almost pitiful triumph. “Confusion. The men came back. Maggie will tell you,” she added hopefully, trying to be helpful. All her life, probably, being nice had kept her out of trouble. But now she’d hit the big trouble, and Holly knew that no weapons, even niceness, could help now.
* * *
Excerpt from Murder in the Dog Days by P.M. Carlson. Copyright © 2017 by P.M. Carlson. Reproduced with permission from P.M. Carlson. All rights reserved.
About the Author
P.M. Carlson taught psychology and statistics at Cornell University before deciding that mystery writing was more fun. She has published twelve mystery novels and over a dozen short stories. Her novels have been nominated for an Edgar Award, a Macavity Award, and twice for Anthony Awards. Two short stories were finalists for Agatha Awards. She edited the Mystery Writers Annual for Mystery Writers of America for several years, and served as president of Sisters in Crime.
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09/01 Interview @ BooksChatter
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