Animals in Literature

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to share her love animals and how they came to be in her books.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

The other day I overheard two women talking about books. I don’t eavesdrop, well, not usually, but books are a topic I find hard to ignore. One woman said she couldn’t resist a book if it had a dog in it. I almost walked over to tell her about the Mary McGill canine mysteries and how she’d just love Millie, Mary McGill’s cocker, but I refrained. After all, it is rude to eavesdrop, even if it is very tempting. But it did get me to thinking. I also have a hard time resisting a book with a dog in it. Or a cat, or a horse, or an elephant or…

It started, of course, when I was a child. People give children books about animals, sometimes not realizing how profoundly they can influence a child’s life. I can’t remember which of the many animal books came first and I guess it doesn’t matter. What does is how hard it is to forget them and how they colored my view of things. Remember Smokey by Will James? Or Black Beauty? Or Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion? That one started my love affair with Arabian horses. I also had multiple books about famous race horses, Justin Morgan had a Horse (Morgan’s are great little horses) Man of War and his sons, and a lot of others. We lived in an apartment during those years and it was as close as I got to a horse. I corrected that in later years.

My brother and I wanted a dog. I’d read Big Red, Lassie, Beautiful Joe, The Bar Sinister, and a huge pile of other dog books, but had decided when the wonderful day came, we were going to get an Irish Setter. Luckily, my brother agreed. Finally, my folks bought a house and we got a dog. Penny. An Irish Setter. Our first rescue dog. And, boy, did she need to be rescued. She was so starved that the first thing she did when we brought her home (after giving her a bath so my mother would allow her in the house) was jump on the dining room table and eat the fruit out of the center piece.

There have been many more dogs in my life, many of them rescues, but the lessons I learned about dogs, about all animals and the way to treat them, and the way not to, have never left me. Those books, all of them, taught me, among other things the virtue of kindness and to abhor cruelty, to animals and to humans.

Those books and the hours I spent with them are probably one of the reasons so many animals are in my own mysteries. Only one, Give First Place to Murder, is about horses, but dogs and cats are liberally sprinkled throughout the pages of the other 8 right along with the dead bodies and they figure in helping solve the puzzles. Not on purpose, of course, but by pointing the way and by protecting the people they love.

The Mary McGill canine mystery series centers around the dogs, and each has a ‘visiting dog’ who helps Millie push the story forward. Purebred Dead, 1st in the series, describes how Mary and Millie got together. Not the usual way someone adopts a dog. In Curtains for Miss Plym, 2nd in the series, Morgan, a three legged hound dog, appears. He is suspiciously like a rescue we acquired a couple of years ago named Lefty, a descriptive but uninspired name but he doesn’t seem to care. If you haven’t read Blood Red White and Blue, 3rd in the series, and like German Shepards, give it a try. It was a finalist in 2017’s Dog Writers of America best canine novel of the year. Ranger reminds me a lot of my beloved Shea, who is I am sure waiting for me across the Rainbow Bridge. Dressed to Kill will be released in the US Nov 1 of this year. Millie makes friends with Zoe, a black lab service dog who is patterned after Believe, a puppy my granddaughter raised to be a service dog. Mary gets to learn a little about how these dogs work while catching a murderer.

I couldn’t have written all these dogs if I hadn’t read so many books about dogs, and cats and horses, and if my life hadn’t been graced living with so many of them. My current crew, Millie, Maggie and Ollie the Cat make my life richer by far, even if they do take up more than their half of the bed.