Friday, April 13, 2007

Dogs and Mysteries

Tom Schreck,
author of On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery
Available September 2007 from Midnight Ink Books

You may or may have not noticed the prevalence of dogs in mysteries. There’s no shortage of dogs in the Midnight Ink series and whether you’re a fan of Robert B. Parker, Stephen White, Joan Hess, Carol Lea Benjamin or countless others, you know dogs figure in the plots of lots of whodunits.

In my own series, The Duffy Dombrowski Mysteries, lots of people tell me that Allah-King, Duffy’s Black Muslim basset hound is their favorite character. “Al” as Duff calls him is very much the prototypical hound in that a) he has no inclination to please his owner; b.) He does what he wants, when he wants regardless of who is present and c.) When it matters, I mean really matters, he comes through.

Al is very much like my own basset, Wilbur, who is pictured with me above. Wilbur barks incessantly, he eats my shoes and if he doesn’t feel like walking where I want to walk he just lays his fat self down and makes me drag him. Wilbur sleeps with my wife and I (and our other basset and four cats) and likes to lay on his back with all four paws straight in the air. This is quite a sight and might even be somewhat amusing if he wasn’t dead center on my side of the bed.

The other thing you should know about Wilbur is he comes with me to the Special Ed School I work in. While he doesn’t do a damn thing I tell him to do you can see him cheerfully running up and down the halls happily on the leash of young girl with autism or sitting and lying down for a treat so he can get petted by a half a dozen of kids at once. He doesn’t care that they are loud or unpredictable with their movements—he just knows what they need.

Last month at school a 13 year old girl was given the job of walking Wilbur so that she would have a responsibility. Jen has a disability and part of that disability is that she has a speech impediment. She proceeded to teach Wilbur a couple of tricks that I never could get him to do. Last week, after Wilbur did his tricks and gave Jen a kiss, she looked at him and said “Good Boy Wilbur.”

Big deal? Yeah, you bet it was. You see her speech therapist was the one who gave her the Wilbur job and after Jen told Wilbur he was a “good boy,” the speech therapist put her hand over her heart and her knees buckled. She later told me that in the thirteen years she had been working with Jen she never came close to being able to say “Good Boy.” Now she tells Wilbur that after every trick he does.

So last night at 2:37 am when Wilbur wanted to go outside I didn’t yell at him. When he chewed through my $100 running shoes I gritted my teeth but let it go and when he doesn’t shut up right at the climax of the Yankees game I don’t yell at him.

You see, dogs have a way of letting us know what’s important—not what we think is important but what is truly important.

Al, Duffy’s dog, does the same things and he also becomes Duffy’s moral barometer. If you’re lucky enough to have a dog like Wilbur or Allah-King you already now what I’m talking about. If you don’t you’re going to have to wait until September when On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery debuts.

Then, you along with Duffy can adopt your very own obstinate basset hound.

(If you really can’t wait—check out the short story, Hounding Duffy on


Mark Terry said...

Actually, my "office manager" is a goofy chocolate Lab, although he's not a purebred--Mom was a Golden and the owners were fairly certain that Dad was some sort of Newfoundland mix.

Like many office managers, Frodo doesn't do much except remind me when HE wants something--like to be let out or taken for a walk. No line-of-sight supervision for Frodo, either. He doesn't even bother coming to my office much any more--too cold in the winter, I think, he prefers to rotate from couch to chair to couch to one of the beds in the rest of the house.

Nina Wright said...

IMHO, every writer needs a dog--although, when pressed, I've made do with cats, an entirely different kind of reality check.

One of the myriad benefits of canine companionship for writers is the mandate to get up from the keyboard and go walk the dog. No matter how well the writing is flowing, we need to step away from our complex imaginings and touch base with the real world.

There's nothing more grounding than playing clean-up crew for your hound.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I was thrilled to read you also have cats, even if you don't use them in your series.

So on behalf of my two feline "writing companions" B & Raffi - Good Post, Wilbur!

Candy Calvert said...

My "office companion" is a (nearly) 14-year old mini-schnauzer named Heidi. My daughter calls her "Heidi Ho" and sometimes shortens that simply "Ho," which of course is very dicey at best. Don't quote her.
Anyway, Heidi divides her time between my office and my husband's, and clearly considers herself part of the work team. We wouldn't have it any other way.
Thanks for the great post!


Joanna Campbell Slan said...


Glad to have you aboard. And Duffy, too. My rescue co-author, part-Bichon/part-poodle, Rafferty, has a leaky faucet. Our nickname for him is "hose head."

I mentioned this to a friend, an older lady, and she said, "A lot of us have problems with our plumbing. I sure do."