Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Play Dead (Allie Babcock Mystery #1), by Leslie O'Kane

NYLA, November 2013 (original publication January 1998)

Allie Babcock has recently moved from Chicago back to Boulder, and is starting up a dog training business. She's found living quarters sharing a home with a neurotic woman, Kaitlyn Wayne, who is happy to have Allie's cocker spaniel, Doppler, living with them, but not her German shepherd, Pavlov, so Pavlov is staying with Allie's mother, about an hour out of town. Allie and Doppler visit them on weekends.

She's also found office space shared with Russell Greene, an electrical engineer who is afraid of dogs but rather sweet on Allie despite that.

And Allie gets a chance to boost her business with an interview on the Tracy Truett radio show. It's too bad that the station staff has just been told that the radio station is being closed down. It's Tracy's last broadcast, and she's had time to get drunk. In the midst of all this chaos, one of the few calls Allie gets to take is from Beth Gleason. Her collie, Sage, isn't eating, and she thinks it's because he saw his former owner murdered--although the police think it was suicide.

Allie schedules a meeting with Beth and Sage, and she has no idea how exciting her life is about to get.

I like Allie, and I like her dogs.  They're believably real dogs, smart and loyal and not able to perform miracles of canine-human communication. I also like Allie and her approach to training, which is kind of important. I couldn't spend an entire book with a dog trainer protagonist I'd be afraid to let hold my dogs' leashes.

Allie is smart, too, and doesn't do out-of-character stupid things. It's really not her fault that, after taking on Beth Gleason as a client, she suddenly finds herself surrounded by an impressive array of crazy, unpredictable, potentially dangerous people. (Although, in fairness, she found her housemate, Kaitlyn Wayne, on her own, and it's Kaitlyn who's responsible for her abusive, manipulative ex coming back into the picture and into Allie's already over-stressed life.)

It quickly becomes clear that Beth isn't the only one who thinks Sage might be able to identify a killer, and Allie finds herself playing detective in pure self-defense. Altogether, it's an exciting, improbable roller coaster ride with some enjoyable, likable characters.

Recommended for light reading.