...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nine More Things You Might Not Know About the Animals in Focus Mysteries

by Sheila Webster Boneham

My first Aussie, Teddy (UCD Thistleridge Highland Dancer
Shepherd's Crook, the fourth installment in my Animals in Focus Mystery series, is scheduled for release in early October. Fifty-something photographer and accidental sleuth Janet MacPhail is once again sucked into a murder investigation as she wrestles with animal-rights extremists, an obnoxious neighbor, a new pet limit law, and her warring needs for love and independence. As I begin thinking about where Janet may be headed next, I thought it might be fun to share a few tidbits about the books. (Don't worry if you haven't read them -- no spoilers here!).

So here we go....

  1. The main characters in the books are not real people. Yes, yes, you're sure that person belongs to your dog-training or cat-fanciers' club, but s/he doesn't. Really. (Do be nice to me, though....)
  2. Some characters in the books are real people and animals, although as far as I know they haven't been caught up in murder investigations. But I have included a few real-life characters - human and animal. Some have won roles in the books by entering raffles to support canine and feline rescue or health research. A few others are friends.
  3. I strive to keep the animals in the books as true to their species as possible. Dogs do dog things, cats do cat things, and I don't presume to know what they think, although they certainly make their opinions and desires clear at times. But if an animal does something in one of my books, I have either seen an animal behave that way or have heard an anecdote from a friend. (Yes, I pump my friends for good stories!)
  4. Janet MacPhail, who tells the tales, never intended to be an amateur sleuth. She was perfectly happy photographing animals, landscapes, and occasionally people, and wrestling with the challenges of being 50-something. She had plenty of wrestling to do, too -- her mother drifts in and out of dementia, her business needs constant nurturing, and, as we all know, "The course of true love never did run smooth." But then people started dying....
  5. Janet's dog Jay is an Australian Shepherd. Yes, Aussies really are that energetic and smart. Really. 
    My Aussie Reno, playing in the snow.

  6. Each of the Animals in Focus books focuses (!) on one or two animal sports or activities, and the titles reflect one or more of them. In Drop Dead on Recall, we begin at an obedience trial, where a competitor keels over during an exercise called the "drop on recall." The Money Bird finds Janet's significant other, Tom, training his Labrador Retriever, Drake, for an advanced hunt title. A "money bird" is the last bird a dog retrieves in a trial (the one that wins the money) and the mystery involves illegal trafficking in exotic birds. Catwalk takes Janet to both canine and feline (yes, feline!) agility trials and into the emotional and political world of feral cat colonies. The title is a play on "dogwalk," an obstacle in canine agility. In Shepherd's Crook, Janet and Jay will be herding sheep, and running into crooks and killers.
  7. Each book also highlights a serious issue, and my goal is not to preach but perhaps to pique the reader's interest in learning more. Drop Dead on Recall grapples with breeder and rescue ethics. The Money Bird involves smuggling of exotic and endangered animals. In Catwalk, the issues are feral cats, over-zealous development of wild areas, and the rights of the elderly to make their own choices. Shepherd's Crook brings up the question of arbitrary pet-ownership limits and animal rights extremism.
  8. The series is not a dog OR cat series, but an animal series. Janet lives with dogs and cats and is interested in all animals, domestic and wild. If characters inherit traits from their authors, Janet got this one from me.
  9. Janet isn't me and I'm not Janet, but I have been active in many areas of the animal world for most of my life. I showed hunters and jumpers in my teens and twenties, and I've been involved in showing, training, breeding, rescuing, volunteering with and for, writing about, and loving dogs since the early 1990s. I've also had many feline friends and companions, and have volunteered with my local shelters to help in the "cat rooms." All that experience translates into accurate information and portrayals in the mysteries.

So there you have it. What else would you like to know? 

Drop Dead on Recall won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Best Fiction Book in the 2012 Dog Writers of America Writing Competition, and was named one of the Ten Best Pet Books of 2012 by NBCPetside blog! The Money Bird was a Maxwell finalist in 2014. Sheila's nonfiction books about dogs, cats, and animal rescue have won numerous Maxwell and MUSE awards, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her essay "A Question of Corvids."
Sheila's books are are available in the usual places and forms -- paperback, ebooks, large print, and Audible. If your local bookseller doesn't have them in stock, they can order them, or you can find them online or HERE.


  1. Early congratulations, Sheila. I know release day is a ways off, but it's quite an accomplishment to get 4 books written!

    1. Thanks, Kassandra! SHEPHERD'S CROOK is actually my 26th book, but the excitement never wanes. :-)