by Judy Alter
I feel a bit like George W. Bush here, the time he got mixed up on “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice” and ended with “Aw, you know what I mean.” But the saying I have in my mind is “Never trust a man who doesn’t like dogs; always trust a dog who doesn’t like a man.” Or something like that.
It’s an accepted fact that dogs have some kind of sensitivity that humans either lack or ignore. Scientific studies have shown, for instance, that trained dogs can sense their owner’s seizure before the owner can because the dog recognizes changes in chemistry, behavior, probably even scent. Guide dogs operate on a similar sensitivity to their owners’ needs and anticipate such problems as stairs, solid objects, etc.
But what about your average pet? I had an Aussie who could sense a thunderstorm hours before it hit—scientists think now they feel earth vibrations that we don’t. Scooby would begin to pace when there was no sign of a storm, and his panic grew so bad the vet prescribed tranquilizers. Trouble was I waited until the storm was close to give him the pill, and it had long passed when the pill took effect and then he was somnambulant.
After years of owning several dogs, I am down to one—sometimes I call her my dotage dog. She’s a deliberate cross of a miniature poodle and a border collie, and she’s loveable, adorable, and fierce when protecting the house from the inside. I can tell in the night from the tone of her bark whether or not it’s something I need to get up for. Usually not. But sometimes there’s a deep, low-throated growl that gives me the shivers. What would she do if I was ever attacked…or one of her favorite people, like my grandson? I don’t know, hope I never have to find out. Sophie’s a friendly, happy creature so believe me if she ever growled at someone, I’d take it seriously. I wonder though why one minute she is sleeping peacefully in her bed in the bedroom and then with a yelp is racing to bark furiously out the front door. What signal did she get?
In my new mystery, Murder at Peacock Mansion, a dog’s intuition plays a big part, and I’m not sure scientific experiments would verify this. The dog is at Kate Chamber’s house, in the backyard, going crazy—barking, pacing, all the things that dogs do when upset. Kate is having her own anxiety attack because her partner/lover missed dinner the night before and she can’t find him by phone. She plans to go to his house to check on him, but Huggles, the dog, refuses to let her go without him.
Turns out Huggles instinct or intuition was right on. Someone has burned the house down. Kate assumes David is dead, but Huggles leads her to his car, parked a bit away, where David lies, gravely beaten and barely alive. Now that part can be explained by science—Huggles sensed probably body odors, fear, a trail—all believable. So is what he did next—jumped on David to keep him warm.
But is it possible that Huggles knew, from fifteen miles away or so, that David was in danger? Or was he picking up on Kate’s anxiety? Did he realize David was missing? Until we can teach dogs to talk, we’ll never know for sure. But I prefer to believe that the dog, a labradoodle, sensed one of his owners was in trouble over that distance. And it worked well for the plot.
Murder at Peacock Mansion
Arson, a bad beating, and a recluse who claims someone is trying to kill her all collide in this third Blue Plate Café Mystery with Kate Chambers. Torn between trying to save David Clinkscales, her old boss and new lover, and curiosity about Edith Aldridge’s story of an attempt on her life, Kate has to remind herself she has a café to run. She nurses a morose David, whose spirit has been hurt as badly as his body, and tries to placate Mrs. Aldridge, who was once accused of murdering her husband but acquitted. One by one, Mrs. Aldridge’s stepchildren enter the picture. Is it coincidence that David is Edith Aldridge’s lawyer? Or that she seems to rely heavily on the private investigator David hires? First the peacocks die…and then the people. Everyone is in danger, and no one knows who to suspect.
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, Danger Comes Home, Deception in Strange Places, and Desperate for Death. She also writes the Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at the Blue Plate Café, Murder at the Tremont House and the current Murder at Peacock Mansion. Finally, with the 2014 The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries.
Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and the WWA Hall of Fame.
Judy is retired as director of TCU Press, the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her dog, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.