Beaglemania (Pet Rescue Mystery #1) by Linda O. Johnston.*
Readers who can't get enough of Johnston's Kendra Ballantyne mysteries, rejoice. Beaglemania is the first of a spin-off series featuring Lauren Vancouver, administrator of a no-kill pet shelter called HotRescues. Kendra's significant other, Dante DeFrancisco, is the owner of HotRescues but the two of them play a very small role in this series.
We meet Lauren on the site of a "puppy mill", which is being raided by the Los Angeles Animal Security Task Force. Having been tipped of about the raid by one of her staff, Lauren makes a point of being there not just to help with the animals but because she suspects one of the shelter volunteers is involved with the mill. Sure enough, Efram Kiley, court-ordered to work at HotRescues, is there, ostensibly for the same reason as Lauren. But he seems much too familiar with the place, and there's no way that he could know about the raid.
Lauren and Efram have an argument which turns physical, and he is arrested. However, he appears at HotRescues a few days later for his shift as though nothing had happened. Lauren makes it clear that he's no longer welcome. Later that night, she finds him lying on the floor in the kennel area, unconscious and bleeding.
Since she'd had a public disagreement with him, she's the main suspect in his murder. Knowing she didn't do it, and certain that the police won't look any further, she decides to clear her name herself. Of course, the best way to prove her innocence is to find the actual killer, a task which she approaches as she does most things of importance: systematically, by creating files on all the people she can think of who might want Efram dead.
Lauren is a strong, self-possessed character who is easy for animal-lovers of either gender to identify with. Having dealt with situations in her life that she couldn't control, she makes a point of not being in that position again. She's soft-hearted about few things: her children, her friends, and animals (not necessarily in that order). It's refreshing to watch how methodically she works out the puzzle (and to learn that my suspicions were correct!)
Linda O. Johnston will be guest-blogging here next Wednesday, March 2nd. I will be giving away a copy of Beaglemania to one person who comments on that post.
*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a copy of the book for review purposes.