For going on three decades, I’ve written domestic psychological suspense novels about everyday people with everyday lives going about their everyday business when—bam! Something happens, and suddenly nothing is as it seems. I conceived my latest standalone, The Other Family, knowing only that I was going to the biggest blindside of my career, and that it had to happen to a picture-perfect cast of characters living in a picture-perfect house—at least on the surface.
Like every picture-perfect family, the Howells needed a pet. Specifically, a dog. Preferably, one who likes to nose around in picture-perfect flowerbeds, where he might unearth something more ominous than tulip bulbs. Though I set out to create a fictional pup on par with his seemingly flawless humans, Kato took on a life of his own, as all the best characters do. He morphed into a lovably lazy pug whose owners have to drag him out the door to the dog run, whose name is a nod to the book’s true crime theme, and whose role in the plot is indispensable.
I’ve since heard from smitten readers who want to know whether he’ll pop up in a future novel. While I can’t make any promises, I can offer dog-loving bibliophiles a list of mysteries & thrillers featuring canine characters.
Scents and Sensibility is the eighth title in the beloved Chet and Bernie series from New York Times bestselling author Peter Abrahams, writing as Spencer Quinn. Wryly narrated by an exuberant pooch who accompanies his human on various crime-solving adventures, the series captured attention from Stephen King, who says, "Spencer Quinn speaks two languages—suspense and dog—fluently."
Related: The Pets of Crime Fiction
The prolific author—and dog lover—V.M. Burns is known for featuring canines in all her cozies, but the Dog Club series is particularly pup-centric. In the latest, Paw and Order, the heroine(s)—newly single sleuth Lillian Echosby and her toy poodle, Aggie (named after Agatha Christie)—are chasing killers and building a new life in Tennessee.
Jeffrey B. Burton
Set in Chicago, Jeffrey B. Burton’s The Keepers is about a detective who specializes in human remains and trains cadaver dogs, including his Golden Retriever Vira, who helps him solve crimes. Library Journal calls it a “fast-paced story of an ordinary man and his extraordinary dogs.”
Bestselling author Michael Connelly featured a dog named Lola early in his acclaimed Harry Bosch series, and in the latest, The Dark Hours, his partner Renee Ballard rescues a chihuahua named Pinto. Both pups are based on the author’s real-life pets. In a clever Easter Egg of a twist, Lola’s best friend at doggy daycare was a French bulldog named Double, whose real-life counterpart belongs to fellow crime novelist Alafair Burke.
Paula Munier’s The Hiding Place tackles an emotional subplot alongside the mystery when Afghanistan veteran Mercy Carr and her retired bomb dog Elvis team up with game warden Troy and his search and rescue dog Susie Bear to solve a cold case in the Vermont Mountains.
In The Good Boy, Edgar-winning novelist Theresa Schwegel, known for her gritty midwestern police procedurals, weaves a poignant family drama into a tale about a scandal-ridden cop, his K-9 unit partner, a German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois mix named Butchie, and his eleven year old son, Joel.
A pet lab named Catcher is intrinsic to the plot of New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger's psychological thriller The Red Hunter, about two women taking very different paths after trauma. A teenager sneaking out of the house is forced to take the family dog with her to keep him from whining. When her parents are murdered in a brutal home-invasion that night, she’s left to pick up the pieces, always wondering whether they’d have lived if she’d left the dog behind to defend them.
Read the Book
Wendy Corsi Staub
It’s the perfect home for the perfect family: pretty Nora Howell, her handsome husband, their two teenage daughters, and lovable dog. As California transplants making a fresh start in Brooklyn, they expected to live in a shoebox, but the brownstone has a huge kitchen, lots of light, and a backyard. The catch: its previous residents were victims of a grisly triple homicide that remains unsolved.
Soon, peculiar things begin happening. The pug is nosing around like a bloodhound. Nora unearths a long-hidden rusty box in the flowerbed. Oldest daughter Stacey, obsessed with the family murdered in their house, pokes into the bloody past and becomes convinced that a stranger is watching the house. Watching them.
She’s right. But one of the Howells will recognize his face. Because one of them has a secret that will blindside the others with a truth that lies shockingly close to home—and to this one’s terrifying history.