Sunday, May 11, 2014

Under the Dog Star, book review (woman veterinarian, dogfighting, mystery)

Under the Dog Star, A Rachel Goddard Mystery by Sandra Parshall (Poisoned Pen Press, 2011, 305 pages, $14.95) If you love the Deborah Knott series by North Carolina author Margaret Maron, you will love this series. 

“Good Dog!” (Good Book. Good Series.)

A good book, a good series of mysteries starring veterinarian Rachel Goddard. . . .

I read the 4th mystery in the series of six* (so far) by Agatha Award-winning and very prolific author, Sandra Parshall, formerly a newspaper reporter in nearby Baltimore. There is so much to explore in the background of the characters, that I can’t wait to get the whole story by reading the other five books.


At 305 pages, it was a short book (by that I mean I read it in less than two days – it was that spellbinding!) It would make a great beach or airplane read, too.

I’m not sure who is the protagonist: Dr. Rachel Goddard, the veterinarian, or her significant other, Tom Bridger. (Both seem to have equal time, making Under the Dog Star appeal to men as well as women readers.) Tom is a small town cop in their rural Blue Ridge Mountain community in Virginia where nearly everyone has a dog or two, plus a rifle or three.

Tom and Rachel care very much about each other: each worries about the dangers lurking for the other, and the caring, concern, and verbalizing can be familiar to the reader. Who hasn’t stayed awirake all night waiting for a spouse to come home safe after being called out in the middle of the night – or known someone who has? Who hasn’t stayed awake waiting for a teenager to come home after a date?

The Plots

A ‘murder’ of a ‘leading citizen’ (a physician), dogfighting rings that surface every couple of years (did you know there is a Fighting Dog DNA Database?), a dozen pet dogs that disappear from their yards, a fascinating dysfunctional family - all lend their hand to a convoluted twisty tale that manages to tie up fairly nicely in the end. 

Even though the astute reader can guess at some of the outcomes, enough cliff-hangers and surprises abound to keep you reading faster and faster.

Another timely theme is the current economy: many people can no longer afford their pets and some even drive them out into the countryside and abandon them there, falsely thinking they will have a chance of surviving. . . .

What Didn’t I Like?

Very little!

But, to balance my comments, some things seem just too easy – the dart guns ‘shot’ to immobilize an animal are used in a new way (poetic license? In reality, the quantity of the ‘ammo’ must be carefully calibrated for the weight of the animal - which takes time.); the use of the outdated term, ‘alpha dog,’ here meaning the leader of a wild, feral pack of dogs; the hard-to-believe escape of a fighting dog or two; and the easy capture of loose, very hungry, dogs in a ‘pack.’ I also prefer ‘crate’ to ‘cage’ but realize that the location of Under the Dog Star is rural Virginia.  And, since I read the book so quickly (it was that good!), it took me some back-reading to get all the characters straight.

However, none of the very minor flaws detract from the very readable excitement of Under the Dog Star!  As a matter of fact, I am going to read rest of the series. That should keep me busy for a week!

For a sneak preview, listen to Chapter One here.

Titles in the Rachel Goddard series of veterinarian mysteries by Sandra Parshall:
Heat of the Moon (2011**)
Disturbing the Dead (2011)
Broken Pieces (2011)
Under the Dog Star (2011)
Bleeding Through (2012)
Poisoned Ground (2014)

**Publication dates may be off a few years because it is not always apparent if the date refers to the coming-out of the hardback, the paperback, the e-version or what.

(I checked this book out of my public library. This article first appeared on on 11 May 2014.)

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