There's hardly any mystery to it books for dog lovers are popular


I meant to mention Susan Conant's new dog-lover's mystery, "Bloodlines" (Doubleday, $17), several months ago, when a review copy first crossed my desk. But then I did a foolish thing: I gave it to a friend who saw it at my house and begged me to let her have it "just for the weekend."

I never saw that copy again.

I tried to get it back recently, only to discover that to track it down I'd have to be as good a sleuth as Ms. Conant's dog-training amateur detective, Holly Winter.

"Great book," said the friend. "I thought so-and-so would enjoy it. I made her promise to return it, though."

"Good read," said so-and-so. "She really knows the dog world, doesn't she? I gave it to such-and-such. She has Malamutes, just like Holly Winter. She had to read it."

"Loved it," said such-and-such. "I gave it to whosit at that Malamute specialty show."

And so it went -- and for all I know is still going -- through a three-state region. I finally decided it was cheaper to buy a second copy than to spend more money on long-distance calls in hopes of getting my original back.

I re-read the book on a recent Saturday and found it to be as enjoyable as I remembered.

"Bloodlines" is the sixth in the Holly Winter mystery series, and with it Ms. Conant has hit her stride. She weaves a gripping story around the murder of a pet-store owner and the seemingly unrelated disappearance of an Alaskan Malamute (like her detective, Ms. Conant has two of the big furry beasties and is nuts about the breed).

Along the way, she takes the reader on an unflattering tour of the purebred-dog world, from the commercial breeders who provide puppies for pet stores to the top show-breeders who seem to care more about titles and trophies than they do about the dogs that earned them.

While the book will be an education for many readers -- Ms. Conant researched her subject with the help of one of the nation's top humane investigators -- it is first and foremost a good mystery, with a tense and satisfying conclusion.

"Bloodlines" is a book that will be enjoyed by any mystery or dog fan. I highly recommend it -- but I'm not lending it out anymore, so don't ask.

Ms. Conant's earlier Holly Winter mysteries -- "Gone to the Dogs" is the most recent -- are available in Bantam paperback versions. "Bloodlines" is scheduled to join that lineup in December.

Another book that's overdue for a mention here is "The Dog-Lover's Companion: The Inside Scoop on Where to Take Your Dog in the Bay Area and Beyond" (Foghorn Press, $12.95). Authors Lyle York and Maria Goodavage and test dogs Dabney and Joe personally visited every major park, preserve and beach in a nine-county San Francisco area and evaluated them from both the dog's and owner's point of view. The format is easy to handle; the writing, skillful and light-hearted.

While the book doesn't venture much beyond the greater Bay Area, it's still a worthwhile purchase for those who like to travel with a dog. The authors clue you in on the dozens of wonderful places only locals know about, while steering you away from areas that should be perfect but aren't because of anti-dog policies.

The book makes it clear that while park officials try to find a place for every activity from tennis to picnicking to mountain biking, they give a short shrift to one of any area's largest constituencies -- dog lovers. The worst offender in the book is probably San Mateo County, where the area's 65,000 dogs can't put a paw on even one acre of a 15,000-acre regional park system.

"The Dog-Lover's Companion" may be a good motivator for organizing, but it also should serve as a warning to protect what we have. The authors stress the need for pets to be well-mannered and in control, and advise packing baggies for clean-up and water for fill-up. (It's bad public relations to let dogs slurp from drinking fountains meant for people.)

If you and your pup have grown tired of the neighborhood park, "The Dog Lover's Companion" can provide the inspiration for many pleasant adventures.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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