- The Washington Times - Friday, September 10, 2010

DOG TAGS
By David Rosenfelt
Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 368 pages

SIREN
By Alison Bruce
Soho, $25 256 pages

Every dog deserves his day in court, especially if he is defended by a good lawyer and appears before a judge with a sense of humor.

David Rosenfelt has cooked up another engaging mix of dogs and murder, demonstrating again that if he had to choose between the two-legged and the four-legged, there wouldn’t be much question of which.

His philosophy of life is to be found in the words of his detective lawyer Andy Carpenter, “The average dog I know is paws and shoulders above my species.” Mr. Rosenfelt, who with his wife runs a foundation that has rescued more than 4,000 golden retrievers, is clearly writing from the heart. However, he is still having a lot of fun writing about distressed canines and crime and uses the appealing gimmick of having the jackets of his books dominated by the furry face of a dog.

Of course Carpenter is easily talked into taking on the case of Milo, a German shepherd and former police dog that has been corrupted by his owner, a former lawman gone bad. Poor Milo has been trained to steal in a sophisticated way and that talent ultimately makes him a suspect in a case in which the dog has witnessed a murder and taken off, as trained, with the loot.

Unfortunately, this also makes Milo an eyewitness and he winds up in jail with a 24-hour guard. This not only vastly entertains the judge but persuades him to make Carpenter a foster father for the dog.

What Milo knows matters to the police and the hit man as well as his owner, who is in the hospital as a result of injuries inflicted on him in jail. But the problem is how to persuade Milo to track down the mysterious piece of evidence that he ran off with and carefully hid, as dogs can and will. Carpenter takes Milo into his family and even introduces him to his glamorous golden retriever, Tara. But he has problems persuading Milo to relive the post-murder moments when he ran off with an envelope just as he had been told to do.

However, the wicked hit man is still on the scene, orchestrating mayhem and prepared to put a speedy end to Milo if a secret envelope isn’t retrieved. There is a lot of lively courtroom banter, and a reasonable amount of violence, but Mr. Rosenfelt doesn’t belong to the class of crime writer who has to describe every drop of blood leaking from a victim. You get the impression he doesn’t think dogs should be exposed to that kind of thing. Rosenfelt thrillers are tuned to entertainment and they are fun to read. Especially if the reader likes dogs.

Alison Bruce’s “Siren,” a dark and downbeat thriller is focused on a search for a missing child and the strange psychological reactions of his mother. But it probes more than usual the complexities of relationships in police work that place unusual stress on the men and women in law enforcement. It makes clear that their problems range beyond crime solving, and pecking orders between officers assume more than customary importance.

Ms. Bruce has a deft touch with characterization, especially in the case of Kimberly Guyver, the mother of the missing boy whose behavior is more distracted than distraught, and in the sketch of Detective Constable Gary Goodhew, a maverick of a cop who walks to his own music. Consequently, he finds himself coping with the feminist resentments of a female colleague as well as becoming intrigued with Kimberley, a woman for whom her beauty has become a burden she seeks to escape.

Kimberley’s psychological troubles may be traced to the fact she is haunted by memories of a callous and sadistic mother. Etched in pain is a scene in which the child smashes a clock, and her mother takes a gruesome satisfaction from the certainty that she has wrecked her relationship with her daughter.

However, Ms. Bruce’s delving into the psychology of her characters does not impede the speed and drama of the plot that races from the possibility that the missing child died in a burning house to the chilling and unexpected climax when the killer almost claims his final victims.

The plot lines are tightly drawn and the sad but lovely Kimberly assumes the dimensions of a tragic heroine, with Goodhew hovering in the background yet keenly aware that an involvement with her would be disastrous. It will be interesting to see how the Goodhew character develops as the author uses him as a central character in what apparently will become an intriguing series.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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