Review published on April 12, 2017.
Having found it difficult to secure relevant employment after completing her doctorate in philosophy, Daphne Templeton settled back into her quaint hometown of Sylvan Creek and started a pet-sitting business. Business is not booming, although she does have a few loyal canine customers (and one delightfully dishevelled freeloader in the shape of Artie, a one-eared Chihuahua), and so when a dead body is discovered during a dog agility trial, she throws herself into the investigation. Many people had reason to want local lothario Steve Beamus dead, but Daphne’s sister Piper, who had recently broken up with Steve, looks to be the police’s prime suspect. It seems like it’s up to Daphne and her canine posse to clear Piper’s name, identify the killer and track down Axis, a chocolate Labrador that has been AWOL since the murder.
Death by Chocolate Lab is the first book in a new cosy crime series by Bethany Blake and it’s certainly a promising beginning. Daphne Templeton is a likeable character and an appealing sleuth. Once she decides to investigate Steve Beamus’ murder, there’s no stopping her and neither the police nor old acquaintances will put her off the killer’s trail. She thinks nothing of engaging in a little breaking and entering to get to the truth, and she has no fear of hurtling head-first into danger. Being a cerebral type, her investigative methods and eventual deductions are convincing if sometimes a little creative. In fact, the only misstep with Daphne’s character is the overemphasis on her apparent ditziness, which rather contradicts her otherwise competent persona. The notion that she can complete a PhD, run a business and bring a killer to justice doesn’t quite gel with the idea that, for example, she doesn’t understand the need to regularly put petrol in her car. The quirkiness is probably meant to make Daphne more endearing, but it could be toned down in future books without harming her appeal.
The other detectives involved in Death by Chocolate Lab are pretty good, too. First and foremost, there is the dynamic duo of Socrates the basset hound and Artie the Chihuahua. Unsurprisingly, Socrates is the dour thinker of the pair, while Artie is the enthusiastic neophyte that enjoys sniffing out friends and foes alike. There’s also Detective Jonathan Black, the devastatingly handsome new cop in town, who has to suffer the attentions of both Daphne and Artie. It’s nice to see that Detective Black is portrayed as a good cop who follows the evidence rather than his personal feelings and who is ready (albeit perhaps grudgingly) to accept help when it is offered. The potential romance between Daphne and Johnathan is perhaps introduced in a rather heavy-handed fashion, but the two of them do work well together, with all of the sniping and eye-rolling that is to be expected of such detective/amateur investigator relationships at the beginning.
It’s just as well that there are a number of invested investigators (human or otherwise) on the case, since the mystery of Steve’s murder is very well-plotted. There are a good number of suspects and some very convincing reasons for why they might all have wanted Steve dead. The identity of the murderer is certainly not obvious and, while the reader might get to the truth before Daphne does, the resolution of Death by Chocolate Lab is definitely satisfying. There are plenty of clues to pick through and some red herrings to discard on the way to determining the killer’s identity. There are some action-packed scenes, plenty of humour and a little romance woven into the mystery, so that Death by Chocolate Lab should appeal to many fans of cosy mysteries.
Erin Britton 3/3
Death by Chocolate Lab by Bethany Blake
Kensington Publishing 9781496707383 pbk Feb 2017