Saturday, September 10, 2016

MORE Truth about Cats and Dogs

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I got an email the other day from an animal psychologist, and paraphrasing here, she asked me if I had a cat. Or two. Because, she said, the character of Coda in the Jane Ryland series displayed perfect cat behavior.

Well, you Reds know about my Lola and Leon (missing them) and of course, Coda is a mixture of them both.

We’ve been talking about whether we’re cat or dog people this week, so it a perfect time for Edgar winner Bruce DeSilva to make the choice. And as it turns out, he’s got both species in his new book!

In very different ways.  

How My Two Big Dogs Became Characters in “The Dread Line”
          by Bruce DeSilva

When I began writing The Dread Line, the fifth book in my Edgar-Award-winning series of hard-boiled crime novels, the first line seemed to come out of nowhere:
“He was a serial killer, but I didn’t hold that against him. It was just his nature. The way he killed irked me some. His victims were all missing their heads. But what I couldn’t abide was his habit of using my porch as a dump site.”

I had no idea who the killer was. Worse, I didn’t want to write another serial killer book. I’d already published one (Providence Rag) based on a real case I once covered as a journalist, and reliving those terrible days had been painful for me. I had vowed never to write about a serial killer again. But I loved the feel of that paragraph—the way it set the noir mood of the novel I wanted to write.

When I write, I rarely plan anything. I never outline. I don’t think about my plot in advance. I just set my characters in motion and discover the story as I go. But where in the heck was this going?

As I pondered what to do, I reached down and petted my two 130-pound behemoths, who love to sit by my feet as I work. To my left was Brady, a gentle Bernese Mountain dog. To my right was Rondo, a goofy mutt who patrols our yard every evening, driving off every intruder from foraging deer to our neighbor’s predatory cat.

And then I knew. The serial killer in that first paragraph—which I kept as the opening of the novel—was a feral tomcat who deposited its daily kills on my main character’s back porch.

The character, Liam Mulligan, promptly dubbed the predator “Cat the Ripper.” To deter it, he would need a dog. A big one. So he rescued a young Bernese Mountain dog named Brady at a local animal shelter and set him loose in the yard.
Mulligan and I figured that would do the trick, but the dog and the cat didn’t see it that way. When the two first encountered each other early one morning, Brady tried to make friends, got scratched on the face for his trouble, and immediately became terrified of the intruder.

Meanwhile, Mulligan had bigger problems as the novel’s plot and sub-plots began to emerge. He became obsessed with a baffling jewelry robbery. He was enraged that someone in town was kidnapping and torturing family pets. And all of this—including his vendetta with Cat the Ripper—kept distracting him from a big case that needed all of his attention.

The New England Patriots, still reeling from a double murder charge against one of their star players (true story) hired Mulligan (not a true story) to conduct a background check on a college star they were thinking of drafting. To all appearances, the player was a choirboy, so at first the case seemed routine. But as soon as he started asking questions, he got push-back. The player had a secret, and somebody was willing to kill to prevent it from being revealed.

The detective work kept Mulligan away from home for long hours, and one day he returned to find that Brady had shredded his couch, tossing stuffing all over the place. (The real Brady had never done anything like that, but the real Rondo had.) Mulligan did a little research about destructive dogs and learned that it was usually the result of separation anxiety. The solution—another dog to keep Brady company. Enter Rondo, another rescue from the local kennel.

As I sat at my keyboard day after day, Mulligan’s two dogs grew inseparable, just as my big boys did. And soon, their personalities emerged on the page—personalities that corresponded nearly exactly to my real dogs.

Rondo was protective, displaying his suspicion of strangers by barking incessantly at them. Brady was gregarious and affectionate with every one he met. Rondo was eager to please, constantly studying Mulligan for clues about what he should do next. Brady was stubborn and independent, obeying commands to come or stay only when it suited him. Rondo loved to fetch, gleefully chasing tennis balls across the yard and carrying them back to Mulligan. Brady watched the balls sail over his head and tossed Mulligan a look that said, “You expect me to get that?

But the two dogs—both named after New England sports heroes (Tom Brady of the Patriots and Rajon Rondo, formerly of the Boston Celtics)—surprised me by becoming integral to the main plot. Both—but especially Rondo—were always on alert for intruders. More than once, their barking alerted Mulligan to the nighttime arrival of thugs who intended to do him harm.

Before the story ended, Cat the Ripper shocked me by playing a larger role too. One day, instead of depositing the corpse of a mouse or a wren on Mulligan’s porch, he showed up clutching a severed human ear in his jaws.

Although The Dread Line marks the first time in the series that Mulligan has lived with a dog, I’ve always included dogs in my novels. Why? Because they are invaluable for developing characters. You can learn a lot about people by the way they treat animals.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  So, Reds and lovely readers, we all love animals in our stories, right?  Who’s your fave? Asta? Lassie? Pyewacket?

 And writers, have you put your own pets in your books? And do you agree you learn about people by the way they treat animals?

(I'm in Ann Arbor today at Aunt Agatha's Kerrytown Book fest! But I'll be checking in!)  

The Dread Line by Bruce DeSilva is the fifth hardboiled crime novel featuring Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter and part-time private eye in Rhode Island. To order it from a choice of independent or chain online bookstores, please click here. 

Bruce DeSilva grew up in a tiny Massachusetts mill town where the mill closed when he was ten. He had an austere childhood bereft of iPods, X-Boxes, and all the other cool stuff that hadn’t been invented yet. In this parochial little town, metaphors and alliteration were also in short supply. Nevertheless, his crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry Awards; and been published in ten foreign languages. His short stories have appeared in Akashic Press's award-winning noir anthologies. He has reviewed books for The New York Times Sunday Book Review and Publishers Weekly, and his reviews for the Associated Press appear in hundreds of other publications. Previously, he was a journalist for forty years, most recently as writing coach world-wide for the AP, editing stories that won nearly every major journalism prize including the Pulitzer. He and his wife, the poet Patricia Smith, live in New Jersey with two enormous dogs named Brady and Rondo.

Since he got fired from his newspaper job last year, former investigative reporter Liam Mulligan has been piecing together a new life for himself—one that straddles both sides of the law. He’s getting some part-time work with his friend McCracken’s detective agency. He’s picking up beer money by freelancing for a local news website. 

And he’s looking after his semi-retired mobster-friend’s bookmaking business. But Mulligan still manages to find trouble—when it’s not finding him. He’s feuding with a serial-killer cat that leaves its kills on his porch. He’s so obsessed with a baffling jewelry robbery that he can’t let it go. And he’s enraged that someone in town is torturing animals.

 All of this distracts him from a big case that needs his full attention. The New England Patriots, shaken by murder charges against one of their star players, have hired Mulligan and McCracken to investigate the background of a college star they’re thinking of drafting. At first the job seems routine, but when they begin asking questions, they get push-back. The player has something to hide—and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret. 


  1. Ah, Bruce, Brady and Rondo are beautiful dogs.
    I’ve enjoyed other Liam Mulligan tales, so I’m looking forward to reading “The Dread Line.”

    Favorite dogs in books? Sheesh, picking one is just too hard; I’m going with Nana in “Peter Pan” and Big Red in the book of the same name. And I confess to having a monster-dog-sized soft spot in my heart for Clifford, the Big Red Dog . . . .

  2. So many things to love about this post. First, Brady and Rondo are magnificent dogs, and Rondo is named after one of my favorite players from my favorite college basketball team, University of Kentucky (also my alma mater). Then there is the cat bringing the offerings to the porch and the bonding of the dogs. And Liam Mulligan sounds like a fantastic character. I'm embarrassed that I haven't read him yet. I have actually had my eye on The Dread Line because of its cover. Now, I know that I can judge this book by its cover.

    I can't think right now who my favorite dog in a book would be, but I can imagine getting quite attached to Rhondo and Brady.

  3. I love this story of how your own dogs came into your story, Bruce. Does Mulligan ever have to stay away sleuthing for a couple of nights and has to scramble to take care of the dogs? I tend toward felines in my real life as well as fiction, and only partly because my sleuths don't have to worry if they leave their pets alone for a while.

    I put one of our real cats, name and all, in each of my series. Preston and Birdy have both made the covers of the last couple of books! So fun memorialize them like (three of the four are still alive and quite well, but they're senior citizens so I know they won't be around forever).

  4. Love this post Bruce! and your wonderful dogs. Now my Tonka wants to know why he only got the smallest cameo in one of my books.

    Have you ever gotten any pushback from the Patriots? Or hurrahs, for that matter...

    I remember writing the PGA tour back when I was working on my first golf mystery, to see if they'd grant me permission to use their name. I got a noncommittal reply, but later someone in the know told me they were quite intrigued...

  5. Bruce this is the sweetest story!

    I've been inspired by other people's dogs. Phoebe (in Never Tell a Lie she ends up saving the heroine) is based on a fairly ill-tempered dog owned by my elderly next-door neighbor. ("a dog of indeterminate breed with a fat sausage body, skinny legs, and the black jowls of a bull mastiff. The dog’s snout was studded with white whiskers and her fur was brown and threadbare in places, like a well-loved plush toy.")

    I'm a big fan of Roberta's Tonka, and I put a nasty (snapping, barking) rottweiler who belonged to ex-friends into one of my books, but I made him (her?) a big sweetheart.

  6. So adorable! And I love how obvious it is that the dogs are so fond of you.
    It's sometimes a problem, though, to give a main character pets, especially dogs. Because they always have to worry about whether the dogs are taken care of, you know ? My detective, Jake, has a golden retriever named Diva which I finally had to have his mom sometimes "babysit" so Jake could be away all night or go out of town.

  7. Bruce, your "big guys" are adorable. I love dogs - especially big ones. And I have heard that the cat behavior is a sign of fondness, but don't quote me on that.

    My protagonist has the dog I wish I had. Or one of the dogs I wish I had. A Golden Retriever. And yes, I think you can tell a lot about a character by the way he/she treats animals.

  8. Aw, look at those babies!!! Beautiful and sweet and how could you not love 'em?!

    I have had dogs AND cats always.

    And always will.

    Right now, it's just Harley and he's such a spoiled rotten only child that our plans to add to the family were scratched. But I thought he might want a Maine Coon Cat - he said no. Definitely no.

    I had a Corgi in my Whimsey by name of Fred. Fred was, of course, based on Harley except, as far as I know, Harley does not read the Wall Street Journal, nor does he wear glasses.

    Great post!!!!!

  9. Bruce, I've been running across your name everywhere on the Internet lately, which I am taking as a sign that I must look for your books!

    A few summers ago I helped my sister who is a sixth grade teacher reorganize her classroom library after her classroom was relocated to a different floor. I read some of the books that looked interesting. Some were non-fiction, some were fiction. I fell in love with a mystery series about some family pets, including an anxious, neurotic dog. I cannot remember the name of either the dog or the author! While trying unsuccessfully to google the information I found out that there's a book about Feng Shui for pets. Just thought I'd pass along that information!

    Deb Romano

  10. Feng shui for pets? What does that mean? How do you choose the right one? Or were they should sleep or be? That sounds intriguing :-)

  11. Bruce, your book sounds irresistible. I love dogs (and cats) in stories, especially when they reveal character or move the plot. And I love big dogs, so will be a sucker for yours, I'm sure.

    I've written all sorts of dogs and cats into my books. My primary characters have two dogs, a terrier of unknown origin and an English cocker spaniel, and now three cats. I've had fun giving German shepherds (our own dogs) to various other characters. But my favorite dog to write was Mo, the mastiff who plays a part in Where Memories Lie. Mo was a charity-naming character. The real dog was called Big Mo, and his owners bid at a charity auction to have him included in the book. I had no idea how hard it would be to work this enormous dog into the plot, or how I would love him.

    My favorite dog in fiction is Rowdy, the malamute that belongs to Susan Conant's character Holly Winter in Conant's Dog Lovers Mysteries. (And I've just discovered there's a new book!)

    Congrats on the book, Bruce, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

  12. First off, thanks for the kind words about my post. In the earlier books, Mulligan lived in squalid little apartment in Providence's Federal Hill section and sorely missed his Portuguese Water Dog, which was in the custody of his soon-to-be ex-wife. But when he moved to his new digs on the Island of Jamestown in Narragansett Bay, he finally had the room, and the time, for dogs again. Edith, yes caring for them can be difficult given Mulligan's crazy hours as an investigator, but in "The Dread Line," he brings them along with him when he meets with some sources, including a mobbed-up fence. But on the eve of a showdown with some thugs who were gunning for him he briefly put the dogs in a local kennel for the night.

  13. Perhaps my favorite dog ever, aside from mine, was Solo, a German shepherd who Cat Warren, a former journalism colleague of mine, trained from puppy-hood to be a world-class cadaver dog. She wrote about him, and about dog behavior, in a wonderful non-fiction book, "What the Dog Knows," which you can find here.
    My favorite fictional dog is Maggie, another German shepherd. This one was injured in Afghanistan, where her army handler was killed, and ended up being retrained as a police go by LA PD officer Scott James in Robert Crais's wonderful crime novel, "Suspect." Some of the tale is told from Maggie's point of view, which is a difficult thing to pull off, but Crais does it brilliantly. You can find that one here:
    I highly recommend both books.

  14. Lucy, I haven't heard from the Patriots -- at least not yet. Maybe I will since the book was just published this week and since my oldest son is friends with Joe Andruzzi, a former Patriot offensive lineman and cancer survivor whose foundation raises money for cancer research.

  15. Oh, so funny, Debs, about using charity auction pet names--It's surprisingly difficult! I wonder if that's because we don't know the pets? But no, we don't know the people, either. In SAY NO MORE, there's a dog. ONE dog. But the auction name was Rocco, and that dog could not have been named Rocco. How did I solve it? It's one of my favorite ideas I've ever had...and actually turned out to be part of the theme. Who ever can predict this stuff?

    The Aaron Hernandez story is so tragic. WHat a waste. Bruce, did you do it as fact? Or tweak?

  16. Hank, I initially toyed with the idea of retelling the Aaron Hernandez story as fiction but decided against it because there are still too many loose ends. Although he has been convicted of one murder, he's still awaiting trial for two others and is also under indictment for intimidating a witness -- by allegedly shooting him, costing him the sight in one eye.
    But the way I see it,the Hernandez saga should make the Patriots extra careful about who they bring into their locker room from now on. So in "The Dread Line," the team decides to hire an professional investigator to check the background of a star college player they are thinking of drafting. Enter my crime-fighting hero, Liam Mulligan. By all indications, the player is a choirboy, so at first the job seems routine. But as soon as Mulligan starts asking questions, he get push-back. The player has something to hide, and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.