Death by Chocolate Lab
Author: Bethany Blake
For the most part I enjoyed this book. Let me talk about what I enjoyed first....then I will mention a couple things that bothered me.
Daphne Templeton is a professional pet sitter and dog walker. She lives with her sister Piper, a veterinarian. Also living with them is Daphne's basset hound, Socrates, and a foster dog, Artie the Chihuahua. Preparations are underway for a Dog Trial event at Piper's farm. But just minutes before the event is to start, the dead body of Piper's former boyfriend, Steve, is found bludgeoned to death and stuffed into one of the obstacles on the trial course. A newcomer to town, Detective Jonathan Black, questions Piper, who was seen arguing with the dead man the night before. Daphne begins doing a bit of investigation on her own both to protect her sister and to discover what happened to Steve's lab dog, Axis, who has disappeared. Daphne finds herself perplexed by all the questions raised by the murder. Who killed Steve? Where is his dog? And, why does the new detective in town have to be so sexy?
Artie the Chihuahua is by far my favorite character in this book. He's missing an ear and has a very pronounced overbite, making him look ridiculous. I own a very very old chihuahua named Grandma. She is a rescue as well....3.5 pounds, no teeth and very little fur. Because she has no teeth, her tongue hangs out much of the time. She's so ugly that she's cute. Just like Artie. One character in the book had to keep telling Artie not to lick him.....I busted out laughing each time, as everyone has to tell Grandma that as well. She loves everyone and thinks she needs to bounce from person to person licking them. I also loved how Daphne is doing her best to find Artie a wonderful furever home.
The characters are all basically likable and eccentric enough to be interesting. The mystery portion of the plot is engaging, and for the most part realistic and well-paced enough to keep me interested. At times, I felt that the story could have moved along a bit faster in the beginning, but I didn't mind the background details and build-up.
However, I do have to add that the pace seemed choppy. Not because of the writing style, but due to the overuse of chapter breaks. Each time something happened -- even just a interesting moment in a conversation -- there would be a new chapter. It broke up the action, rather than being useful for creating or heightening tension. Several times, chapters were only one page long. It made me feel annoyed....sort of like commercial breaks cutting into a thriller movie every time anything exciting is about to happen. Many, many times the chapter break was not necessary. A 350 page book does not need 76 chapters. I think the pace of the story would have felt faster and more exciting had the chapters been combined into a maximum of 25 or so. It is not necessary to start a new chapter every time a character says or does something interesting or relevant to the plot. Let the story flow....don't choke it off to change chapters every time it starts to get interesting.
I also had a difficult time liking the main character. Daphne has a Ph.D but works as a dog walker, living with her sister for free. At times she mooched money off of people for gas and even ate food off other people's plates at restaurants because she was broke. She constantly expressed annoyance at her mother who often lectured her about having an advanced degree but not using it and having no focus in her life. Ummmm.....a 30+ year old woman who has a doctorate but can't afford to put gas in her car?? I think she NEEDS a lecture or two! I just found her complete lack of drive and tendency to be a mooch on everyone around her to be annoying rather than endearing. If she had enough brains and drive to achieve a Ph.D, I think she would have enough intelligence and self-motivation to be able to have her own place to live and enough money to put gas in her van. A van that also continually broke down (or she ran out of gas because she was too scatter brained to remember to fill up the tank) causing her to constantly turn to friends and family for help with her vehicle. Really? What doctorate-holding, well-educated woman would act like that?? She also has no filter and just comes off as immature and absent-minded. Point blank -- I didn't like her. In real life, I would find her annoying and difficult to be around for more than five minutes. However, I found her love for her dogs to be a redeeming quality, and she did truly seem to care about her friends and family. But OMG there were several times I wanted to hop into the book and shake her! Not just about her ditsy behavior and lifestyle, but poor decisions she made while trying to "help'' the investigation. So annoying!
But....it takes a lot of different types of people (and book characters) to make the world go 'round. Daphne is annoying.....but in the end, she started to grow on me a little. And the dogs were wonderful! Plus, there are recipes included for both people and dogs! :) I liked the supporting characters.....Jonathan, Piper, Moxie and Dylan (who reminded me of Shaggy from Scooby Doo). The ending had a few surprises that rounded out the plot nicely. All in all, despite a few rough aspects, this is an enjoyable cozy mystery and a promising beginning to a new series. I will be reading book 2 to see if there is improvement and to find out what happens to all the lovely citizens of Sylvan Creek, PA.
Death by Chocolate Lab is Bethany Blake's first novel. The second book in the Lucky Paws Petsitting Mystery series, Dial Meow for Murder, will be published this fall. For more information on the author and her books, check out her website at http://www.bethanyblakeauthor.com/
**I voluntarily read an Advance Readers Copy of this book from Kensington via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.**