Murder's on the ticket when intrepid poodle breeder Melanie Travis travels to Maryland for a world-famous dog show where the competition isn't the only thing that's cutthroat. . .
There are dog shows. And then there's The Poodle Club of America National Specialty Dog Show. For poodle purists, it's the pinnacle of the season, drawing competitors and spectators from all over the world.
Once in Maryland, Melanie is put to work selling raffle tickets by the co-chairs of the raffle committee, Betty Jean and Edith Jean Boone. Sixty-ish steel magnolias from the South, the reclusive sisters make few appearances. But this year, they have a silver Toy puppy that has already caused quite a buzz on the show circuit.
While the poodles remain well behaved, it's their owners and handlers who start acting up. And when Betty Jean is found dead at the host hotel, murder takes center stage. But this is the PCA--and the show must go on. As Edith Jean staunchly resumes her duties, Melanie starts searching for clues, and comes up with a compelling cast of suspects whose actions prove that in the dog-eat-dog world of showing, a life can be as easily lost as a blue ribbon. And that unlike cats, dogs--and their owners--have only one to risk. . .
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There are those who say that life is a game of chance, and considering some of the things that have happened to me, I'd probably be inclined to agree. It wasn't serendipity, however, that took me to Maryland in mid June to participate in the Poodle Club of America National Specialty dog show. Nor was it chance that volunteered me to work on the raffle committee. It was my Aunt Peg.
Margaret Turnbull is a formidable woman. Anyone who is involved in the dog show world will tell you that. Her Cedar Crest kennels have produced top winning Standard Poodles for three decades, nearly all of them owner-handled by Peg herself. Now in her sixties, she had cut down on the number of dogs she kept and recently added a judge's license to her already impressive arsenal of accomplishments. No one in the Poodle community would dare underestimate my Aunt Peg. Least of all me.
So when she told me that I'd been assigned to spend my week at the specialty show helping out Betty Jean and Edith Jean Boone, the cochairs of the raffle committee, I didn't argue. I didn't mention this was the first time that Sam Driver, my almost-fiancé, and I had had the opportunity to go away together and that we'd been hoping to carve out some time for just the two of us. I didn't point out that my seven-year-old son, Davey, love of my life, chaperone par excellence, had stayed behind with his father in Connecticut, leaving me free to do just as I wished for the first time since I'd become a single parent years earlier. I didn't even bring up the fact that I had my own Standard Poodle to show, which would certainly keep me busy.
No, I simply showed up at my appointed day and time, Monday morning, nine A.M., and waited to be put to work.
PCA is a huge undertaking, one of the largest specialty, or single breed, dog shows held in the country each year. All three varieties of Poodles--Standards, Miniatures, and Toys--are in competition. More than a thousand dogs and several times that many Poodle fanciers travel from all over the world to enjoy and take part in the spectacle.
Originally the national specialty was simply a conformation show, but over time it had grown to embrace and celebrate all the varied talents of the Poodle breed. The activities began on Saturday with a club sponsored field event, where Miniature and Standard Poodles could earn Working Certificates. On Monday, there was an agility trial. Tuesday, the Poodle Club of America Foundation hosted a morning of seminars and symposiums on topics of interest to serious breeders and exhibitors. In the afternoon, there was an obedience trial.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the arena was given over to the conformation classes. Even with three judges working almost continuously (one for each variety) it took that long for the enormous entry to be sorted through. Also included were a Parade of Champions and a veterans sweepstakes. Everything built toward Friday afternoon, when a fourth judge would choose among those Poodles that had been named top in their variety to find Best of Breed. The festivities concluded that evening with the PCA banquet.
It was an exhilarating, and often exhausting schedule. Not wanting to be away from Davey for too long, I'd skipped the field trial on Saturday, loaded my Poodle puppy in the car, and driven down to Maryland on Sunday afternoon. Aunt Peg was, of course, already in residence at the host hotel when I arrived. Sam would be coming down sometime Tuesday.
Monday morning, I presented myself at the equestrian center where the show was to take place. The enormous indoor arena was covered with turf; two big rings were landscaped with potted flowers and trees. One end of the ground-floor arena was reserved for grooming and preparation. The other two thirds contained the show rings and the tables devoted to the various show committees.
The trophy table had the best location, of course. Silver bowls and challenge trophies, several of them in competition for decades, glowed in the aura of the spotlights from above. When I had time, I loved to stop and look at those old trophies, tangible reminders of the history of the breed. I would run my fingers over their soft, shiny sides and trace the names of the past winners. Many were breed greats, dogs that I, a relative newcomer to the sport, knew only as pictures in the Poodle books.
That morning, however, time was something I didn't have. I'd brought a Standard Poodle to the specialty with me, a puppy named Eve whom I'd be showing later in the week. For the time being, until I'd found out what my dudes were going to be, I'd left her resting in a crate in the grooming area. Unloading and getting the puppy settled had taken longer than I'd anticipated.
The raffle table was situated about halfway down the arena. I was almost there when someone stepped back out of the throng already congregating at ringside to watch the agility classes and blocked my path. Aunt Peg.
"You're late," she said.
"No, I'm not."
I had to look up to argue. Peg stands nearly six feet tall to my own five-six. It wasn't the height difference, how- ever, that often made me feel like a recalcitrant child when I was in her presence. It was Aunt Peg's unwavering belief that she was right in her opinions. That, and the fact that she usually was.
A black Standard Poodle bitch stood at Peg's side. Hope, litter sister to Eve's dam, was at the show to compete in agility. I reached down and gave her chin a scratch, hoping to buy some goodwill. It didn't work.
"Betty Jean and Edith Jean have already been here for nearly an hour," Aunt Peg said. I supposed that meant she'd been there for that long, too. "They've got the table all set up for the day."
"I checked the schedule. It said the agility trial started at nine."
"It does. But everything has to be in place and ready to go before the show opens. You'd better hurry up. I recommended you to the sisters, you know. I wouldn't want you to make a bad first impression." Her hands were already shooing me away. "The two of them are quite a couple of old characters. I'm sure you'll enjoy working with them."
Presumably because of my prior experience working with old characters. Wisely, I didn't voice the thought aloud.
The raffle table, as I saw when I reached it, was eight feet long, four feet wide, and stocked with all sorts of Poodle-related items. Donations received from various sponsors and club members ranged from gold and diamond jewelry to grooming supplies and a print of a New Yorker magazine cover from the fifties that featured a Miniature Poodle. There was a money tree covered in two-dollar bills, as well as such diverse articles as a lamp shade, a Christmas stocking, and tea towels, all decorated in a Poodle motif.
What, I thought, no Poodle skirt? I probably just hadn't seen it yet.
"You must be Melanie." A compact older woman with a lined face, tightly waved gray hair, and a ready smile, stepped out from behind the table and held out her hand. Her voice was softened by the lilting cadence of a southern drawl. "I'm Edith Jean. Sister and I have been waiting for you."
"Sorry I'm late." I grasped her hand. Her fingers, long and thin, felt surprisingly fragile. "I didn't realize things got started so early."
"Not to worry, you haven't missed a thing." Edith Jean turned and swatted at the colorful tablecloth that covered the table and fell to the floor. "Betty Jean, haul your butt out here and say hello to Melanie."
"Hold your horses," a voice grumbled from beneath the table. 'Tm trying to find the tickets. They're not in the box you said they were in."
"Are, too," Edith Jean snapped, then sent me an apologetic smile. "You'll have to excuse Sister. Her eyes aren't what they used to be."
"I heard that. There's nothing wrong with my eyes, or my ears."
I leaned down and lifted the hem of the floor-length cloth. Half a dozen boxes were piled haphazardly beneath the table. I caught a glimpse of more gray curls, then Betty Jean lifted her head and looked in my direction. She had the same sharp blue eyes, narrow nose, and thin, pursed lips as her sister. In fact, they looked remarkably alike. Maybe it was a trick of the dim lighting. Or maybe Aunt Peg had neglected to mention that the sisters were twins.
"Anything I can do to help?" I asked.
"Not a damn thing." On her knees, Betty Jean began to inch backward. "Hold on a minute. Let me get out from under here so I can say hello properly."
"Didn't I just tell you to do that?" Edith Jean asked.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Melanie is leaving her son behind in Connecticut with his father while she and her Aunt Peg travel to Maryland to attend the annual Poodle Club of America event. Melanie is going to show her puppy Eve while her aunt is going to make sure everyone knows their job. Melanie¿s lover Sam Driver is also going to be at the dog show and Melanie hopes to have some quality time alone with him. Aunt Peg ropes her niece into helping the Boone Sisters, Edith Jean and Betty Jean into selling raffles. Although the sisters are eleven months apart in age, they look like identical twins. When Melanie walks Eve in the designated area of the hotel, she hears a scream and when she and others look to see what happened they find Betty Jean lying dead on the ground. When the police start investigating, they discover she was murdered but this time Melanie vows not to get involved, a promise that doesn¿t last the full week of the conference. There are plenty of suspects who could have wanted the victim dead but readers won¿t be able to figure out this complex, multi-layered who done it until the author is ready to reveal the identity of the killer. Members of the audience may have fragments of the solution but Laurien Berenson holds back one shocking, unbelievable fact that changes the whole picture and the best part is that the clue is hidden in plain sight. BEST IN SHOW is a mystery and dog lover¿s delight. Harriet Klausner