Creature Discomforts (Dog Lover's Series #13)

Creature Discomforts (Dog Lover's Series #13)

by Susan Conant

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A dogged killer...

When Dog's Life columnist Holly Winter regains consciousness atop a cliff in Acadia National Park, she has no idea who she is. Not even the arrival of two beautiful and oddly friendly dogs, who happen to be her own Alaskan malamutes, Rowdy and Kimi, is enough to jar her memory.

Instinct tells her that her fall was no accident and she'd best keep her amnesia a secret. Yet when she follows the clues back to the guest house of Gabrielle Beamon, a charming woman surrounded by an eccentric band of preservationists, all she finds is more questions.

What was a dead man, who reportedly hated exercise and the outdoors, doing hiking in the first place? Why did Holly have a file filled with information on arsenic? And why does the charismatic founder of the Pine Tree Foundation seem so hauntingly familiar? As Holly gets closer to the truth, not even her faithful dogs may be able to save her from a human who is ruthless to the bone.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553580594
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/27/2001
Series: Dog Lover's (Holly Winter) Mystery Series , #13
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 4.17(w) x 6.89(h) x 0.56(d)

About the Author

Susan Conant, a three-time recipient of the Maxwell Award for Fiction Writing given by the Dog Writers Association of America, lives in Newton, Massachusetts, with her husband, two cats, and two Alaskan malamutes — Frostfield Firestar's Kobuk, CGC, and Frostfield Perfect Crime, CD, CGC, Th.D., called Rowdy. She is the author of thirteen Dog Lover's Mysteries, most recently Evil Breeding.

Read an Excerpt

I CAME TO MY SENSES between a rock and a hard place. The rock was a boulder hurled millennia ago in thankless rage by a reluctantly northbound glacier. Still, it was a rock of ages: cleft for me. My bruised body fit so neatly into its riven side, a deep, narrow fissure, that the rock might almost have been cleft to measure. Too sick to move, I remained hidden in the rock. Only my head protruded. I rested face up in what proved to be a puddle of rainwater and blood in a shallow depression in the hard place, a ridge prettily embellished with lacy lichen in a deceptively soft shade of pastel green. Around the boulder and into its cleft grew stunted blueberry bushes that bore, here and there, clusters of tiny wild berries and dried-up bits of what had once been fruit, single berries mummified, perhaps even petrified.

In retrospect, it feels peculiar to owe my life to a boulder and its surrounding cushion of lowbush blueberries, but the giant rock is undoubtedly what broke my fall, and without the masses of wild shrubbery to absorb the impact, the body-on-boulder slam would almost certainly have killed me. As it was, I lay unconscious for what I now estimate to be an hour. During that lost time, I half-roused for seconds or even minutes. In moments of forgotten semiconsciousness, I must have slipped my body feet-first into that opening in the rock, acting as my own kindly undertaker. In dog training, we happily recognize anticipation as a sign of learning. A dog who comes before he is called has figured out what to expect next. In my case, however, the Great Handler did not call me to my final reward.

I'm tempted to romanticize my return to consciousness. It's difficult to control the corny urge to drop allegorical hints about spiritual renaissance: Naked came I, slithering out of a dark passageway into water and blood, double-cured of sin, enlightened, born again. My actual revivification was disgustingly different from the kind of rebirth that would've put me permanently in the ribbons in the My-Soul's-Better-Than-Yours class. The first thing I did was to roll painfully over, gag, and then pollute the water and blood in the would-be-symbolic baptismal font with what looked, even from my perspective, like copious ropes of saliva cascading from the jowly mouth of some drooly giant-breed dog. In my own ears, I sounded like an allergic dog in the throes of what's known as "reverse sneezing." The phrase even crossed my mind. Oddly enough, it was comforting to diagnose myself with a canine malady.

The nausea and choking began to subside. What took their place was a global sensation compounded of pain, cold, and terror. A sensible person would have assumed that the acute fear was an adaptive response to my real plight.

The pain began to differentiate. The burning of torn skin was worse on my knees and my right hand than it was elsewhere. My scratched face stung. Stabs and throbbing radiated from my right elbow down to my fingers and up to my shoulder. An object dug mercilessly into my abdomen. A foreign object? One of my own ribs? My head hurt less than the bad elbow but, without my consent, had moved someplace it didn't belong—to the middle of my stomach and ten feet away, both at the same time. But pain wasn't going to kill me. Died of exposure, I thought. Exposure meant hypothermia, a life-threatening drop in the body's core temperature.

Instead of rolling over, sitting up-offering a paw, perhaps?-and seeking heat, I took satisfaction in the word itself: hypothermia. How delightfully polysyllabic! Counting the syllables seemed like a grand idea. Hypo- made two. By the time I reached the end, I'd not only lost the subtotal, but forgotten the word I was playing with. Polysyllabic? For a giddy second, the sound of the final syllable struck me as a brilliant comment on my situation: Ick! The childish assessment triggered a moment of clarity. Shifting my head ever so slightly away from the puddle, I propped my chin on the lichen and made an effort to take stock of myself. My face, I realized, must be the same whitish green as the miniature forest around me.

That reflection, if you'll pardon the forthcoming pun, brought with it the hideous realization that if I were to look in a mirror, I would have no idea what image to expect in the glass. In panic, I tried to move my right hand. Pain roared up my arm. I did, however, manage to roll onto my back and, with my left hand, clumsily unzip the top six or eight inches of my anorak. My left hand answered a fundamental question. Breasts. The fear ebbed as I savored the joy of dawning self-knowledge. Sex: female. Skin color: green. Handedness: right. Vocabulary: polysyllabic. Body temperature: hypothermic.

Having discovered the rudiments of who, or at least what I was, I made the mental leap to wondering where I was. Instead of remembering where I'd been that morning or how I'd hurt myself, I had an hallucinatory recollection of a Gauguin painting that hung, I was certain, in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. The picture showed Tahitians across the life span. It was titled D'ou venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Ou allons-nous? The name of the language lingered on the tip of my tongue, but I translated easily: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Gauguin's images inspired me to decide, mostly on the basis of incipient hypothermia, that I was not in Tahiti. As it turned out, I was correct. Good girl! Sharp. Excellent. A triple-digit IQ lay only a few mental steps ahead.

Finding it a bit difficult to survey my surroundings while sprawled flat, I struggled to get to my feet. Dizziness stopped me. The nausea returned. And retreated. The whirling abated. Shuddering with cold, I was now sitting on the lichen-covered ledge with my legs stretched in front of me. The fog was so thick that my new vantage point provided little information. I wore jeans with recent-looking rips in the knees. The skin visible through the holes was raw. The heavy hiking boots I wore were undamaged. What came as a surprise was my backpack, which I hadn't known was there. It was a lightweight pack suitable for day hiking, bright red, with an unpadded hip belt that had slipped upward and twisted to cut deeply and painfully into my abdomen. The second I released the clasp, the pain lessened. Once the ground around me stopped spinning, I realized that I was on the side of a steep hill or mountain. The ledge, my hard place, sloped upward. I had obviously fallen, and then bounced and rolled downhill and across the ledge until I collided with the boulder. Uphill, bordering the ledge, grew dark green moss interspersed with a few infant evergreens, huckleberry bushes, and what I thought might be azaleas. Below were a few oak saplings and a beautifully gnarled pine that looked like a giant version of the artfully pruned trees in those Japanese dish gardens. What were they called? Everything else, on all sides, hid in the fog. I'd been dimly aware of sounds that were now easy to identify as distant foghorns and, far below me, tires speeding along pavement. The ocean. A blacktop road.

Instead of feeling relief at my proximity to civilization, I again fell victim to dread. Something was urgent and frightening. I remembered everything about this dangerous, terrible something-every nuance of fear, every trace of desperate worry that the responsibility to act was mine alone. Entirely missing was all memory of what this terrible something was.

The memory startled me as violently as if it had been a snake suddenly slithering through the fog bank. I held perfectly still in an effort to keep my equilibrium as I teetered between the shaky here-and-now and the unbalanced moments of half-arousal when I'd overheard the scraps of conversation. The sounds had come from somewhere to my right. Somewhere above? How far away? I couldn't guess. Like a picky eater, the fog swallowed some words and phrases and spat out others.

"Tragic." The voice was a man's. "Tragic accident. No one could've survived." The fog ate whatever came next. "Keep your name out of it. You have my absolute assurance."

His soft-spoken companion's reply was lost to me, but I heard the first speaker's attentive murmurs of agreement. "Yes...Uh-huh....Yes." In apparent response to a suggestion, the man exclaimed, "Out of the question! The media would seize on it." The fog exercised its appetite. A word reached me: "Death." Then, with a note of finality, the man said, "Anonymity is, after all, anonymity."

As the memory faded, the voice rang itself to silence in my ears.

Tragic accident. Whose? Whose death?

The ledge was reassuringly devoid of harps. The recollected conversation didn't meet my expectations of an angel choir. The fog had an earthy odor, like old compost, with a tinge of balsam and wild thyme, maybe, or some other herb. Still, perched as I was high in a cloud in some nameless region, I had to consider the possibility that the death under consideration was my own.

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Creature Discomforts (Dog Lover's Series #13) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I mean that in the best possible way. Really. It was fascinating to read Holly's account of how she rediscovered herself and to read the details of her life that she utterly forgot and confused her. How could anyone forget their own beautiful pooches? The rice in the backpacks was indeed a nice baffling touch, though I knew what its purpose was before Holly figured it out. Her account of her terrible handwriting was amusing to anyone who has gone back to reread something and found it mystifying. The details seemed so genuine to me that I even awakened after reading the book, afraid I had forgotten my own life! Holly is a total dog nut, but comes by it honestly since her parents were, she has lovely dogs (enough to make anyone nuts about dogs), dated a vet. Her discovery of that, and the 'tape recorder' that went off in her mouth when the Malamutes were mistaken for 'huskies' was priceless. What was not so priceless was the insidious crime committed by the dangerous, misguided villan. Anita isn't priceless either- her nastiness is bound to get her into even more trouble in later books. Poor Steve- the true mystery of the book was 'what is going on with Steve and Holly? And why?' Sadly, we don't learn the answer, at least not in *this* book. The amnesia provides Holly with an excellent opportunity to explore the nature of her relationship with her father, and ultimately, her mother. Most of us never get the chance to see our parents with all the emotional baggage associated with them; Holly is lucky to have that, even at such a high cost.
alice443 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The mystery begins with an interesting and original premise but did not quite live up to the fine beginning.
tehanu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good mystery, interesting characters, a treat for dog lovers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you have read all the Holly Winter books (and I have)then this will be mostly enjoyable but for one very interesting issue concerning Steve and Holly. I only hope Susan has some explanation and development in the next book because this came out of nowhere. Otherwise, the amnesia idea actually worked because we get to rediscover Holly as she rediscovers herself, and the new setting gives new opportunities. Buck seemed a bit out of character at times, and if we can immediately see through Anita, why can't anyone else in the book?! If this is the first book in the series you've read, it'll be a bit hard to understand what's going on. Go back and read the others first.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although the mystery was tightly woven, for a long time reader of the Holly Winter series such as myself, it was secondary to the relationship plot. The continuing relationships Holly has with her friends and lover (Delaney) are part of the charm of the mystery series. But they were stagnent. Having painted Holly into a corner (romantically speaking) with previous books a jolt was required for Holly to either move on and have the relationships grow, or change and start new ones. It was nice to see her relationship with her father take a few steps forward. I look forward to the next book; but I feel the story wasn't finished.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an awesome book, but I'm not suprised being as Mrs.Conant's books are always outstanding. The only thing is that if you dont know Holly Winter's history, it could be a little confusing with the whole Steve Delaney thing. I was she had told more about their situation. At any rate I am eagerly awaiting her next!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of her best to date.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Conant never disappoints. As with her previous books in this series, _Creature Discomforts_ is extremely smart, well-written, doggily savvy, and funny as h*ll. She's a rare author in this genre in that her books appeal not only to avid mystery readers and/or 'dog people', but also to anyone who wants an entertaining and often informative read. Go Susan! Keep 'em coming!
harstan More than 1 year ago
When she regains consciousness, Holly Winter has no time to worry about not knowing who she is or the names of the two malamutes standing nearby that she knows is hers. Her first concern is to find a way back up from the side of the mountain that she apparently fell from. After escaping her harrowing situation, Holly learns that she is in Maine's Acadia National Park as the guest of Gabrielle Beamon.

Holly finds out that another guest Norman Axelrod also fell off the same cliff at around the same time she did, but he died. Holly knows that the killer will want to complete the job by murdering her. As she struggles to regain her memories, Holly and her two canines Kimi and Rowdy begin to investigate the accidents.

CREATURE DISCOMFORTS is an engaging canine mystery that focuses on the charcaters. The story line clearly has GONE TO THE DOGS and Holly as they investigate the two accidents while hiding her amnesia from everyone. Susan Conant does not clutter her tale with litter as she concentrates on her stars and their relationships with other characters. RUFFLY SPEAKING, amateur sleuth fans and canine lovers will relish this tale and trace the BLOODLINES of the Dog Lover's mysteries.

Harriet Klausner