With a demanding teaching job and five poodles scampering around the house, Melanie Travis barely has energy for the upcoming Christmas rush. But she unwraps an unexpected challenge when her brother and ex-husband make a spontaneous bid on a dilapidated pine tree farm. Although the ten-acre lot had been a popular seasonal destination while the original owner was still alive, it’ll take a small miracle or two before the neglected place is in shape for December.
But the business venture goes cold when the group discovers a purebred Maltese whimpering in the snow-covered grove—right beside a dead body. Pete, a squatter who camped out on the land, apparently met his end after a fallen fir tree branch fell on his head. But as Melanie and Aunt Peg investigate Pete’s complicated history, it’s clear his death was no accident. Now, Melanie must run through a flurry of likely suspects and muzzle a dogged murderer in time—or she’ll be next on someone’s deadly list.
“Well-drawn characters contribute to the appeal here, along with the warm, sometimes humorous scenes of family life.”
“Another terrific mystery from Laurien Berenson.”
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"Ho! Ho! Ho!"
I was sitting at the kitchen table, working on a project for one of my fellow teachers when the back door to the house flew open. A blast of frigid air hit my papers and sent them scattering across the tabletop. My hasty grab to save them didn't help. Instead, I knocked into my laptop and sent it spinning into my half-full coffee mug.
Five black Standard Poodles had been snoozing on the floor at my feet. Startled by the intrusion, they jumped up and began to bark. Bud, the little spotted mutt who was the latest addition to our canine pack, scuttled over to stand beneath my chair. Quickly I righted the mug and scrambled to gather the papers before they could blow off the table.
Peace and quiet to utter mayhem in under ten seconds. Even for my house, that was a record.
I turned and aimed a withering look at our uninvited guest. My brother, Frank, was standing in the open doorway, grinning like a fool. Unfortunately, that was nothing new.
"Some welcoming committee," he said, gazing at the dogs.
The Poodles were now looking embarrassed by their outburst. Of course they recognized Frank. They just hadn't expected him to come flying through the door on this tranquil Saturday morning.
Any more than I had.
"Be glad they didn't bite you," I told him.
"They wouldn't do that." Frank took a step back. "Would they?"
Nope. No way. Not unless they thought there was a dire need.
My dogs were Standard Poodles, the largest of the three Poodle varieties. They were smart, funny, perceptive, and wonderfully affectionate. Poodles are people dogs. They would definitely attempt to think their way through a problem before resorting to violence.
On the other hand, my little brother has often been the bane of my existence. Maybe it wasn't a bad thing he didn't realize that.
"Come inside and close the door," I said. "It's freezing out there."
"It's December," Frank told me. Like we weren't all aware. "Merry Christmas!"
"Oh please. Christmas is a month away. We're still eating leftover turkey from Thanksgiving."
Frank shut the door, then pulled off his parka and draped it over the back of a chair. "It's never too early to embrace the Christmas spirit."
He walked over to the counter, got a mug out of the cabinet, and poured himself some coffee. The Poodles had yet to resettle and were still milling around the room. Faith, the oldest of the group, was keeping an eye on Frank. As he made himself at home in my kitchen, she shot me a look. Is that allowed?
I nodded silently. Faith has been part of my life for nearly eight years. I had never had a pet as a child, so she'd introduced me to the joys of dog ownership. I'd immediately fallen in love with Faith's sweet disposition, her empathetic nature, and her goofy sense of humor. My Poodle and I are soul mates. The relationship we share is deeper and more meaningful than I ever imagined was possible.
Faith found a quiet spot on the floor to lie down. I pushed my work stuff aside as my brother sank into a chair on the other side of the table. It looked like he was going to be here awhile.
"Is there any particular reason why we're feeling the need to embrace Christmas already?" I asked.
"As it happens, there is." Frank made a show of looking around the room. "Where is everyone?"
Aside from the six dogs who were very much in evidence, the rest of the family included my husband, Sam, our three-and-a-half-year-old son, Kevin, and Davey, our older son from my first marriage. On weekend mornings, our house is usually a hub of activity. I should have known better than to think I would actually score an uninterrupted hour in which to get some work done.
"Davey spent the night with Bob and Claire." Bob was my ex-husband and Claire was his new wife. Married the previous New Year's Eve, they lived in a house on the other side of Stamford. "He'll be back this afternoon. Sam and Kev are running errands."
I looked pointedly at the cluttered tabletop. "I'm supposed to be working."
Frank leaned forward eagerly. His straight brown hair, the same tawny shade as my own, fell forward over his eyes. Absently, he reached up and brushed it back. My brother and I also shared hazel eyes and a strong, determined, chin — a feature that looked better on him than me.
Beyond the physical similarities, however, Frank and I didn't have a lot in common. Growing up with a four-year age difference, we were always more likely to be squabbling than to have each other's backs. Even now that we're in our thirties — with Frank married to one of my best friends and partner in a thriving business — I still find it hard to think of my little brother as a mature adult.
"What are you working on?" he asked.
"Just school stuff."
See, this is the problem. I'm pretty sure that Frank didn't show up in my kitchen at ten o'clock on a snowy weekend morning to talk about my job. For the record, I work as special needs tutor at a private academy in Greenwich, Connecticut. Frank is already well aware of that. Which means that for some reason he's either stalling or trying to butter me up.
Color me skeptical, but neither of those options ever seems to end well. For me, that is. Things often turn out just fine for Frank.
But since I wasn't in any hurry to find out what sort of dilemma he'd found himself in now, I figured I might as well humor him. "Remember the Christmas bazaar last year at Howard Academy?" "Who could forget it?" Frank smirked. "You were in charge of running the event and your Santa Claus got himself killed."
"Most people wouldn't find that funny," I told him.
"Most people don't have a sister who has a habit of tripping over dead bodies."
Sadly, he did have a point.
"It turns out that Russell Hanover, HA's headmaster, has asked me not to participate in this year's bazaar."
"Gee, I wonder why."
I ignored him and said, "I'm organizing my notes so I can hand them over to the new chairman, in case he wants to see what worked for me and what didn't."
"Big help, Mel. I'm pretty sure he already knows what didn't work." Frank was laughing now.
It was almost enough to make me wish one of the Poodles had bitten him. Maybe Tar. He's our older male Standard, a retired specials dog who'd enjoyed an enviable career in the dog show ring. Tar is drop-dead gorgeous. He's also endearing, endlessly amusing, and, well . . . dumb. Tar is the only Poodle I've ever met who's lacking in intelligence. He makes up for that deficiency by trying really hard to get things right.
Tar wants to be good. He just doesn't always succeed. And usually he hasn't a clue why. Come to think of it, he and Frank had more than a little in common.
"Very funny," I said. It was time to cut to the chase. "Frank, why are you here?"
"About that...." He gazed at me earnestly across the table. "I need a favor."
Then a sudden thought hit me. "Is everything all right at home? Bertie's doing well? Maggie and Josh are fine?"
Bertie and I had been friends for almost a decade, She'd been married to my brother for half that time. Their daughter, Maggie, was four and their second child, a son named Josh, had been born in September. The pregnancy wasn't an easy one and ten weeks after Josh's arrival, Bertie was still taking time to regain her footing.
"Sure, they're great. Bertie and Mags have everything under control. It's just that Josh, well, he's ..."
Frank winced. "I guess I didn't remember this part. Josh cries a lot. I mean, he really wails. Maggie never did that."
"Maggie wasn't colicky," I told him. "You know Bertie had Josh checked out and he's fine. This is just a stage he's going through."
"Yes, but that doesn't make it any easier. I feel like I haven't slept in days."
If Frank was angling for sympathy, he wasn't going to find it here. "Poor you," I said. "Does Bertie need my help?"
"Bertie?" Frank frowned. "Why are we talking about her? I'm the one with a problem."
Of course he was. I should have realized that. I settled back in my chair and asked, "What did you do now?" " It wasn't my fault."
It never is, I thought with a sigh.
"You know The Bean Counter's been doing great, right?" I nodded.
The Bean Counter was a café situated just north of the Merritt Parkway in Stamford. Originally opened by Frank, the bistro was now owned and operated in partnership with my ex-husband, Bob. The two men worked well together. Frank served as manager while Bob took care of the finances. Over the years, the café's popularity had grown and now it was considered a trendy destination for people who lived and worked in the area.
"Things are going so well that Bob decided we should start looking around at other investments," Frank explained. "Mostly real estate, because here in Fairfield County it's hard to go wrong."
"That sounds like a good idea," I said cautiously.
"I know, right?"
Frank sounded so eager for my approval that I found myself nodding again.
"So here's what happened. Yesterday morning, Josh would not stop crying. It was making me crazy. I had to get away, you know? So I figured I'd hop in the car and go for a drive."
It might have been more helpful if he'd taken Josh for a drive, I thought. Apparently that useful idea hadn't occurred to my brother.
"So there I was meandering around Wilton, not going anywhere in particular, when I saw a sign by the side of the road. It said ABSOLUTE AUCTION! ALL BIDS ACCEPTED! It turned out that ten acres of land was being sold to settle an estate. And just my luck, the auction was taking place at noon. I figured I might as well go have a look."
Oh boy. I could guess where this story was heading. Frank never had been able to resist a deal.
"Only a couple of other guys even showed up to bid. Maybe because it was the day after Thanksgiving, and everyone else was busy at the mall. Honest to God, I was only planning to watch and see how it went. But ..."
"You raised your hand, didn't you?"
"I had to," Frank said earnestly. "Compared to the other lots Bob and I had looked at, this place was a steal. Ten acres of forested land in the northeast corner of Wilton. Wait 'til you see it."
I didn't need to see the property to know that if a deal sounded too good to be true, there had to be a catch.
"You know there's probably something wrong with it," I said. "Some zoning issue or easement dispute that needs to be resolved. Maybe the place is all wetlands. And an absolute auction means you own that land now, no matter what the problem is."
"I'm not worried about that." Frank brushed off my concern. "I'm sure Bob will get everything straightened out."
Possibly, I thought, depending on what the difficulty was. But Frank might also be placing too much faith in his partner's abilities. Bob was an accountant, not a magician.
"I'm glad you're happy with your purchase," I told him. "But there's really no need for me to see it."
"Sure there is! You haven't even heard the best part yet."
"There's more?" I asked dubiously.
"This isn't just any old piece of land with trees on it. The old guy who owned the place died over the summer, but through last winter he was running a seasonal business there. You're going to love this. Our new property is a Christmas tree farm!"
It took me a minute to form a suitable reply.
Frank couldn't wait that long. "Isn't it great?" he prompted.
"Um ... yes?"
"And Christmas is in four weeks. Which makes this whole thing, like, perfect."
No. It was so not like, perfect.
"Frank, what are you going to do with a Christmas tree farm?"
"Get it up and running, of course."
"Don't you have to make preparations to do something like that?"
Frank, never one to plan ahead, seemed surprised by the question. "Like what?"
I could think of half-a-dozen answers off the top of my head. I went for the most obvious one. "Maybe grow some trees?"
"That's the beauty of it. The place is already overgrown. It's a veritable wilderness out there." My brother refused to let my misgivings dampen his enthusiasm. "You'll see. That land is going to pay us back in no time."
His phrasing brought me up short.
"Just to be clear," I said. "By us, you mean you and Bob, right? Sam and I aren't any part of this scheme."
"Not unless you want to be. But if I were you, I wouldn't make any hasty decisions about that. Wait until you see the place."
At least that was good to know. I was still feeling suspicious, however.
I peered at my brother across the table. "Have we come to the part yet where you ask me for a favor?"
"It's about Bob."
There was a sudden, sinking feeling in my stomach. "You talked to him before buying this place, didn't you?"
"Not exactly," Frank admitted. "Because I never meant to bid. And then it all happened so fast there wasn't time to check with him."
That was bad. Possibly really bad.
"You and Bob are supposed to be partners," I said. "And he has no idea you spent his investment money on a Christmas tree farm?"
"It's my money too." Frank sounded defensive. "And I know he'll be fine with the idea once he has a chance to think about it. That's where you come in. You guys are still friends even though you're not married anymore. I figured you could break the news to him."
I shot that idea down in a hurry.
Then for my second act, I ushered my brother firmly out the door. After that, I went back to work. That lasted approximately twenty minutes before all you-know-what broke loose again. At least this time the chaos involved people I was happy to see.
"We got kibble!" Kevin announced. Almost four, he has yet to learn how to use his indoor voice. Or maybe he was just trying to make himself heard from within the pack of Poodles — including honorary member Bud — that was now eddying around his short legs.
"Forty pounds." Sam followed Kev through the connecting door from the garage, cradling the first bag in his arms. "That should last us a while."
Sam is tall, and strong, and surprisingly graceful. He has a great smile and the hands of a virtuoso. When he yanked off his wool cap and tossed it on the counter his blond hair, currently cropped short, stood straight up. If he hadn't been carrying twenty pounds of dog food, I'd have reached up and smoothed it back into place. As it was, I jumped up and hurried to open the pantry door.
Inside, the bag landed on the floor with a loud thump. Sam emerged from the pantry and headed back to the garage for the second load. I started to follow, then realized that Kev was peeling off his mittens and down jacket. He dropped them on the floor, then sat down to yank off his red rubber boots.
I quickly nudged aside the Poodles and scooped up Kev's discarded clothing before Bud could beat me to it. That little dog was obsessed with knitwear. Winter had barely begun and we were already on our third pair of mittens.
"Boots and jacket in the closet," I said to Kevin, handing them over.
He ambled toward the front hall and a Poodle escort followed. Kevin has been known to drop cookies, shoes, and the occasional rawhide strip. Tar, Faith's daughter, Eve, and our younger male, Augie, trailed along behind him, no doubt hoping for edible discards.
Bud, meanwhile, had given up on the mittens and gone trotting into the pantry. He was probably checking out the new bag of kibble. Half-starved when he'd been dumped by the side of the road the previous summer, the small dog had gained back all the weight he needed and more. Pretty soon he was going to be on a diet.
"Anything exciting happen while we were gone?" Sam asked when he'd delivered the second bag, shooed Bud out of the pantry, and firmly shut the door behind him.
The question — Sam's customary homecoming query — had become a standing joke. The way my life went, you'd think he would know better than to ask. But apparently not.
"Frank dropped by," I said.
"Just Frank? Not Bertie and the kids? Is everything all right?"
"More or less. My brother made an impulse purchase yesterday. He stopped in to tell me about it."
Sam had crouched down beside our fifth Standard Poodle, Raven. He was ruffling his hands through her coat. "Christmas shopping already? Good for Frank. If he braved the mall on the day after Thanksgiving, he's a better man than I am."
"He didn't go to the mall." I pulled out my chair and sat back down. "Frank bought a Christmas tree farm."
Sam paused to let that sink in. Then he looked up. "You're kidding, right?"
Excerpted from "Wagging Through the Snow"
Copyright © 2017 Laurien Berenson.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Enjoyable read. Glad I bought it
This is a great Christmas mystery and great f7n especially for dog lover.
Fun to read. Another wonderful Melanie Travis mystery
Enjoy Lauren Berendons books
When Melanie’s brother and ex-husband buy a Christmas tree lot, soon the whole family is drawn into sprucing up the neglected business. During a walk through the property, they discover the body of Pete, a local homeless man known to have had an addiction to alcohol. Keeping vigil is his beloved little Maltese dog, shivering in the cold near the branch that struck down Pete. While the death is initially ruled an accident, Melanie is soon pulling at the threads of Pete’s past when his sponsor informs her the dead man had quit drinking and was attempting to put his life back together. Melanie figures out who he was and then tracks down his former family and friends in an effort to discover who might have wanted Pete gone for good. Ms. Berenson never disappoints with her Melanie Travis series, once again providing readers with a generous serving of clues, dogs and family interaction.
Ms. Berenson has another winner on her hands! She keeps developing her characters so well that it is a pleasure to read. Davey is growing up. Melanie and Sam are trying to keep up with the chaos. I love Kevin! Aunt Peg is as irritating as ever. Melanie’s brother Frank buys an old Christmas Tree Farm without consulting his business partner Bob (Melanie’s ex-husband.) When the whole family goes out to see the place of course they find a dead body. Naturally. It wouldn’t be a whodunit without one. A new dog figures into the story and has Melanie chasing a lot of leads all the while trying to prepare for Christmas. It was a fun read and I highly recommend it.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Look at the cute little face on the cover. I want one! but am restraining myself because my two canine companions would not like another dog in our house. At 14 years old, they are pretty set in their ways. Melanie Travis is counting down the days until the holiday break at Howard Academy while taking care of the usual Christmas things at home. When her brother announces he has brought a Christmas tree farm without consulting his partner, Melanie’s ex husband, she is very surprised. Even more surprising in that her brother wants her to inform her ex about this “great deal”. The extended family all gathers to check out the place and discovers it needs a bit of work to open in time for the Christmas shoppers but together they think they can handle it. That is until they find a dead man in the woods. They also find a cute little dog by his side. The police rule it an accidental death but Melanie and Aunt Peg aren’t sure that is the case. They start their own investigation and find their aren’t too many people sad that the man is dead. Their suspect list seems to grow as each day passes until the killer turns their sights on Melanie, she stuck her nose into something that was not her business and she may be the next cold body her family finds. This is a doggone great story especially if you love dogs like I do. Melanie and her husband, Sam have enough dogs in their house to form a doggie basketball team. They also have two sons, Davey and Kevin, so to say life at their house is busy is a huge understatement, but she still finds time to help her brother and tag along with her Aunt Peg at a moment’s notice. She is also close to her ex, Davey’s dad, and his new wife. I am always amazed at their organizational skills and patience as they juggle all these balls in the air. The character development is outstanding. The characters are real and so engaging. A strong blended family portrayal like this is heartwarming. The mystery this time deals with a homeless man and his alcoholism that has driven almost all of his friends and family away. The plot leads us back in time to see how his life progressed until he was found dead. Melanie’s compassion shines as she tries to find answers and justice for a man she never met. While the story handles serious issues it is also full of laugh out loud moments. Ms. Bererson manages to merge everything together masterfully. This series has been going strong for several years but don’t let that stop you from jumping in with this holiday story. Each mystery is contained to its book and the author gives you enough character information to never feel lost. I can’t promise that you won’t want to read previous installments though after reading this one. In fact I would be surprised if you didn’t. It is a terrific series. Wagging Through the Snow is a perfect escape and the perfect holiday gift for any dog lover on your list. Don’t wait for the snow to fly before you get your copy!
Wagging Through The Snow, by the wonderfully talented Laurien Berenson is sure to be a hit. I've been a huge fan of this series since book one, and I am excited to say, this book is my absolute FAVORITE. I love when the first sentence in a new book is so exciting that I know I won't want to put it down. That's exactly what happened when I picked up Wagging Through The Snow. Melanie Travis leads a hectic life, between her job, her human family and her fur family, she cherishes every quiet moment she can find. Unfortunately for Melanie, her peace and quiet is interrupted when her brother Frank shoes up, needing her help. The story takes an interesting turn when it seems Frank bought a Christmas tree farm! Not any old tree farm, Haney's Holiday Home is an institution that families flock to after Thanksgiving. As everyone pitches in to help get the tree farm ready, Melanie and Aunt Peg follow a small cry coming from behind the trees. What they discover will set the wheels in motion for another cleverly written Melanie Travis mystery. This is my favorite book! I loved everything about it, the story was interesting and kept me guessing, the characters were as colorful as always, and who can resist an adorable pup on the cover? Ms. Berenson weaves a story that is full of true life moments with a dash of murder mixed in. I feel connected to all the characters because they feel so real to me. We all have a sibling that makes us crazy, the one aunt who is as stubborn as a mule, and of course, we all want the romance she shares with hubby Sam. I voluntarily read an ARC of this book provided by the author. All thoughts and impressions are my own.
Once again Melanie's brother Frank has gotten himself in a tight spot. His impulsive purchase of a Christmas tree farm turns out to have more problems than just the dilapidated condition of the property. This is a well written cozy mystery but what gives it an added edge is Melanie's wit and .sarcastic humor. This is the 21st Melanie Travis Mystery! I have read them all and enjoy the interesting cast of characters both human and canine.
Wagging Through the Snow by Laurien Berenson is A Melanie Travis Canine Mystery novella (twenty-first book in the series). Melanie Travis is enjoying a quiet Saturday when her brother, Frank visits. It turns out that he made an impulsive purchase of Haney’s Holiday Home (a Christmas tree lot) in Wilton, Connecticut without the knowledge of his business partner, Bob (Melanie’s ex-husband). The family troops out to examine the property and finds the buildings are dilapidated. Everyone will need to work quickly to get it up and running for the Christmas season. Davey and Kevin come running inside. They heard a strange whimpering noise in among the trees. The noise is coming from a cute little Maltese hidden under a dead body. The victim is a local homeless man named Pete who had trouble with alcohol. It looks like Pete was killed by a falling tree limb but appearances can be deceiving. Melanie with Aunt Peg’s assistance (of course) sets out to discover more about Pete and who could have wished him harm. Can Melanie wrap up this case before Santa comes sliding down the chimney or will she find herself stuffed in a body bag? Wagging Through the Snow is well-written, engaging and has a good pace (which makes for an easy to read story). I like the characters and most especially the lively dogs. There is just the right amount and type of humor in this delightful tale. There were some definite laugh out loud moments. My rating for Wagging Through the Snow is 5 out of 5 stars (I loved it). It is short, but packed full of action. The mystery was compelling and the elements are revealed as the story progresses. One clue gave away the identity of the killer to me. I think many readers will be surprised when the culprit is revealed. I was glad that the story was not rushed (it happens frequently in short stories). The ending was heartwarming. Wagging Through the Snow is my favorite A Melanie Travis Canine Mystery. This delightful cozy has engaging characters, good mystery, adorable dogs, humor, family, friends, and the spirit of Christmas.
Every time I think I’ve read the best Melanie Travis Mystery, author Laurien Berenson proves me wrong! I adore this series. Melanie is a great protagonist, and a lot of fun to read. The supporting characters all add so much to it. And of course, there are dogs! Melanie’s dogs, all five of them, have the greatest personalities. The way Berenson describes them, I get clear pictures in my mind of each and every one of them. WAGGING THROUGH THE SNOW is another splendid installment in this wonderful series. An exceptional mystery that kept me guessing, and I still got it wrong. Author Berenson really knows how to throw plot curves into a story. By the time of the reveal, I was dizzy for all the twisting and turning! Along with the mystery element, WAGGING THROUGH THE SNOW has a lot of laugh out loud moments. I had to wipe away tears during one particularly funny scene. I still find myself chuckling when I think back on it. To be a shorter than normal cozy mystery, Ms. Berenson manages to pack in a lot of mystery, action, and hilarity into WAGGING THROUGH THE SNOW, without the story feeling rushed. She even gets a recipe in there for readers!