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Unleashed: A Melanie Travis Mystery    by Laurien Berenson order for
by Laurien Berenson
Order:  USA  Can
Kensington, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Melanie Travis has more than enough to deal with. She is a teacher and a single mom, busy with the demands of her job and with parenting an energetic six-year-old. She is working out a relationship with her new love, now complicated by the presence of his clinging ex-wife Sheila; and she is also 'mom' to a pregnant, award-winning standard poodle, Faith. Family complications include a rather erratic younger brother and her aunt Peg, who is also Faith's breeder, and who is keeping a watchful eye on the pregnancy.

Of all these concerns, the least welcome is Sheila, who seems to be causing strains in Melanie's relationship with Sam. In fact, Sheila and her business partner (and lover?) Brian are causing waves in general. Their joint project 'WOOF!' is a magazine that promises the type of lurid gossip associated with sensational tabloids; certainly the entire staff seems to prefer dirt to actual news.

When Sheila turns up murdered, strangled with a dog leash, Melanie is dismayed to see that Sam seems even more bound to his ex-wife. Reluctantly she agrees to investigate (she has quite a reputation as an amateur detective) and uncovers details overlooked by the police. In between forays after clues, Mel must deal with her energetic son Davey, Sam's angst, and Faith's delivery of six roly-poly puppies, all of them recipients of Biblical names when Davey discovers the deliciously unusual names in the Bible.

As in all cozy mysteries, characters are the drawing card. Melanie is a generous woman. Her acceptance of Sam's request does not come easily, especially in view of Sheila's machinations and Sam's increasing remoteness. No-nonsense aunt Peg, devoted to her dogs and knowledgeable about the show circuit, is an amusing character; and the gentle, affectionate dogs provide pleasant diversion throughout the story, as does Davey. Sam comes off the most poorly - one is tempted to tell him to 'Get over it!'

Like all fictional heroines, Melanie has a lot to cope with. She does so gracefully, and I'll be looking for others in this series to see how she and her family and friends are doing.

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