The Bark Before ChristmasThe Bark Before Christmas by Laurien Berenson is the 18th book in the “Melanie Travis” canine mystery series. Publisher: Kensington, September 2015

Melanie Travis has her hands full with her two young sons, a part-time job, and a half dozen Poodles to her name. But even with the busy holiday season approaching, she still has time to sniff out a Christmastime killer. . .

There’s nothing lovelier than Christmas in Connecticut, but Melanie can scarcely find a moment to enjoy the festivities. With her youngest son approaching toddlerhood, she’s decided to return to her old job at Howard Academy, a posh private school attended by the children of Greenwich’s well-heeled gentry. Balancing work, motherhood, and the hectic dog show circuit takes some fancy footwork, especially when the headmaster taps her to be the chairman of the school’s Christmas Bazaar.

The Christmas Bazaar is Howard Academy’s biggest and most important fundraiser, so Melanie feels the pressure to make it a huge success. She even enlists her longsuffering sister-in-law Bertie to help with the Santa Claus and Pets Photo Booth. But everything goes awry when a prize show dog goes missing and Santa turns up dead. The dog’s owner is one of the school’s most perfectly pedigreed alums, and she enlists Melanie to help find the purloined pooch. But just as Melanie starts pawing at the truth, she digs up a sleighful of sinister secrets that leaves everyone feeling less than merry. . .

This was a very enjoyable drama where a missing dog and death occur during a holiday bazaar. Not to fear, Melanie is on the case as she traverses the show dog circuit to find the person responsible. Along the way the author presented a nicely executed tale with a slew of suspects that one by one led to the identity and apprehension of the killer. With a twist here and a turn there, the author knew how to keep me engrossed in all that was happening as Melanie got closer to her prey. I also liked how Melanie’s family life was interspersed with her amateur sleuthing and how they complemented each other giving me a well-rounded characterization of Melanie. Using the holiday season as the backdrop, this was a terrific read with engaging dialogue and a wonderful cast of characters and I look forward to more adventures with Melanie and her family and friends.

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