Award-winning author Annie Dalton is best known for her popular children’s and YA novels that include the very popular Agent Angel a.k.a. Angel Academy YA series. Luckily for us she’s decided to branch out into adult fiction with a new mystery series based on a dog walker in Oxford, Anna Hopkins. The White Shepherd is Book #1 in that series and, if it’s any example of what’s to come, I think she’s got a winner on her hands. Now I must admit that I’ve loved dogs (and pretty much all animals) since I was a toddler so I may be just a tad biased when it comes to novels that feature dog characters. But even without the dog, I’d like this mystery and its realistic main character. See what you think…
Thirty-two-year-old Anna Hopkins and her rescued white German Shepherd, Bonnie, love their daily walks through Oxford’s beautiful Port Meadow park. It’s particularly lovely on crisp Fall days. Unfortunately today’s walk takes a nasty turn when Bonnie discovers a dead body, and not just any dead body. Finding any dead body would be a shock but finding someone you know is much worse. You see, Anna had recently met with Naomi Evans, a literary researcher who had offered to try to find Bonnie’s original owner. To make it even worse, Anna had really liked Naomi and had hoped they would become friends.
“When Anna saw why her dog Bonnie had half-dragged her onto the bright-green spongy ground beyond the trees, her heart started to beat so fast that she was afraid she’d choke…Anna had never been much of a fainter so was denied that mercy…A name formed inside her head, Naomi. She instantly recoiled from the thought. How could that mutilated emptied-out thing be Naomi?”
As Anna’s trying to figure out what to do, Isadora and Tansy, two other dog walkers stumble on the scene.
“’God, oh my God, oh shit!’ the girl whispered now, then shrieked, ’Buster! Leave!’ Frantically reeling in her retracting lead as her tiny apricot poodle went to sniff at the blood pooling around the corpse. Just in time she turned aside, vomiting into the grass.
The older woman had pulled out her phone. ‘Get me the police! Yes, my name is Isadora Salzman.’ She had one of those actress voices, the posh side of middle class. Anna saw little tremors running through her.”
Anna’s encounter with the police reawakens dark memories from her past and it doesn’t help that the officer who interviews her remembers her from the worst night of her life. Bottom Line? The police decide almost at once that it was a random act of violence performed by a serial killer who’s struck like this several times before against young women. But Anna is convinced this was not a chance encounter gone bad. She’s certain this was personal and she’s determined to not let Naomi’s death be filed away. Naomi deserves justice and Anna is going to make sure she gets it. Isadora and Tansy insist on helping with the search, and take Anna under their wings despite her reluctance to let them.
Now the only two questions are, “What information did Naomi stumble across in her research that led to her death?” and “Who did it?” Oh, and a third question, “Will this trio of amateur sleuths survive their search?”
Because The White Shepherd is Book #1 in a new series, there is some backstory included to help give us perspective on where Anna is in her life and how she became the fairly isolated 30-something that she is. I’m not going to give any of that backstory away here but I found it made her a much more compelling and sympathetic character. She is fully “fleshed out” in this first novel, which is unusual – she’s a completely imperfect and very real person, adding to the complexities of the storyline. And I loved that the author shared all of that with us from the opening gate instead of dribbling out that info over a number of books. I knew who Anna was from the outset and I knew what drove her as a person, and her flawed, tragic past made her even more appealing. Isadora and Tansy provide a nice balance to Anna’s more reclusive personality, and insist on providing friendship and support she didn’t realize she needed. And I can’t forget Bonnie, a pup my heart went out to – not going to say more except that she’s a stellar pup!
Annie Dalton has a great start on this new series with The White Shepherd. It’s filled with red herrings, twists and turns, and lots of suspense as well as quirky minor characters who add fun to the quest. Although it’s a whodunit and I figured out who probably done it before the end, it didn’t matter because I was so thoroughly hooked that I had to find out if I was right or not. If you enjoy a good whodunit, I think you’ll like this a lot. And Book #2 in this series, Written in Red, is scheduled to be published in June 2016. Yay!
Can’t wait to read it? The White Shepherd is available in most formats from your favorite online bookseller below. Just click on the link and enjoy!
I’d love to get your comments on The White Shepherd, Annie Dalton and/or her other work, and/or this review.