Thanks to Aunt Peg and her enthusiastic pedigree dog show pals, Melanie’s aptly named Bite Club reading group has book lovers all over town burying their noses in thrilling murder mysteries. But another pet project surfaces when Melanie reluctantly agrees to train a Bulldog puppy for elusive member Evan Major. Between the unusual bruise on his face and a bizarre run-in with an unknown dog show attendee, introverted Evan can’t dodge trouble. It even sends him to an early grave—while landing Melanie in the hot seat for homicide . . .
Caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, Melanie delves into the victim’s shady past to prove her innocence. As she uncovers a juicy scandal that cost Evan his marriage and, possibly, his life, Melanie realizes that booking the real culprit comes down to gathering her pack of suspects together at the next Bite Club meeting. What she doesn't know is Aunt Peg has been hiding some explosive secrets of her own—secrets that, once unleashed, could pit Melanie against an unpredictable killer bent on bringing this story to an abrupt end . . .
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It started as a joke. After all, who would name a friendly book club Bite Club? Well, we did. First, because we were all dog lovers, some of whom had met as fellow dog show exhibitors. And second, because when we formed the group we decided to concentrate on reading mystery novels. Books with bite.
Plus, we all liked the idea of belonging to a club that sounded as though Brad Pitt might stop by on occasion.
Especially Terry Denunzio. Terry always has plenty to say — and all of it is entertaining. He didn't back down when the rest of us told him that he was barking up the wrong tree because Brad Pitt wasn't gay. Instead, Terry just sat there and smiled like he knew something we didn't.
It wouldn't be the first time. Terry is one of my best friends and I've seen him in action. I'm pretty sure if anyone could change Pitt's preferred orientation, Terry would be the one to do it.
You might be wondering what all that had to do with books. Truthfully, not much. We weren't even halfway through our first meeting when it occurred to me that maybe the books were just a good excuse for us to get together and enjoy each other's company.
And drink a little wine while we were at it.
The idea for the book club had arisen from my own love of reading. I'd envisioned spending a few evenings a month with a small group of like-minded people. Good friends coming together to share stories and swap reading recommendations.
I'd begun by recruiting my former neighbor, Alice Brickman. She and I had met years earlier when our older children were infants. The shared trials and tribulations of motherhood had brought us together, then quickly solidified our bond. Since I'd remarried and moved to a different part of town, Alice and I didn't see nearly as much of each other as we used to. This seemed like a wonderful opportunity to reconnect.
Next I'd called Claire Walden Travis, a family member by virtue of being married to my ex-husband, which also made her stepmother to my older son, Davey. She'd been delighted to become part of the group. An organizer by nature and profession, she'd brought a list of potential book choices to the first meeting to get us started.
Then I'd asked Terry to join us. He's the longtime partner of professional dog handler Crawford Langley. He's also the best looking man I've ever met. I'd like to be able to tell you that Terry's flashy exterior conceals hidden depths, but not really. With Terry, what you see is what you get. He's exuberant in his love for dogs, for his friends, and for cozy mysteries. In other words, he was a perfect addition to the club.
It was about that time that my Aunt Peg found out about my plans. And overnight my little reading group suddenly became a Big Deal. That tended to happen whenever Margaret Turnbull got involved with anything. For decades she'd been one of the country's premier breeders of Standard Poodles. Now she was a much-in-demand dog show judge. Aunt Peg was accustomed to having her opinions matter.
She also had a habit of bossing people around. Especially her relatives. Most especially me. Is it any wonder that she hadn't been among the first people I'd called? Apparently that made no difference. Aunt Peg simply assumed that she would be included. And unfortunately none of us were brave enough to dispute that assumption.
True to form, Aunt Peg first wanted to iron out a few details.
"Why are you forming a book club?" she wanted to know. "Aren't you busy enough already?"
"Well, sure. But I always make time to read."
Aunt Peg looked dubious. She was already approved to judge the Non- Sporting and Toy Groups. Her idea of reading for entertainment probably meant perusing the breed standards of new dog breeds she planned to add to her repertoire. Either that or the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
"Books?" she asked.
"Of course, books. Mostly mystery novels."
Aunt Peg blinked twice. And remained mute. That was a first.
Over the years, she and I had been involved in the solving of more than a few mysteries ourselves. Surely my choice of reading material made perfect sense.
Aunt Peg still didn't look convinced by the wisdom of my idea. Or maybe she just wanted to continue arguing. There's nothing she enjoys more than a good verbal sparring match. I'm pretty sure she thinks vocal confrontation should be a national pastime. Like baseball games and eating junk food.
As for me, I wasn't even sure why we were having this conversation. After all, no one — least of all me — had invited her to join the book club. Nevertheless, I felt the need to justify my decision. Yet again. For some reason, Aunt Peg always had that effect on me.
Well, on everybody really. We all did our best to shape up when Aunt Peg was around. Being related to her was like living with my own personal cyclone. Or maybe runaway train.
"Reading is fun," I told her. "It's educational. It reduces stress."
"Of course, it's fun. I do it all the time. You're not the only one who enjoys a good mystery novel." Then she thought about what I'd said and stopped. "Stress? Why on earth would you feel stressed?"
Plenty of reasons. And I probably didn't have to point out that the first one was standing right in front of me — trying to hijack my book club idea and turn it into something she liked better.
But beyond that, I lead a busy life. I'm a wife, a mother of two wonderful sons, and a special needs tutor at a private school. I also have a houseful of Standard Poodles. Five to be exact, plus a small spotted mutt named Bud.
Sometimes I wondered if there would be enough hours in the day to get everything done. Then I stopped wondering and started doing. Every mother knows how that works.
I narrowed my eyes at Aunt Peg. It was difficult to produce a full-on glare since I'm five and a half feet tall and the person I wanted to intimidate towered over me by more than six inches. Aunt Peg was nearing seventy. She had the posture of a ballerina and shoulders that would do a linebacker proud. It was a formidable combination.
"Do you want to join or not?" I asked.
"I'm considering. ..."
I sighed under my breath. "Considering what exactly?"
"Whether or not I want to let other people dictate my choice or reading material."
"You're right," I agreed — probably too quickly. "That sounds like a terrible idea."
Aunt Peg wasn't fooled by my easy acquiescence. "You're trying to get rid of me."
"Not at all. I'm simply enabling you to make the responsible choice."
"I'd be delighted to join your little group," she decided abruptly. "Can we hold the meetings at my house?"
And already she wanted to be in charge.
"You can hold some of them at your house," I said. "Everyone will take turns hosting. We'll meet twice a month, every other Tuesday night."
Aunt Peg nodded. I was pretty sure she'd stopped listening to me. "I might have some other ideas for new members...."
And that was when things began to spiral beyond my control. Six people had attended the first meeting, held at my house. Seven had shown up at Alice's home two weeks later. Now it was the night of our third meeting, scheduled to take place at Aunt Peg's. Judging by the glee with which she'd volunteered to serve as hostess, I suspected she might be planning on a crowd.
Not for the first time when it came to my dealings with Aunt Peg, I wondered what I'd gotten myself into.
* * *
Aunt Peg lives in the back country area of Greenwich, Connecticut. Her house has clapboard siding and a wraparound porch, and once served as the family home for a working farm. Forty years earlier, Aunt Peg and her husband, Max — then newly married — had purchased the property to found their Cedar Crest Kennel. Over the ensuing decades it had been home to dozens of champion Standard Poodles.
My car window was open to admit the warm, early July breeze when I turned into Aunt Peg's driveway. Max had been deceased for a decade now, and the kennel building behind the house had burned to the ground the previous summer. For a moment I imagined that the scent of that long-gone smoke still lingered in the air.
Glancing in that direction, I squinted toward the descending sun and saw nothing but a wide stretch of uninterrupted lawn where the building had once stood. Of course, the thought had been fanciful. I quickly dismissed it and parked the Volvo toward the rear of the empty driveway.
The meeting was scheduled to start at seven. Fifteen minutes early, I was obviously the first to arrive.
Visitors to Aunt Peg's house were met with an effusive canine greeting — offered in the belief that if you minded being mobbed by her Standard Poodles, she probably didn't want to know you anyway. By now I was accustomed to the onslaught. Her dogs and I were old friends. Not only that, but each of them was related to the Poodles I had at home.
The four adults were first to come flying down the front steps to say hello. All were black in color, and all were finished champions. They sported the easy-to-maintain kennel clip with their faces, feet, and base of their tails clipped short, and a trim blanket of curls covering the remainder of their bodies. The two bitches, Hope and Willow, led the way. The males, Zeke and Beau, brought up the rear.
Coral, the only puppy in the group, remained standing in the doorway at Aunt Peg's side. Coral was nine months old and just starting her career in the show ring. She already had two points toward her championship, and my teenage son, Davey, was going to be handling her in some summer shows.
Coral's dense, black coat was longer than that of the other Poodles. It was carefully shaped to leave a profusion of hair on the back of her neck and over her shoulders. The puppy's topknot hair was banded into ponytails on top of her head and her ear hair was wrapped in brightly colored plastic paper.
Until Coral won the coveted fifteen points needed to attain her championship, her coat — which had been growing from birth — would need to be cosseted and protected at all times. For that reason, she usually wasn't allowed to join in the older Poodles' rough- and-tumble play. Now, however, Aunt Peg released the big black puppy from her side and Coral came skipping down the steps joyously. When I knelt down, she threw herself into my arms.
"You're early." Aunt Peg followed her canine crew down the stairs. "Don't think I'm going to let you dive into the pupcakes before everyone else arrives."
"Me?" I managed an innocent look.
Okay, so maybe I'd skimped on dinner in anticipation of the goodies I was sure to find at Aunt Peg's gathering. Her sweet tooth was legendary. And over the years I'd spent in her company, I'd developed my own lust for sweets by osmosis. I knew there would be pastries from the St. Moritz Bakery waiting inside. Pupcakes — vanilla cupcakes whimsically frosted to resemble a puppy's face — were a special treat.
"Yes, you," Aunt Peg replied sternly. "I'm expecting a full house tonight. I would hate to run out of refreshments."
"A full house." I tried not to sound annoyed. "How did that happen?"
Aunt Peg snapped her fingers. The Poodles immediately stopped racing around the front yard. They ran up the steps and through the open door into the house. She and I followed.
"Oh, you know," Aunt Peg said blithely. "One thing led to another."
"You do realize this was supposed to be a small group, right? Just some friends getting together to talk about books."
"Yes, of course. But there's the problem. I have so many friends."
Aunt Peg ushered me in the direction of her living room. The two chintz-covered loveseats that had flanked the fireplace were now angled to face a grouping of assorted chairs gathered from the dining room and library. At a quick glance, I counted more than a dozen seats.
The refreshments were set out on a sideboard. There was a pot of tea, and several bottles of wine, along with appropriate china and stemware. A tray of pupcakes was sitting beside a large dish of chocolate and macaroon Sarah Bernhardts. The entire display looked heavenly.
"Like ... how many?" I asked.
I sidled over toward the buffet and reached for a Sarah Bernhardt. Aunt Peg slapped my hand away.
"Wait for the guests to arrive," she said.
"I'm a guest."
There was that.
I turned away and sat down on the edge of a loveseat. Hope walked over and placed her head in my lap. I ruffled my fingers through her topknot and ears. Hope was littermate to my beloved Faith. I was sure she could smell her sister's scent on my clothing.
"How many?" I repeated.
"They're a lively cross-section of exhibitors. You probably already know some of them. Or at least you've seen them at shows. I'm sure you'll like them once you've met them."
Note that once again she'd dodged my question.
"Do they read books?" I asked.
"I should hope so. I did tell them this was a book club."
I supposed that counted for something. "Do they have names?"
"Oh pish," said Aunt Peg. "Of course they have names. Felicity Barber, for one."
I frowned briefly. After a moment, a vague image of the woman's face swam into view. I was pretty sure she had a toy breed. We're dog people. We identify everyone by their breed affiliation.
"Japanese Chin?" I guessed.
"That's right." Aunt Peg looked pleased. Apparently I'd turned out to be a better student than expected.
"Marge Brennan," she said next.
"I know her. She has Bulldogs." Marge was a fellow Non-Sporting Group exhibitor. She was easy to picture. Short and squat, she also had the pendulous cheeks and perpetual scowl of her chosen breed. "Who else?"
I shook my head.
"Tall? Skinny? Greyhounds. You know."
"No, I don't."
And just like that, my approval rating dipped again.
Aunt Peg rushed through the rest. "Toby Cane. He has Welshies." Welsh Springer Spaniels for the uninitiated. "And Rush and Vic Landry breed Belgian Tervurens. There, you see? That's all."
"That's six new people," I pointed out unnecessarily.
Alice had arrived at our first book club meeting with a neighbor named Evan Major, who'd recently moved onto her block. She'd confided that she'd brought him along because she felt sorry for him. A small, unassuming man in his forties, Evan had been shy in our boisterous company and had mostly kept his thoughts to himself. He didn't volunteer any personal information, but he did describe himself as an avid reader.
At our second meeting, held at Alice's house, another neighbor had shown up unexpectedly. Bella Barrundy came through the door with a smile on her face and a pot full of homemade macaroni and cheese in her hands. She informed us that Evan had invited her to join the group, though he appeared surprised to hear that. But Bella had read the book we were discussing and she joined our conversation with enthusiasm. So we accepted her into the fold.
At the time I'd thought that seven people seemed like a fine size for the book club. It was large enough to offer room for differing opinions, yet small enough to keep things cozy and copacetic.
And now it seemed that our numbers had nearly doubled.
Thank you, Aunt Peg, I thought somewhat murderously.
"You're welcome," she replied.
Oh Lord, I hadn't said that out loud, had I?
The doorbell rang and Aunt Peg went to answer it. The Standard Poodles leapt up and ran after her, the five of them eddying around the closely grouped furniture like a fast-flowing canine stream. A moment later, a chorus of new voices filled the front hall.
Ready or not, I thought. Here we go.CHAPTER 2
"Where did all these people come from?" asked
Only minutes had passed, but the living room was already packed with a lively crowd. I'd given up my perch on the loveseat to claim a spot by the wall from which to observe the new arrivals. Fortunately the corner I'd staked out was next to the dish of Sarah Bernhardts. When Terry cut through the group and joined me there, I'd just stuffed a second one into my mouth.
Since I was briefly unable to speak, Terry took up the slack. "This crowd is unexpected, isn't it? I'm glad I dressed for the occasion." He peered around the room. "Is that Rush Landry? I wouldn't have pictured him as a novel reader. Automotive magazines, maybe. Or possibly porn ..."
I swallowed hastily and slapped him on the arm. "Stop that!"
"Stop what? Saying out loud what you know perfectly well you're thinking?"
"I am not," I replied. "And what is that you're wearing anyway?"
Terry was in his thirties but he could easily pass for a decade younger. For some reason, he'd decided to come to the meeting dressed in a velvet smoking jacket with a cream-colored cravat knotted around his neck. His blond hair was slicked back off his face and his nails were perfectly manicured. He looked like an extra in a British period film. All he needed to complete the picture was a pipe and a valet.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bite Club"
Copyright © 2019 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
Once again Melanie Travis and Faith find themselves in the middle of a mysterious death. Along with help of Aunt Peg the gang of dog people they find clues to solve the crime. A dog lover will surely enjoy this latest in the series.
I feel like Melanie Travis is an old friend. Each time I read one of Laurien's "Poodle mysteries" (as I call them) it makes me long to be greeted by a pack of pampered Poodles again (I used to have 3 standards), to eat cake with Aunt Peg, and gossip with Terry at a dog show. I'm already looking forward to another tale with wagging tails next year!!
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I have read every one of the books in this series and each one is better than the last. I love Melanie and her crazy family of dogs (& people too!). Berenson's books are extremely enjoyable from the first page until the last. One thing you must know if you've not read any of these books is that Melanie gets involved in a murder every single time but she also always gets her man or woman! This book is a quick, enjoyable read for everyone. Enjoy!
Bite Club is the twenty-third novel in A Melanie Travis Mystery series. While the book can be read as a standalone, you will be missing out on a great series. The author provides everything a reader needs to know about Melanie, her family, her dogs, and friends. Bite Club is well-written and progresses at a steady trot. Melanie Travis is married to Sam and has two kids: Davey and Kevin. Davey is thirteen and is acting as a handler for Aunt Peg’s latest poodle puppy, Coral. Kevin is an inquisitive and active four year old boy. Aunt Peg (she reminds me of one of my aunts) is an intimidating woman and dog show judge who frequently ropes Melanie into her schemes. When Evan Major is killed and Melanie is at the top of the suspect list, she sets out to learn more about the quiet man. The mystery was well-plotted with unexpected disclosures and a jaw dropping reveal. As an avid cozy mystery reader, I enjoy a complex whodunit. I enjoy the family interactions and how Melanie talks to Faith, her oldest poodle (and looks for a response). I like that it is not a picture perfect family. Melanie’s household is always lively with four people and six dogs. Dinner may not be served on time, groceries run low and there are messes from kids and animals, but the house is filled with love. This is what adds to the appeal of this charming series. The dog show information is told in a way for a layman to understand (which I appreciate). I was unaware of the intricacies of dog shows and all that goes into maintaining a Standard Poodles fur for competition. There is humor sprinkled throughout the story along with the antics of the adorable canines, the kids and Aunt Peg. Bite Club is an engaging cozy mystery with a friendly sleuth, energetic book discussions, loving husband, sweet kids, endearing dogs, one dead guy with an unexpected past, and bossy Aunt Peg.
Dollycas's Thoughts The Travis family including all the canines is my favorite cozy family. With everything, she has going on in her life her starting a book club was really no surprise and neither was Aunt Peg’s takeover. Peg tries Melanie’s patience almost every day of the week. In this story, she also gets on Davey’s nerves as well. Peg is a formidable woman and everyone knows to just back off and let her do her thing. I find the way Laurien Berenson portrays her characters is amazing. True to life and so much fun to follow. She takes time to catch readers up on life with the Travis family before introducing any new characters in a believable way before she dives into the murder mystery part of the story. This time the body wasn’t found until about 1/3 of the way through the book and that was perfect. We didn’t know everything about Evan Major but we knew enough to care about who killed him because we knew Melanie is no killer. What the author lays out is a pretty complex mystery with several other suspects. I loved the way the book club was utilized with the classic cozy tradition of getting as many suspects in one room as possible in hopes of getting them to out themselves or others they are close too. Wonderful plotting made this story a delight to read. In addition to getting into the main mystery, Melanie is asked to solve another one for a close friend. Afraid to overstep, she finds herself shy about fulfilling the request. When push comes to shove she makes a very interesting observation that shines the problem in a whole different light. As always, dogs are featured lovingly from the first page to the last. We get behind the scenes at dog shows and a look at how much grooming goes into keeping Melanie’s adorable poodles in fine form. A special treat is her first poodle, Faith. The dog is empathetic and a perfect pal to have when you are feeling down. She is also an excellent sounding board for Melanie because they have a special understanding. Melanie talks to Faith the same way I do with my dogs. Faith understands Melanie better than Oreo and Nera do me but we get our points across. That special bulldog on the cover stole my heart. Ms. Berenson uses Evan’s experiences to help people who don’t have or haven’t had dogs understand what commitment is made whether you have a purebred show dog or a rescued mutt you are a vital part of their lives and need to plan accordingly. Each slice of life we get to explore with Melanie Travis is engaging, completely holds my attention and always makes me a bit sad when I reach the final page. While this is a long-running series each book is written to stand on its own. Don’t be afraid to take a huge bite out of Bite Club. I can’t promise you won’t want to devour every other Melanie Travis Canine Mystery.
It is time for this series to end. I have long been a fan of this book series but BIte Club is just disappointing. The writing is disjointed and long-winded. It seems mean-spirited in places which I certainly do not remember from the other books in this series. All of the familiar characters are in this book but they just seem flat somehow, perhaps this series has gone on one book too many. Boo, I hate it when a beloved author disappoints. I cannot recommend this book. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and NetGalley. The views given are my own. #BiteClub #NetGalley
This is a series that keeps getting better. You don’t have to be a dog lover to enjoy it.
Bite Club is a delightful addition to the Melanie Travis Mystery series. From the delightful puppy on the cover to the very last page you will be guessing whodunit. Melanie just can’t help but stick her nose in to figure it out and it looks like she’s got Aunt Peg hooked too. I really enjoyed this story and highly recommend the series.
I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I came into a series at book 22. I was surprised and delighted by this book! It was a solid mystery, but what I liked even more was how Ms. Berenson showed relationships. In Melanie’s family the relationships are not perfect. Her kids are not perfect, her aunt is definitely not perfect, and she’s not perfect. The author shows what real relationships of all types are. Messy, but filled with love ( hopefully). This was a great read, interesting characters, awesome dog show scenes and a great mystery! I was provided an advanced reader copy in exchange for my honest review.