The murder of a disgraced veterinarian opens a Pandora’s box of iniquities.
Retired schoolteacher Mary McGill is a member of just about every committee in Santa Louisa, California. Heavily involved in Christmas activities, she’s shocked when two children, Dalia and Ronaldo Mendosa, come to her with a story of a corpse in a manger. The murdered man is Cliff Mathews, a former veterinarian whose heavy drinking led to some serious mistakes and a lot of enemies. The children, who’d been hunting for a puppy they heard, report that a man in a long robe brushed past them just before they found the body. That story might seem to point to a local priest, but because of the Christmas activities, a large number of people were wearing makeshift robes. The children’s parents work at a local vineyard, so Mary volunteers to keep an eye on them until the killer is caught. Hunting for clues to Mathews’ murder makes her realize for the first time how many people were upset with him. His active involvement in the purebred dog scene damaged the lives of several local breeders and handlers. Mary becomes convinced that his death has something to do with a stolen poodle, a champion bitch accidentally spayed, and a number of cockapoo puppies, including the one the children found. When another person in the dog business is murdered, Mary, ever the volunteer, gets a pooch of her own and almost becomes the next victim.
The many characters imported from Delaney’s food-based cozies (And Murder For Dessert, 2007, etc.) are supplemented by plenty of suspects and a charming cast of canines.