ONCE BITTEN by Laurien Berenson
A MELANIE TRAVIS MYSTERY
Kensington Books, September 2001
Melanie Travis is caught up in wedding planning, but it isn't for her wedding and this is a problem. Sam, Melanie's main squeeze, has headed off to discover himself and Melanie has been left in the pinch. Her sister-in-law to be, Bertie Kennedy, puts Melanie to work helping plan Bertie's wedding. To Melanie's surprise, Melanie's ex-husband Bob shows up and he's interested in getting Melanie back. To her shock, Melanie finds the idea halfway attractive. (See also our review of UNLEASHED, the previous novel in this series.)
Melanie is just a helper on the wedding plan. Bertie has hired Sara Bentley to do the real work. When Sara vanishes, Bertie is desperate and offers a deal--she'll keep Bob away if Melanie puts her detective skills to work. What Melanie finds is that there are several people who are thrilled that Sara has vanished and hope that she'll stay that way. When Sara's house burns down and a female body is found inside, it looks like they'll get their wish.
Author Laurien Berenson (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by this author) does a wonderful job depicting a woman who balances her hobby of detecting with her real life, which consists of being a mother, a teacher, and a dog raiser (Melanie's standard poodle, Faith, is on the verge of becoming a champion). Melanie's ambivalent feelings toward the men in her life form an uneasy parallel with Sara's serial relationships, adding a neat dynamic to the story.
The suspense of the dog ring makes up a significant part of the interest in this story. Readers who are interested in dogs and in showing dogs will consider Berenson's light and informative writing to be a real find. In Melanie's concerns about her dog, her son, and the two romantic interests in her life, however, the mystery gets put a little too much on the back burner.
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