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By Elaine Viets

Obsidian, 2009 ($6.99)
ISBN-10: 0451228421
ISBN-13: 978-0-451-22842-0

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Secret shopper Josie Marcus draws the line at investigating local stores that are part of a large national chain of pet stores. The chain was busted a few years back for buying animals from puppy mills. They'd cleaned up their act, but there are rumors that some of the stores are still following this practice. She'll buy a little frou-frou outfit for a Chihuahua, maybe even eat a dog/people biscuit, but she tells her boss this is really a job for a private investigator. Harold the Horrible tells her the chain wants to keep this quiet to avoid further bad publicity, and there was absolutely no chance of danger. Josie has heard that before, and doesn't buy it. She'd never do anything to endanger her family. But when the company offers to double her fee, and the pricey and elite private school her daughter Amelia attends tells her she'll have to start paying part of the tuition because of the poor economy, she gives in.

The past year has been hard on her and her loved ones. Years ago, when Nate, the love of her life and Amelia's father, turned to hard drugs, Josie took her baby and ran. He'd just come back into their lives, clean and sober, and Amelia was happy getting to know the father she'd been told was dead. Before long his past came back to haunt him and he was murdered. Her last relationship with Mike the plumber ended because of his hateful daughter, and her previously nerdy neighbor Stan is nice, but he's more into exercise and carb loading than her. Quite by accident she and Amelia meet Jerry, the owner of a great Lab puppy he got from the pound. He seems to have potential, and they enjoy some quality time together.

During her investigation, Josie meets a store employee who says she has information on the puppy mill. She gives Josie some important information: a man with a Biblical name, who drives an old beat-up pickup, who has a house way out in the country where he raises pure-bred puppies in miserable conditions. Unfortunately, she is silenced, permanently, before she can provide more details.

Jerry takes her to meet his mom, who is a crazy cat lady living in a dilapidated house in the country. Her neighbor Paul is equally weird. The last straw comes for Josie when Jerry introduces her to another neighbor, Jonah, an ugly man with a house full of sick and mistreated puppies, a beat-up truck and two malnourished and abused sons. Josie wrestles with her conscience. In the end, she does the right thing, knowing it might cause her problems.

The next day Jerry storms into her house, accusing her of ratting Jonah out. Not knowing what he's talking about she turns on the TV news and sees Jonah's house, with animal rescue teams carrying out crates of sick and filthy puppies. The reporter says that the authorities had been observing the man for months, and Josie convinces Jerry that proves she didn't report his friend. At least she thinks she's convinced him.

Amelia has been lobbying for a kitten, and she and her mom find the perfect pet. When Grandma Jane, who lives upstairs, objects, Josie jumps on her, saying this is the first time since Nate's death that Amelia has taken an interest in anything. The new kitty brings yet another man into Josie's life: Dr. Ted, a vet who makes house calls, hates puppy mills, and loves to cook.

Bad things start to happen, and Josie knows somebody wants revenge. A family member is attacked by a vicious dog, and Dr. Ted is accused of committing murder by snake. Even though Josie hardly knows him, she decides he's innocent, and that his case is tied to the puppy mill crime. She sets out to prove his innocence and bring the people who are a threat to her family to justice.

Josie may have bad judgment in choosing men, but she's an engaging character with strong family values. While the book is a cozy, it brings up an important issue. Puppy mills are horrible, and the information Josie imparts just might open peoples' eyes to this disgraceful practice and do something about it.

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