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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COLLARED: AN ANDY CARPENTER NOVEL

By David Rosenfelt


Minotaur, $26.99, 336 pages

ADNA dog called Cody and a kidnapped baby called Dylan are at the heart of this rollicking mystery by the leading dog lover of the literary world.

Dogs are always key to David Rosenfelt’s writings and when they’re not, his chief character, the sardonic and wealthy lawyer Andy Carpenter seems at a loss. He is also the only criminal lawyer with a bodyguard, one Marcus, who can kill with his elbow.

In real life, Mr. Rosenfelt is the founder of the Tara Foundation that rescues golden retrievers in trouble, and in his books, Carpenter not only owns a retriever called Tara but he talks to her and makes it clear that such conversations rank in his opinion far above chats with his other dog, a languid animal called Sebastian, or even his wife, a former police detective called Laurie.

Tara plays her usual solemn and silent part in the latest Rosenfelt plot in which the infant Dylan is kidnapped, as well as his nanny, leaving his adoptive mother Jill bereft and her ex-lover Keith accused of the crime and given a heavy term in jail. He, of course, protests his innocence and his argument is somewhat supported by the fact that the nanny is strangled just after she brings back Cody the dog, who is unharmed. Red herrings tend to paddle about in the Rosenfelt mysteries and lawyer Carpenter finds himself struggling with a problem of who did what to whom and why while developing the suspicion that Keith, locked up in a cell, may be innocent.

Carpenter fortunately has friends in the police department who share his doubts and finagles a new trial for the miserable Keith, who at least can’t be accused of killing the nanny. There is also the introduction of a drug conspiracy and a sinister billionaire called Renny, who doesn’t hesitate to dispose of those who get in his way. And who also turns out to be in possession of a young child who may or may not be the stolen Dylan.

Mr. Rosenfelt’s trial scenes are always fun, partly because his judges have a sense of humor and also because Carpenter is allowed to indulge his capacity for fun in his work even when it involves murder.

And it is not easy even for a practiced murderer to kill Carpenter. Not when all he has to do is put in a help call to Marcus. What Marcus does for living is never clarified, but there is no question that he is good at killing people and he may be one of the few hit men who can slay you with his elbow. Which makes him fascinating to read about if perhaps not to meet.

But he is very protective of Carpenter and those around him, who include Ricky, the lawyer’s eight-year-old adopted son. Not to mention that when Carpenter is in danger, it is Laurie the former cop who shoots to kill.

Mr. Rosenfelt writes basic, good-humored mysteries which have their share of violence but are unusual in that they are usually lacking in carcasses so they probably won’t become movies. Carpenter is a happy hero in that he is a very rich man and can afford to feed his friends hamburgers to elicit their professional help. He also relies on the sensible advice of his police woman wife to get him out of trouble and give him time between solving crimes to watch an apparently endless number of football games or whatever sort is available in the neighborhood.

The plot of “Collared” is fragile, but that doesn’t really count because the characters are robust and Carpenter spends much of his time rescuing friends who are perpetually finding themselves in trouble and in jail. Even the crooks have a soft spot for Carpenter probably because he gets them good seats at sport stadiums.

In the end it’s the dogs that matter. A Rosenfelt book that is lacking a shot of a lovable animal on its jacket or a description of its pranks in Chapter One is lacking as far as his readers are concerned, and that is as it should be. The dogs always behave better than their two-legged owner. Readers could all take a lesson from Tara. Mr. Rosenfelt perhaps should sell walks in the woods with a wise golden retriever as a supplement to murders.

• Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and The Baltimore Sun.


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