Chihuahua of the Baskervilles. Please allow me to gloat as to why this delightful novel jumped up in my lap and wouldn’t let me go.
When one finishes a story, there’s a propensity to evaluate it, don’t you think? Although I don’t make it a practice to review publications—and Chiseled in Rock doesn’t either for that matter—I still appraise a title on a point system so if a discussion about that book comes along, I can easily refer back to the grade I gave it. When a read is so good I’d recommend it to anyone, it’s a four. Such is the case with Chihuahua of the Baskervilles by Esri Allbritten. For this novel, I simply must make an exception and boast, or review, its high marks.
Charlotte Baskerville is the founder of Petey’s Closet, a clothing catalog for small dogs. When the glowing form of Charlotte’s dead Chihuahua appears, the staff of Tripping Magazine investigates. Is it a ghost, or someone teaching a dead dog new tricks – like murder?
Tripping Magazine is a low-budget travel magazine covering destinations of supposedly paranormal interest. Charlotte represents the perfect story – not only is she haunted, but she lives in Manitou Springs, Colorado, home of the Emma Crawford Memorial Coffin Race and other macabre entertainments. Tripping’s three-person staff — Angus MacGregor (editor and opportunist), Michael Abernathy (skeptic and wannabe novelist) and Suki Oota (highly sexed photographer) – goes to Manitou Springs, where the ghost howls advice and spells out threats in tiny paw prints. Is it real, or the creation of someone who wants the Baskerville fortune, over Charlotte’s dead body?
There are plenty of suspects. Charlotte’s hateful husband, Thomas, lost the family fortune, then watched his wife rebuild it with tiny doggy dresses. He wants to start a respectable business with Bob Hume, the man with a plan for fruit-filled dog food. Ellen Froehlich, creator of Petey’s designs, should be Charlotte’s partner but is only an employee. Would she kill to own the business? Cheri, the Baskerville’s alcoholic granddaughter, sulks in a cloud of strawberry perfume and thwarted desires. Is she plotting with Ivan Blotski, the Russian wolf-trainer who wants Charlotte to finance his TV show?
Angus, Michael and Suki review restaurants and dodge out-of-control coffins while trying to keep Charlotte safe and still get the story for Tripping Magazine.
Vivid characters with believable, addictive conflicts between them are just the starters of praises. The banter is quick and sassy. Laugh out loud humor. The setting that Esri expertly sketches comes through so clearly that you feel you’ve been there. I think what charmed me the most was the eccentricities of the main characters that are apparently the norm of the small town in which this caper takes place.
And that’s all I’m letting out of the bag, ‘cause you just got to read it.
But I am thrilled to have Esri sit in and answer some questions today.
CIR: Thanks for joining us, Esri. Before I get too ‘in-depth’ with questions, I just got to say that I envisioned the multi-talented Billy Connolly playing Angus if this were to be optioned for a movie. I’m I too far off?
EA: Unbelievable. That’s who I see as Angus, too.
CIR: Admittedly having not read your prior publications (but I probably will now), Chihuahua of the Baskervilles seems to be quite a change. Was this something you always wanted to do?
EA: “Always” doesn’t exist for me. For one thing, I have a very poor memory, so it’s good my job involves writing things down. For another, ideas for new series rain down on me like bird crap on a freshly washed car. But even though my fiction diet has consisted almost exclusively of mysteries for quite a while, I didn’t start with them because they intimidated the bejeezus out of me – for good reason. Turns out they’re hard.
CIR: The coffin race in the book seems very familiar to a festivity that goes on in Nederland, Colorado’s Frozen Dead Guy Days. Was this the inspiration?
EA: I didn’t need inspiration, because the Emma Crawford Memorial Coffin Race is a real thang (Oct. 29 this year). This is their 17th festival, whereas Frozen Dead Guy Days is on their tenth. People race many inappropriate things across this great country of ours. Beds. Belt-sanders. Maggots. The Emma Crawford Memorial Coffin Race is like Halloween meets Mardi Gras, and is blessedly maggot-free. Everyone should go.
CIR: I’m tickled that Tripping Magazine Mysteries are going to be a series. Any hint that you can give us of the next title or premise?
EA: I finished Portrait of Doreene Gray on July 2 and am revising it now. It’s set in Port Townsend, Washington, during the Wooden Boat Festival, and is very gothic, as befits that misty Victorian town. Doreene Gray’s twin sister, Maureene, painted her portrait when they were young. It made her career as an artist. Over the years, the painting has aged, but Doreene hasn’t. Now in her fifties, Doreene decides to sell the painting. Strange things start to happen.
I’m just starting to put the elements of Book 3 together. My working title is Porker from the Black Lagoon, or possibly Squealer from the Black Lagoon. Anyone here have a preference? In Book 3, someone swears a giant prehistoric pig is in the Ocala National Forest in Florida – near lovely Silver Springs, where Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed. Check out this picture of an enteledont http://www.fossil-treasures-of-florida.com/entelodont.html to see why this might concern people.
CIR: How are you going to celebrate when this hits the New York Times Bestseller list? Seriously. I’m not being a sycophant. I really believe it’s got the stuff.
EA: What a sweetheart! From your lips to book buyers’ ears. Gosh, what would I do to celebrate? Buy a new laptop, if I hadn’t done that recently. My long-term goal is to be successful enough to hire an assistant. Other than that, I have no idea.
CIR: Where’s your favorite place to get sushi? (On the Rock, we like to ask more than just questions about the work. Call it one of our eccentricities.)
EA: Sushi Zanmai in Boulder (that’s where I live). They have an amazing squid salad, as well as a pickle plate. I will eat damn near anything if it’s marinated in vinegar.
CIR: What were some helpful ‘how-to’ books, or works of fiction that helped you to become an outstanding writer?
EA: Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict taught me one of the most important concepts in fiction. It seems really obvious, right up until you realize you’re not doing it. From a prose standpoint, I think David Sedaris and Laurie King are tremendous writers and well-worth studying. If you need info on a specific genre or subject, the Writers Digest books are great. Probably my most valuable resource is my subscription to The New Yorker magazine. Not only is the writing uniformly fantastic, whether news, fiction or editorial, but I get a lot of story ideas there.
Thank you so much, Esri!
Thank you! I got my agent through the Colorado Gold contest, so the group holds a special place in my heart.
Interview conducted by E.C. Stacy who will return next week with more Critique Conspiracies.