Married; children: Chase. Education: Vassar College, B.S.
Home—Atlanta, GA. E-mail—[email protected]
Author and dog breeder.
Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Poodle Club of America.
Three-time winner of Maxwell Award for Fiction, Dog Writers Association of America.
Double Dare, Silhouette (New York, NY), 1986.
Night Cries, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Also author of novels Deep Cover, Come as You Are, Winner Take All, Lucky in Love, and Talisman.
"MELANIE TRAVIS" MYSTERY SERIES
A Pedigree to Die For, Kensington (New York, NY), 1995.
Underdog, Kensington (New York, NY), 1996.
Dog Eat Dog, Kensington (New York, NY), 1996.
Hair of the Dog, Kensington (New York, NY), 1997.
Watchdog, Kensington (New York, NY), 1998.
Hush Puppy, Kensington (New York, NY), 1999.
Unleashed, Kensington (New York, NY), 2000.
Once Bitten, Kensington (New York, NY), 2001.
Hot Dog, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Best in Show, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Jingle Bell Bark, Kensington (New York, NY), 2004.
Raining Cats & Dogs, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Chow Down, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Hounded to Death, Kensington (New York, NY), 2007.
Doggie Day Care Murder, Kensington (New York, NY), 2008.
Laurien Berenson began her full-time writing career after graduating from Vassar College, and it was no surprise that the mystery novels that she has authored since feature several canine characters. Berenson grew up in a family of dog lovers: her mother bred and showed Norwich terriers, and her grandmother showed wire fox terriers and scotties in the 1930s and 1940s before becoming a judge. Berenson herself is a trainer, breeder, and exhibitor of standard and miniature poodles, and has bred or finished fifteen champions in the last twenty years. Berenson lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, son, Chase, six miniature poodles, and a Welsh pony named Willow.
While working as a freelance writer, Berenson covered the story of a champion toy poodle stud for the New York Times. Stolen from his home in Michigan, Rocky was valued at over twenty thousand dollars, and although his owner offered half that amount for his return, the dog was never recovered. Rocky's story became the basis for the first installment of the "Melanie Travis" mystery series, A Pedigree to Die For. Melanie is a thirty-year-old special education teacher in Stamford, Connecticut, and the divorced mother of four-year-old Davey. Melanie's Aunt Peg and Uncle Max are breeders of standard poodles. Max dies of a heart attack while in the kennel, and when Peg finds his body, she also discovers that their champion stud dog, Beau, is missing.
Melanie is free for the summer, so she agrees to help her aunt find the dog by seeking out a mate for a fictitious female poodle. Melanie encounters rivals Randy Tarnower and Crawford Langley and is attracted to Sam Driver, who had offered Peg a blank check for Beau, which she turned down. Romance between Melanie and Sam seems a possibility, even as Melanie is dealing with murder. A writer for Kirkus Reviews noted that the audience for A Pedigree to Die For is "clearly dogs and their favorite people." Library Journal reviewer Rex E. Klett noted that Berenson focuses not only on the show dogs "but highlights a child as well," and called the book "a special treat." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called it "a bonanza for ardent dog fanciers and for others, a likable heroine in a smoothly paced romantic mystery."
A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that in Underdog Berenson "provides more low-key entertainment for dog fanciers." Peg has given Melanie a standard poodle puppy. Melanie enrolls Faith in dog-handling classes run by Jenny and Rick Maguire, also the owners of prize-winning dogs. Jenny tells Melanie that her own pet, Ziggy, was killed in an automobile accident. Soon after, Jenny dies of chronic arsenic poisoning. Melanie then finds out that Ziggy is not dead. Jenny had boarded him with a friend and was to come for him in two weeks. While Melanie is confronted with the mysteries of why Jenny faked her dog's death, as well as how and why the trainer was killed, disturbing details of Jenny and Rick's relationship emerge. Melanie gets closer to the truth when another poisoning occurs—this time at a dog show. Through it all, Sam persistently pursues Melanie. "With this new case, Berenson throws dog lovers a treat they will relish," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer of Underdog.
In the third book of the series, Dog Eat Dog, Melanie's son Davey is a year older, and his father, Bob, appears. Bob wants to become part of his son's life and take Davey back to Texas to live with him and his twenty-year-old fiancée. In addition to coping with Bob, Melanie is being pressured by pushy Peg to join the Belle Haven Kennel Club. She attends meetings that become fraught with suspicion and accusations after the president announces that club money is missing. The following week, club secretary Monica Freedman is found murdered in the parking lot. As the police have no leads, Melanie questions Belle Haven members and soon finds that Monica had written to each member announcing that she had knowledge of wrongdoings—such as animal abuse and fraud—by each of them.
Dog Eat Dog received somewhat mixed reviews from critics. A critic reviewing the book in Kirkus Reviews commented that "the dog show world, with all its fussing, pressures, politics, and ego trips, gets top billing here, while the juiceless plot skitters around the edges." In a more favorable review, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Melanie solves both the problems of Bob and the murder "in a story as calm and as controlled as a well-behaved dog on a lead."
In Hair of the Dog Melanie's friend Alicia Devane looks to Melanie for help when Alicia's lover, handler Barry Turk, is murdered—shot in the driveway of the home they shared. As Melanie delves deeper into the case, she finds that Barry was a man of few friends and many secrets, including incidents of sexual harassment and a number of affairs. Melanie also learns that Barry had recently written his will, leaving everything to Alicia. Alicia announces that she is expecting a child that is neither Barry's nor her husband's, and another dog-world murder brings Melanie closer to the truth. Again, Berenson's work received a mixed critical response. A Kirkus Reviews writer commented that Hair of the Dog is "only for those obsessed with show dogs…. All else here is absurdly contrived and unconvincing." "Abundant with dog lore, this lighthearted adventure will charm dog fanciers and cozy fans," stated a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In Booklist, contributor John Rowen noted favorably Berenson's ability "to capture the great bond between dogs and people."
Melanie's brother Frank becomes a suspect in Watchdog when his partner, developer Marcus Rattigan, falls through the skylight of the general store they are converting into a coffee shop. Melanie discovers suspects in Marcus's close acquaintances and among store neighbors who had rejected the new venture as not being family-friendly. Melanie shows Faith in her first adult show and finds that Marcus had been involved in the dog world as well. "As is her wont, Berenson's writing is as warm and fuzzy as the dogs," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. John Rowen commented in Booklist that Berenson "has broadened the series' appeal by steering the plot to environmental issues, wills, and the teaching life."
In the sixth book of the series, Hush Puppy, Sam Driver continues as Melanie's love interest. Melanie becomes a drama coach and investigates the murder of Howard Academy's caretaker, Eugene Krebbs, which she solves with the help of Aunt Peg. A Publishers Weekly writer noted that Hush Puppy "starts out with potential" but complained that the book is marred by predictable characters and a "disappointingly tidy wrap-up." Sam and Melanie draw closer to setting a wedding date in Unleashed, but they are distracted from their matrimonial plans by the murder of Sam's ex-wife, Sheila, who is strangled to death the night before a controversial dog show tabloid was to be unveiled. Melanie's insecurity about Sam's feelings for Sheila leads to some "tender moments," according to a Publishers Weekly writer, who added: "The ending is a surprise on more than one front." Melanie's love life continues to take unexpected turns in Once Bitten, in which Sam leaves her, and her ex-husband appears to want her back.
Hot Dog, the next book in the "Melanie Travis" mystery series, finds Melanie all but stalked by a young journalist who thinks she will find the story of a lifetime if she just hangs around long enough for Melanie to trip over the next dead body. Though Melanie insists her life is dull these days, it does not take long for her to eat her words, as it soon becomes clear someone more sinister is also following her. Melanie's wallet vanishes, she comes home to discover every light in her house ablaze, and she begins to receive disturbing mystery phone calls during the wee hours of the night. It does not help that her personal life is a shambles, with her ex-husband acting strangely and her former boyfriend Sam returning after a six-month absence with apologies and significant pieces of jewelry. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that the book's "insights and knowledge of the world of show dogs are a must for anyone who wants to know what it takes to get to the Westminster Dog Show." Toby Bromberg, writing for the Romantic Times Online Web site, found the book "an enjoyable read peopled with amiable characters—Melanie and company are cozy mystery favorites."
In Best in Show, Berenson sends Melanie Travis on the road to attend the Poodle Club of America's dog show. Melanie's son Davey and her dog Faith spend the week with Davey's father while Melanie drives from Connecticut to Maryland—home to the dog show—along with her pregnant sister-in-law Bertie, Aunt Peg, and of course her puppy Eve, for company. Melanie's vacation takes a turn for the worse, however, when soon after the start of the pre-show events, an elderly woman is discovered dead, obviously having been murdered. Of course, Melanie takes it upon herself to begin her own investigation, setting out to get to the bottom of the crime. The well-populated dog show means there is a plethora of suspects, each quirkier than the last, and Melanie has her work cut out for her. Jenny McLarin, writing for Booklist, found the book provides readers with "an affectionate and realistic portrait of the dog-show world" as well as "a pleasant mystery." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that "for all the engaging human characters, … the dogs, in all sizes, colors and ages, provide the most fun."
Berenson offers readers an entertaining holiday installment to her "Melanie Travis" mystery series with Jingle Bell Bark. When her son's school bus driver, Henry Pruitt, is murdered, Melanie sets out to investigate the unlikely case that has everyone anxious to learn who would do such a thing. The curious include Melanie's Aunt Peg, who runs the kennel where Melanie takes Henry's two golden retrievers in the wake of his death. When Henry's two daughters appear in town, they let it be known that they plan to sell his dogs, on eBay of all places, making Melanie all the more anxious to get to the bottom of things. Juggling the case with dog shows, her son, her fiancé, and of course the approaching holiday has Melanie constantly on the go, but as always, she manages to keep all the balls in the air and to capture the killer. A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded that, "as ever, the author provides a captivating behind-the-scenes look at the world of show dogs."
Berenson's Chow Down finds Melanie taken by surprise when her dog Faith is named a finalist in the Champions Dog Food "All Dogs Are Champions" contest, particularly since she never entered Faith in the competition. A little digging reveals that her son Davey, looking for something to do, entered Faith himself in a fit of boredom. The contract is binding so Melanie is unable to get Faith out of the contest, which involves the dogs' participation in a number of publicity gimmicks designed to draw attention to the company's product. When a murderer targets contestants, Melanie finds even more of her attention drawn into the contest, and life becomes more hectic than ever. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that the book "combines a multitude of red herrings with plenty of twists and turns for a tight suspenseful package."
In Hounded to Death, Melanie Travis is four months pregnant with her second child, but she isn't about to let that slow her down. Along with Aunt Peg and her sister-in-law Bertie, Melanie takes off to the Poconos to attend a symposium on dog judging. Alas, their plans for a relaxing trip go awry almost immediately when Charles Evans, the keynote speaker for the opening of the event, is found dead in the hot tub shortly after presenting the group with a somewhat inflammatory speech that questioned the ethics of dog shows. On the case, Melanie soon discovers that quite a few people had a motive for wanting Charles dead, including his long-suffering wife whom he had cheated on repeatedly, and any of the dog show judges who attended his opening remarks. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book to be "a thin mystery filled with dog lore that canophiles will lap up." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that "this canine cozy is still absorbing enough to delight even cat lovers."
Berenson's early novels include Double Dare, a romance about friends who are competing for a spot on the Olympic equestrian team. In this book, Alex suppresses her feelings for Josh and thinks he cares only about winning. When Alex's horse is injured, Josh provides a solution to keep Alex in the competition, and Alex discovers that he and the rest of her friends care more for each other than for the ribbons at stake. A School Library Journal reviewer felt the characters' perfection "ruins the story lines." Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer Lisa Shelton called the book "very good" and recommended it for "people interested in the subjects of romance and horse riding." In Night Cries Jesse Archer wakes to find her child is missing. The police are not pursuing the criminal and even suspect her. Kliatt reviewer Robin S. Holab-Abelman called the book "fairly suspenseful."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 1997, John Rowen, review of Hair of the Dog, p. 62; August, 1998, John Rowen, review of Watchdog, p. 1971; September 1, 2003, Jenny McLarin, review of Best in Show, p. 67.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1994, review of A Pedigree to Die For, p. 1521; December 15, 1995, review of Underdog, p. 1732; September 1, 1996, review of Dog Eat Dog, pp. 1271-1272; October 1, 1997, review of Hair of the Dog, p. 1485; July 1, 2007, review of Hounded to Death.
Kliatt, May, 1993, Robin S. Holab-Abelman, review of Night Cries, pp. 3-4.
Library Journal, December, 1994, Rex E. Klett, review of A Pedigree to Die For, p. 137; January, 1996, review of Underdog, p. 148; November 1, 1996, p. 111; September 1, 1997, p. 223; October 1, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of Watchdog, p. 139; September 1, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of Unleashed, p. 255.
Publishers Weekly, January 9, 1995, review of A Pedigree to Die For, p. 59; December 4, 1995, review of Underdog, p. 55; September 9, 1996, review of Dog Eat Dog, p. 68; September 15, 1997, review of Hair of the Dog, p. 56; September 21, 1998, review of Watchdog, p. 77; September 27, 1999, review of Hush Puppy, p. 76; August 28, 2000, review of Unleashed, p. 59; August 12, 2002, review of Hot Dog, p. 280; August 18, 2003, review of Best in Show, p. 61; August 9, 2004, review of Jingle Bell Bark, p. 235; July 17, 2006, review of Chow Down, p. 140; July 23, 2007, review of Hounded to Death, p. 47.
San Francisco Chronicle, March 10, 1996, Alix Madrigal, review of Underdog, p. 9.
School Library Journal, January, 1987, review of Double Dare, p. 87.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1986, Lisa Shelton, review of Double Dare, p. 226.
Laurien Berenson Home Page, http://www.laurienberenson.com (May 14, 2008).
Romantic Times Online, http://www.romantictimes.com/ (May 2, 2008), Toby Bromberg, review of Hot Dog.