Conant, Susan 1946–

views updated

Conant, Susan 1946–


Born 1946, in MA; married Carter Umbarger (a clinical psychologist), 1968; children: Jessica. Education: Radcliffe College, A.B., 1968; Harvard University, Ed.D., 1978.


Home—Newton, MA.


Educational researcher, 1978-88; writer, 1988—. Alaskan Malamute Protection League, Massachusetts coordinator, 1988—.


Mystery Writers of America (member of board of directors of New England chapter), American Crime Writers League, Alaskan Malamute Club of America, Dog Writers Association of America, Sisters in Crime, New England Dog Training Club, Charles River Dog Training Club.


Maxwell Award, Dog Writers Association of America, six-time winner, including 1991, for A Bite of Death.



A New Leash on Death, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Dead and Doggone, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1990.

A Bite of Death, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1991.

Paws before Dying, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1991.

Gone to the Dogs, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.

Bloodlines, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.

Ruffly Speaking, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1994.

Black Ribbon, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.

Stud Rites, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.

Animal Appetite, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.

The Barker Street Regulars, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.

Evil Breeding, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.

Creature Discomforts, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2000.

The Wicked Flea, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Dogfather, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Bride & Groom, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Gaits of Heaven, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2006.

All Shots, Berkley Hardcover (New York, NY), 2007.


(With daughter, Jessica Conant-Park) Steamed, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2006.

(With Jessica Conant-Park) Simmer Down, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2007.

(With Jessica Conant-Park) Turn up the Heat, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2008.


(With Milton Budoff and Barbara Hecht) Teaching Language-disabled Children: A Communication Games Intervention, Brookline Books (Cambridge, MA), 1983.

Scratch the Surface: A Cat Lover's Mystery, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to DOGWorld and American Kennel Gazette; editor of Pawprint.


Susan Conant is the author of a mystery series about a female detective and her two Alaskan Malamute Dogs, which has established her as a popular author. Conant's mystery novels feature Holly Winter, a dog trainer and columnist for Dog's Life magazine, who happens to stumble into mysteries no matter where she goes. Flanked by her two canine companions, Winter was described by a critic for Publishers Weekly as a "witty, independent, yet fallible sleuth with inordinate pride in her two Alaskan Malamutes." Winter's adventures typically take place in the worlds of dog breeding, dog shows, and a wide assortment of other dog-related venues.

Among the earliest novels in the "Dog Lover's Mystery" series are A New Leash on Death, Dead and Doggone, Paws before Dying, and A Bite of Death, for which the author won the Maxwell Award from the Dog Writers Association of America. In Gone to the Dogs, Winter investigates the disappearance of a renowned veterinarian named Oscar Patterson. Similar to other books in Conant's series, the novel mixes a great deal of dog-related information with the actual mystery. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted: "Conant infuses her writing with a healthy dose of humor."

In Bloodlines, Winter investigates a pet shop owner who has turned up dead, only to discover the man was in the business of purchasing puppies from a puppy mill. Amidst the investigation, Conant details the horror and inhumanity of puppy mills. A critic for Publishers Weekly commented that the "suspense is tighter here than in many previous Conant mysteries, and her polemics add a welcome bite. Paws up."

Winter continues her sleuthing in Ruffly Speaking, Black Ribbon, and Stud Rites. After a bookseller is poisoned and the hearing dog of an Episcopal priest begins having unexplained seizures in Ruffly Speaking, Winter becomes suspicious and investigates. The action in Black Ribbon takes place at a dog retreat called Waggin' Tail, where Winter and her canine companions find themselves investigating a murder. In Stud Rites, Winter is covering an Alaskan Malamute dog show in Massachusetts when the owner of a prize stud dog is murdered. Soon, one of the show's judges is also killed, and Winter must track down the killer among the show's participants. A critic for Publishers Weekly called Stud Rites "a frisky look at mayhem unleashed."

A Publishers Weekly critic called Animal Appetite an "engrossing mystery" where Winter's Alaskan Malamutes "steal every scene." Not surprisingly, dogs are central to this mystery, in which Winter examines the death of a publisher, a crime that has gone unsolved for eighteen years. Uncertain whether the death was murder or suicide, Winter unravels the mystery with the help of her doggie detectives.

The Barker Street Regulars takes Winter to a local nursing home where her dog is being trained to be a companion to the elderly. She befriends one of the patients, a Sherlock Holmes buff, and the pair is called upon to investigate a psychic who claims to be able to reunite patients with their deceased pets. "Conant," remarked a critic for Publishers Weekly, "cleverly incorporates Holmes and Watson lore into her plot and writes eloquently of what it is like to lose a beloved pet." Once the story is underway, according to John Rowen in Booklist, "it displays an agreeable mix of appealing characters, well-realized setting, and snappy dialogue."

Conant continued the "Dog Lover's Mystery" series with Evil Breeding and Creature Discomforts. In Creature Discomforts Winter suffers a case of amnesia after she falls down the side of a mountain. The Wicked Flea, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, is "a fun, fast-paced outing." Winter, still recovering from her head trauma in the previous novel, searches for clues in the murder of Sylvia Metzner, the owner of an aggressive golden retriever. The critic noted: "Holly remains an independent, witty, and delightful protagonist…. Committed fans of Conant's popular canine cozy series will be delighted.

Conant includes organized crime in the novel The Dogfather. In this novel, Winter reluctantly finds herself working as a dog trainer for a leading crime boss in Massachusetts, Enzio Guarini. When Guarini's sidekick is murdered, Winter is once again tangled in a mystery, only this time, the FBI is involved. A Kirkus Reviews writer described the book as entertaining and witty, and dubbed it "a must" for dog lovers. Following The Dogfather, Conant wrote Bride & Groom. In the novel, Winter prepares for her wedding to her veterinarian, Steve Delaney. Amidst her preparations, she investigates a series of murders in which all of the victims have a connection to her. Booklist reviewer Jenny McLarin called the book more of a "tail-wagger" than a "page turner." "The plot's not as well-behaved as the dogs," noted a Kirkus Reviews writer, "but there's not a cat-writer around with Conant's wit and breezy sophistication." In a review published on the Books ‘n’ Bytes Web site, Harriet Klausner maintained that Conant "always writes an excellent who-done-it."

Conant introduces a new sleuth in Scratch the Surface: A Cat Lover's Mystery. This story, set in Boston, features Felicity Pride, a moderately successful mystery writer whose books feature cats. Ironically, Felicity herself doesn't own or understand cats—her convincing writing about them is purely the result of research. One day, Felicity is drawn into a real-life mystery when she finds a dead man dumped at her home, along with a cat, one of the unusual Chartreux breed. Felicity is horrified, yet she is also shrewd enough to capitalize on the publicity that comes her way because of the murder. Her attempts to get to know and understand the cat, which she takes home with her, and to solve the mystery as well, are "sidesplittingly funny and very clever," stated a Publishers Weekly writer. The book's "tongue-in-cheek" quality was noted by Jenny McLarin in Booklist, who remarked that the author is willing to make fun of herself and the mystery genre as a whole. McLarin pointed out that Felicity displays some unattractive traits, but is an "endearing" character nevertheless.

Conant offers readers another Boston detective in her "Gourmet Girl" series, cowritten in part with her daughter, Jessica Conant-Park. "Gourmet Girl" is the screen name of Chloe Carter, a food aficionado in her twenties. In Steamed, Chloe meets a fellow gourmand online and they meet for a date, but a murder interrupts their meal as Chloe's date is stabbed. During the ensuing investigation, she becomes involved with Josh Driscoll, a chef who is a suspect in the case. A Publishers Weekly writer found this mystery "scrumptious" and recommended it for its characters, dialogue, and even its "mouth-watering recipes."

Chloe's adventures continue in Simmer Down. This mystery sees the development of Chloe's relationship with Josh, who has been hired as executive chef at an exciting, upscale new restaurant, Simmer. Before Simmer opens, however, a murder is committed using Josh's food processor. Chloe once again sets out to clear Josh's name, and she finds that the list of possible subjects is a long one. Harriet Klausner, writing for the Best Reviews Web site, recommended Simmer Down as a "delicious chick lit cozy."

In Conant's Gaits of Heaven, Holly Winter has married veterinarian Steve Delaney and is settling into wedded bliss. Her dog-training business is doing well and she has donated some of her time to charity, offering up classes in dog training for a charity auction for a local private school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, when she sets out to train the dog belonging to the winning couple—a misbehaving Aussie huskapoo whose masters are Ted and Eumie Green, a pair of psychotherapists—she discovers the root of the poor animal's problems is actually the family with whom he lives. Things go from bad to worse when Eumie dies from a drug overdose. Her daughter Caprice is understandably distraught, but also sure that the overdose had to have been murder, as her mother would never take her own life that way. As Holly settles in to investigate, she soon discovers that Caprice knows virtually everything about the members of her family, not all of it pleasant, and the weight of her secrets seems to have contributed to her own bulging frame and misery. Barbara Bibel, writing for Booklist, observed: "Conant tells her story with good humor. Her fans will enjoy Holly's latest case." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews remarked that "Conant's amusing and informative tale of noble dogs and ignoble humans has something for both dog devotees and mystery-lovers."

All Shots, the next mystery featuring dog expert Holly Winter, starts off when Holly is asked to help locate a missing dog, the Siberian husky that Mellie O'Leary, a mentally challenged young woman with a strong love for dogs, usually dog-sits. Her investigation takes her down the rabbit hole, however, into a world where she is only one of three local women going by the name Holly Winter. The first additional Holly is discovered at the house of Mellie's neighbor Zach Ho, dead on the kitchen floor. The next woman with that name comes looking for the original Holly, accusing her of identity theft. Holly sets out to determine what is going on, following the trail of an unusually colored malamute whose picture she found among the third Holly's belongings. One suspect, a former breeder known for his drug habit, might have already skipped town, leaving his animals behind to starve. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly observed that "Conant includes a lot of insider doggy details and lovingly depicts Holly's interactions with her malamutes."

Turn up the Heat, one of the "Gourmet Girl" series that Conant cowrites with her daughter, finds Chloe Parker investigating the death of Leandra, a waitress at the Boston restaurant Simmer, who was strangled to death with her own apron strings and left in a seafood delivery truck. Suspects abound, including Owen, the owner of the truck, who also happens to be engaged to Chloe's best friend Adrianna. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked: "The authors serve up another delectable dish of detection."



Heising, Wiletta L., Detecting Women: A Reader's Guide and Checklist for Mystery Series Written by Women, Purple Moon Press (Dearborn, MI), 1994.


Booklist, April 15, 1999, John Rowen, review of Evil Breeding, p. 1470; April 1, 2000, Jenny McLarin, review of Creature Discomforts, p. 1438; January 1, 2004, Jenny McLarin, review of Bride & Groom, p. 829; July 1, 2005, Jenny McLarin, review of Scratch the Surface: A Cat Lover's Mystery, p. 1904; September 1, 2006, Barbara Bibel, review of Gaits of Heaven, p. 60.

Drood Review of Mystery, January, 2001, review of Creature Discomforts, p. 17.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1999, review of Evil Breeding, p. 417; January 15, 2002, review of The Wicked Flea, p. 75; January 1, 2003, review of The Dogfather, p. 28; December 15, 2003, review of Bride & Groom, p. 1424; August 1, 2006, review of Gaits of Heaven, p. 755.

Kliatt, May, 2003, Janet Julian, review of The Wicked Flea, p. 15.

Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of The Barker Street Regulars, p. 116; February 1, 1999, review of The Barker Street Regulars, p. 148.

Publishers Weekly, May 25, 1992, review of Gone to the Dogs, p. 40; October 26, 1992, review of Bloodlines, p. 58; December 12, 1994, review of Black Ribbon, p. 53; May 27, 1996, review of Stud Rites, p. 69; February 3, 1997, review of Animal Appetite, p. 97; February 23, 1998, review of The Barker Street Regulars, p. 55; March 29, 1999, review of Evil Breeding, p. 95; February 25, 2002, review of The Wicked Flea, p. 46; January 20, 2003, review of The Dogfather, p. 61; January 12, 2004, review of Bride & Groom, p. 41; May 9, 2005, review of Scratch the Surface, p. 50; January 23, 2006, review of Steamed, p. 190; September 11, 2006, review of Gaits of Heaven, p. 38; September 10, 2007, review of All Shots, p. 43; January 21, 2008, review of Turn up the Heat, p. 158. School Library Journal, August, 2000, Pam Johnson, review of Creature Discomforts, p. 212.


Best Reviews, (February 7, 2002), Harriet Klausner, review of The Wicked Flea; (January 15, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of The Dogfather; (March 10, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of The Wicked Flea; (January 15, 2004), Vicky Gilpin, review of Bride & Groom; (June 28, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of Scratch the Surface; (June 6, 2006), Harriet Klausner, review of Steamed; (September 26, 2006), Harriet Klausner, review of Gaits of Heaven; (February 27, 2007), Harriet Klausner, review of Simmer Down.

Books ‘n’ Bytes, (June 12, 2007), Harriet Klausner, reviews of The Wicked Flea, Creature Discomforts, and The Dogfather.

Mystery Reader, (May 30, 2007), review of Creature Discomforts.