Sniffing out a crime, dog-style…

09 +00002013-01-23T16:00:39+00:0031 2012 § Leave a comment

Snow hound, snow bound

Snow hound, snow bound

Have you noticed how often, both in real life and in fiction, the evidence of a murder or some other crime is discovered by a ‘man walking his dog’?  I first spotted this as a child when the World Cup trophy (also known as the Jules Rimet Trophy) was stolen after the 1966 London World Cup final and later found in a garden in Northwood by a dog named Pickles.  It was subsequently stolen again in 1983, this time for good, probably because there were no intelligent dogs near the sports complex in which it was being displayed in Rio de Janeiro!

In 2008, I was stranded for some hours at Chicago Airport and was fascinated to see the sniffer dogs at work there.  One, a beagle, unerringly insisted on returning to a little old lady who was evidently carrying some banned substance in her large holdall.  She was led away, while the dog returned to the main concourse, exuberant; dogs love to work and to feel that their work is valued.

Many years ago I dog-sat for some friends.  I took the visiting dog – an Irish setter – for a walk.  He was fine until we reached an old, disused railway track, when he refused to go any further.  He started to growl and his hackles rose.  I don’t know what unspeakable horror or danger might have lurked in that isolated plot of scrubby wasteland, but I took his advice; I didn’t stay to find out!

Many newspaper stories describe how bodies or clues have been detected by early-morning dog-walkers.   Such a discovery, this time of the body of the murdered landscape gardener Jo Yeates near a Bristol golf course by a couple walking their dogs, offers a recent, tragic example.

Some crime writers frequently feature dogs in their work: dogs appear in several Ruth Rendell novels, including The Monster in the Box, in which the villain, Targus, excites Inspector Wexford’s suspicion by not being accompanied by the dog from whom he is usually inseparable.  David Benioff endears us to the hero of his offbeat humorous thriller The 25th Hour by having him rescue an injured and abandoned pit bull terrier (which bites him, but he perseveres with it) in the early pages of the novel.  This dog, which he names Doyle, subsequently becomes integral to the plot.  (This is a brilliant novel which I’m just reading; I shall review it shortly.)  I have recently also had the privilege of reading an early draft of Scarecrow, by Matthew Pritchard, which will be published by Salt in August 2013.  The hero of this book, a lone journalist, relies on a dog to give him the company and friendship that he seems unable to obtain from humans.  (This writer is one to watch, by the way.)

I have a dog myself.  He doesn’t feature in my novels – yet.  As you may already know from a previous post, he is an English pointer with a very highly-developed sense of smell.  He can locate a pheasant from 500 yards or any bitch on heat within a radius of three miles.  He, too, likes to work.  Although he is normally very gentle-natured, he can be fierce if he thinks that his people are threatened.  He wouldn’t make the best of security dogs, because he is too fond of his creature comforts (fire, Aga, bean-bag) and I don’t know how good he would be at helping to solve a crime.  I suspect that that would depend on whether he were in work or play mode at the time, but if the villain were a poacher with pockets stuffed with game birds, he’d be brilliant.

At the moment, he is very excited about the weather, and definitely wants to play (See image!).  If there are mysteries or unseen horrors concealed beneath the snow, he may be too busy enjoying himself to find them!

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