Eleven Huskies: A Dr. Bannerman Vet Mystery

Image of Eleven Huskies: A Dr. Bannerman Vet Mystery
Author(s): 
Release Date: 
May 14, 2024
Publisher/Imprint: 
ECW Press
Pages: 
256
Reviewed by: 

Dr. Peter Bannerman, a Canadian veterinarian, returns for his third crime adventure. This novel, like its predecessors, begins and ends with the title animal subject that connects to a surprising and clever mystery involving humans.

But the animal theme remains constant through the series, in that Peter’s dog, Pippin, is a super-sniffer who always plays a role in finding important clues to solve the mystery.

This time around, Peter makes an emergency trip to Dragonfly Lake in northern Manitoba, where a sled dog team has been intentionally poisoned. The dogs are owned by an outfitter running a hunting/fishing lodge where Peter and his family have vacationed before and plan to again, shortly after he’s called in to help the huskies.

Just before Peter’s arrival, a float plane crashes into the lake, killing all aboard. What appears to be a tragic accident turns out to be murder, raising new questions about the dog poisoning. No reason to believe the events are related, but as Peter investigates, anomalies start to add up.

The next week when he returns with Pippin, his wife, and brother-in-law—who happens to be a Canadian Mountie—the plot thickens. Then Mother Nature interferes with wildfires (or are they caused by arson?), right when the Bannerman party is enjoying a long canoe trip in the area. They get trapped by the fire, and how they escape leads to resolving the mystery.

Peter’s investigative technique is more accidental than intentional—and therein lies this series’ intrigue and charm. He is drawn in by a combination of circumstances, caring, and curiosity, the latter being his most intense characteristic.

Peter considers himself on the autism spectrum, but as far as others are concerned, he’s a nice but strange guy with a mega brain. This makes him not only good at veterinary work but also at solving puzzles. Indeed, puzzles are a driving force in his life.

“Even when Peter was a boy, his father had called his brain a ‘puzzle-seeking missile.’ He asked his father the same ‘why’ questions other little kids did, but unlike most kids, where one ‘why’ triggered further whys like a series of dominos, after the first why Peter would propose a theory as to why that was. Soon he even stopped asking the first why and started the conversation with a theory, but only after he had weighed the question carefully in his mind and settled on the most plausible explanation.”

Thus, readers follow two detective tracks in the novels. The first is tangible clues everyone is finding and discussing. The second is Peter’s thoughts darting around the clues, enabling him, ultimately, to arrive at a solution.

“This process was always mysterious to him. His mind would meander somewhere that was pleasant but felt irrelevant, and then it would leap across a void to an unseen path that had been running in parallel all along. He wished he understood it so he could harness it properly, but at least it existed at all.”

Many sleuths in mystery fiction operate similarly, but keep connections to themselves. In the Dr. Bannerman stories, readers get to follow the mental by-ways, knowing that somehow they will prove relevant. Meanwhile readers have the usual challenge of solving the crime alongside—or ahead of—the sleuth.

During Peter’s cerebral sniffing-arounds, Pippin sniffs literally. In this case he confirms a mysterious sighting of a nighttime skulker, helping to narrow down the large field of suspects— everyone staying at the lodge, working at the lodge, or living at the nearby First Nations community—and finding a safe pathway out of danger.

The entire cast faces extreme danger in this volume. Normally, crossing killers is the threat; here, they face a hostile environment as well. An author’s note says the story was written before the massive 2023 wildfires in Canada, but it might as well have been afterward, for it shows the scale and horrors of the wilderness lighting off and devastating the countryside, and how swiftly fire can surround even people who are prepared.

Along with an engaging mystery laced with danger, readers gain insight into an “on the spectrum” mentality. For instance: “[Peter] was normally uncomfortable approaching strangers, but [his wife] had been encouraging him for years to view it like exercise—just as a healthy person needs to regularly exercise their body and their mind, they also need to exercise their sociability. He was the 98-pound weakling of sociability, so he did need the exercise.”

And:

“. . . surfing the web on his phone during downtime made him feel fidgety and anxious. Unless there was a specific news item he wanted to follow, or something he wanted to research, mindless scrolling was just that, mindless, and mindlessness was never something Peter was interested in. You might as well be dead, or a cactus or a rock, as be mindless, was his philosophy. So instead, he counted ceiling tiles, and light fixtures in the . . . waiting room, and calculated ratios between these and mused about the principles, if any, behind these ratios. He recognized this was a decidedly unusual way to occupy oneself, but he didn’t care. Math always kept him calm and happy.”

These and many more paragraphs woven into the story add depth of character. So even though the series is cozy—quiet in tone, cast with quirky personalities, including a sleuth-helping pet, and all violence off-stage—there’s a lot of humanity to enrichen the plot.