Six Ostriches: A Dr. Bannerman Vet Mystery

Image of Six Ostriches: A Dr. Bannerman Vet Mystery
Release Date: 
May 23, 2023
ECW Press
Reviewed by: 

“offer[s] lovers of cozy mysteries and animal stories a heartwarming yet stimulating read, with a puzzle that hits the sweet spot between comfortably challenging and brain-buster.”

Amateur sleuths in cozy mysteries often have animal companions, and sometimes those animals help solve the crimes. In this case we have both, along with a fully animal context for the story, because this new cozy series is about a veterinarian with a super-sniffing dog.

Six Ostriches is book 2 of the series, following the title pattern of book 1: Fifty-Four Pigs. Six Ostriches launches with Dr. Peter Bannerman’s visit to an exotic animal farm to treat an ostrich who has swallowed something metallic. After being surgically removed, the object reveals itself to be a possible Viking artifact. This raises questions that would unsettle history if the artifact is proven real.

It draws the attention of an obsessed historian, among others. As the plot branches into subplots, the artifact seems connected to evil doings by a pair of heinous groups: white supremacists and satanic animal mutilators. Dr. Bannerman, who suffers from extreme curiosity on top of his compassion for animals and people, undertakes finding the connection between the artifact and the groups in hopes of stopping them.

Bannerman also suffers from extreme rationalism. As his wife notes, he’s always “examining the possibilities”; and as the narrative goes on to explain, “if there was any way at all to assign a number to those probabilities and calculate them, he would. To Peter, the world was nothing more than a series of giant interlocking math problems. Only the data was too often lacking.”

This makes him sound like an automaton, but in fact Bannerman is a personable and likable, multidimensional character. He’s interesting, amusing, and charming—and very smart. He happily self-identifies as a nerd, and enjoys people of the same type, of which the book is well populated.

The author makes it easy for readers to understand Bannerman’s mental processing. For example: “Normally, Peter’s thoughts were like bricks—solid, defined shape, stackable, one set on top the next until a useful structure emerged. [But in this case] his thoughts were like vapour—interesting, but amorphous and ephemeral, gone before he could commit the shape to memory. This was especially bad because one of the tendrils of vapour had started to assume a shape somehow related to the animal mutilations and bloodletting, but he had made the mistake of reaching for it quickly and it vanished, poof, like in a magic trick. He knew if he were patient it would come back, hopefully next time in the form of a brick.”

He’s aided in his investigations by his wife, Laura, who is of Icelandic descent and deeply knowledgeable about that history, as well as a researcher nonpareil. The story setting in Manitoba has a strong Icelandic subculture, related to Vikings, so Laura’s contributions help Bannerman untangle threads and make the obscure connections he seeks. Meanwhile, his champion scent dog, Pippin, helps him on the ground.

Bannerman and Pippin learn a lot about the crime scenes through their casual walks and concentrated training sessions. Pippin’s nose also leads Bannerman to evidence pertinent to the crimes. Bannerman shares his discoveries with his brother-in-law, Kevin, a police officer. This keeps Bannerman from being the kind of rogue amateur sleuth who stretches plausibility and makes readers groan and roll their eyes.

The story’s tone is light without being silly, and as others have noted, it brings to mind elements of mystery series by Alexander McCall Smith, Richard Osman, and Charlotte MacLeod/Alisa Craig. Characters are delightfully eccentric instead of annoyingly absurd or clichéd, and well developed without bogging down the narrative with detailed backstories or issues. The writing flows and the story informs readers about intriguing and unusual subjects without drifting off course.

At the same time, readers might be reminded of the most famous books about veterinarians, All Creatures Great and Small and its companion volumes. While those books are more memoir than novel, they contain the same generous spirit and love of animals and quirky people shown in the Bannerman stories. Indeed, author Philipp Schott is also a vet who has written memoir material, and it leads naturally into the fiction realm he’s now exploring.

Six Ostriches is both a good introduction to the series and a satisfying follow-up to its predecessor. Whether read individually or together, these books offer lovers of cozy mysteries and animal stories a heartwarming yet stimulating read, with a puzzle that hits the sweet spot between comfortably challenging and brain-buster.