There is something in the way that SF writers will flirt with the crime genre, but rarely the other way round. Perhaps it is that problem solving relates to what the characters in both crime and the best SF novels do. Plus some kind of action is almost always guaranteed. While SF writers may feel confident in tackling the crime or thriller genres, fewer crime writers do as they are more comfortable setting their stories in the past or present rather than the future. It is not surprising, then that a talented author such as Mike Resnick is just as happy setting his story in a contemporary world as in a futuristic or fantastic one.
‘Dog In The Manger’ is a private-eye novel. Unlike so many of the authors of this kind of fiction, Resnick is well aware of the reality of private sleuthing. Domestic issues such as adultery are fine but as soon as a crime such as murder is committed, the professionals take over, cutting out the hired man. As with so many fictional private-eyes, Eli Paxton ekes out a living always hoping that the next client will pay him enough to cover the bills. He was also an honest cop before going into the business. The trigger for the events is when Eli is asked to trace a missing dog. Hubert Lantz professionally shows pedigree dogs for other people. The missing animal is one that Lantz shipped back to the owner for breeding purposes. The dog never arrived. Curiously, people associated with the shipment of the dog start having fatal accidents and Eli suddenly becomes an inexplicable target for the bad guys. Throughout, Eli’s focus is on finding what has happened to the dog but, during his investigations, he uncovers information about other crimes. As in any good detective novel, there are red herrings and other distractions before the resolution is reached.
There is a much vaunted opinion that you should only write about what you know. For those who write SF, fantasy or horror that is hopefully not the case; for crime writers, the jury is still out. The background to ‘Dog In The Manger’ is the world of showing dogs, something that Eli Paxton knows nothing about but author Mike Resnick does. He and his wife used to breed and exhibit collies and this adds a touch of authenticity to the novel.
As a bonus, this volume contains a short story, ‘Even Butterflies Can Sting’, also featuring Eli Paxton. Eli has been hired as bodyguard to a rich old woman who has decided to wear her very expensive earrings to an event. Eli is supposed to protect them, but, during the evening, her rival dies after sipping her drink. This is a short neat story which shows off Resnick’s skill at storytelling.
Despite the contents of this volume being totally within the crime genre, both the novella and the short story are excellent examples of how to tackle this kind of writing, merging action with touches of humour to make the characters real.