As I watch my geriatric beagle stumble around the house with a lampshade cone around her head, I'm reminded of several of my favorite books that feature dogs. My go-to author when I need some laughs is Jennifer Crusie, and she has some great dogs as secondary characters in her books. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve met some of the relatives of these mutts. They tend to be very loving but not too bright, rather like a certain beagle I know. I particularly like her books because unlike a lot of books featuring dogs, no one dies in the end and there’s a fun romance involved. Some days that’s exactly what you need!
The premise of Crusie’s The Cinderella Deal sounds completely unrealistic. Daisy, a starving artist, meets Linc, an uptight history professor, and helps him get a tenure-track job at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania by posing as his fiancée. In return, Linc pays her enough money to cover the rent. I’m sure you’re thinking this could never happen, but the reason Linc needs a fictional fiancée is that the chair of the history department at the college makes it clear that he will not be hired if he’s single. Of course, most people wouldn’t then fake an engagement… and then a marriage! Linc and Daisy decide to get married for a year, which will allow Daisy to paint and Linc to keep his job at the college.
Fortunately for Linc, who is cursed to wear all black and have track lighting in his apartment (how horrid!), Daisy’s a free spirit. She rescues the most bizarre animals, including Jupiter, a truly ugly mutt with a bad hip and only one functioning eye. At first Linc feigns disgust, but both Jupiter and Daisy wear him down with their warmth and love. Daisy realizes she’s lost when she spies Linc singing to Jupiter (to the tune of B-I-N-G-O), “Daisy Blaise had a real dumb dog, and Jupiter was his name-o”. And who can resist a hero who sings to ugly dogs while going on to live a life free of track lighting?
Another favorite Crusie novel with lots of lovable mutts is Getting Rid of Bradley. The novel begins with Lucy divorcing the absent Bradley, who apparently is a real cold fish and wanted by the police. After the divorce is finalized, she and her sister go to a diner across the street from the courthouse for lunch, and Lucy decides she is going to stand up for herself from now on, darn it! Her first act after making this decision is to beat off an attempted mugger, a disreputable but sexy looking Zack. Sadly, Lucy’s efforts are in vain, because Zack is a cop. WHOOPS! While Lucy defends herself from Zack’s attempts to say hello, a shot rings out and he tosses her to the ground. Lucy can’t believe that anyone would actually be trying to kill her, but several subsequent attempts are made on her life, and Zack decides that he absolutely must move in with her to protect her. Someone (Bradley or someone more sinister) wants desperately to get into Lucy’s house.
Clearly this is not your typical burglar, since he would probably avoid Lucy’s house like the plague because of her 3 dogs, Einstein, Heisenberg, and Maxwell. Zack finds them a nuisance at first, since Einstein is constantly knocking things over, particularly the telephone, and Heisenberg is constantly following him around wanting Zack to help him perform his one trick. Rat-fink ex-husband Bradley apparently found them a nuisance as well, even going so far as to attempt to drive Heisenberg away and drop him off in another location. So it’s no surprise that marriage didn’t work out. Eventually, though, Zack finds himself envisioning a life with Lucy and the dogs, even bringing her a truly disgusting mutt that he names Pete. Really, what more could a girl ask for?
But my absolute favorite Crusie novel is Agnes and the Hitman, which is co-written with Bob Mayer. I laugh out loud nearly every time I read this book. Agnes is a syndicated food columnist who’s just purchased River Oaks, an old southern manse in Keyes, South Carolina. The novel begins with an attempted dog-napping of Rhett, Agnes’ drooling basset hound, and soon turns into a complete farce, complete with the mob, a wedding, and honking flamingos. Agnes has to throw a wedding for her best friend’s daughter at River Oaks or lose the house to its previous owner, Brenda. Sadly for the bride, Brenda is her grandmother, completely bonkers, and determined to cheat Agnes out of her home. When a photo of Rhett wearing a truly hideous necklace appears in Agnes’ column, old mobsters pour out of the woodwork to try and discover where she’s hidden the necklace and $5 million from an old mob job, making it even more difficult to pull off the wedding.
Agnes, although as cranky as her eponymous column, has friends, and those friends are determined to find the money and protect her. Shane, the titular hitman, comes to River Oaks for a job, but stays for her excellent cooking, among other things (it is a romance novel, after all!). Perhaps I enjoy this book so much because I’m a Southerner married to a Yankee myself, and watching the New Jersey mob clash with South Carolina culture is a hoot. Or maybe I just want to live vicariously through Agnes, who puts her frying pan to good use by assaulting 2 cheating ex-boyfriends and saving Rhett from that dog-napping. By the end of the novel, Agnes owns the name “Cranky Agnes,” and that’s just the way Shane likes it.