"Chihuahua of the Baskervilles" by Esri Allbritten
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 275 pp., $23.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
As strange as it may seem, this debut mystery may put one in mind of "Scooby Doo" meets "The Philadelphia Story."
"The Philadelphia Story"-- Wherein several magazine journalists (writer and photographer) mix and mingle inside a household to the extent that they become more wrapped up in the family's private lives than in the event they are supposedly covering for the publication.
"Scooby Doo"-- Wherein a foursome of self-proclaimed mystery solvers with limited wardrobe accoutrements (plus the titular, ruh-ro-ing pooch) become entangled in paranormal-- or, allegedly paranormal-- mysteries.
"Chihuahua of the Baskervilles"-- Wherein three magazine journalists (two writers and a photog) are assigned to cover a paranormal mystery, then become the principal snoops in a murder mystery tied to the family whose members they are interviewing.
Debut author Esri Allbritten earns high marks for her portrayal of the three journalists, who are investigating the appearance of a phantom chihuahua in Manitou Springs, Colorado.
Their struggling magazine, Tripping, is backed by a Boulder orthodontist, who's a cousin-in-law of the woman who witnesses the phantom, one of her deceased pets, who's the inspiration for a successful line of chihuahua attire.
Incidentally, it would be an appropriate juncture to mention that Tripping has nothing to do with peyote or other hallucination-inducing substances; rather, it refers to day-tripping to paranormal destinations.
Unfortunately, the magazine has done more tripping, as in stumbling.
However, its snarky-mouthed triumvirate-- composed of a middle-aged Scotsman, a fashionista of a photographer (fired from National Geographic for getting too native with a native), and a struggling novelist-- approach their assignment with the zeal of Pulitzer Prize seekers.
Well, wouldn't they win a PP if they could record an actual paranormal experience?
Ghostly chihuahuas aside, Manitou Springs is blessed with all manor and spooking of haunted establishments, and even offers an annual re-enactment of a tragic young woman's wake, along with a coffin race.
People are just dying to win that race.
The author's trio of journalists and their magazine supply a marvelously offbeat premise (and promise) for a series that will travel far, particularly if she dials up the humor even farther.
Picture Kate Hepburn in a purple minidress chasing a glowing ogre through a swamp.
And then tripping.
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