In my latest book Nothing Like a Duke a dog named Plato plays an integral role. From the first pages, when Plato is rescued by the hero, he makes his presence felt, occasionally steering human characters just where they need to be. In my mind he looks something like this.
I trace my enjoyment of dogs as fictional characters back to a few different sources. I was obsessed with Sherlock Holmes from a young age, reading my omnibus edition over and over. And The Hound of the Baskervilles was one of my favorite installments. The thrill of that famous sentence – “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” At the same time, I discovered a very different canine in an ancient copy of Lad: A Dog in my childhood home. How I wept over that story!
TV offered Rin Tin Tin and Lassie – dogs with an uncanny knack for rescue. But I have to say the books were more important for me. As years passed, I found other reading matter that featured dogs. Here are some of my favorites.
There’s no doubt that Nora Roberts likes dogs. I loved The Search, in which the hero and heroine bond over the training of an out-of-control puppy named Jaws. The heroine also trains search and rescue dogs and has three charming dogs of her own. These canines are real characters who affect the suspenseful outcome of the story.
Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series features a miraculous canine, a fit companion for a paranormal detective. Mouse the Tibetan temple dog sometimes has a nimbus of pale blue light. His bark can free people from enchanted sleep, and he seems to possess endurance and healing ability far beyond mortal dogs. He’s not bad with demons either. Woof!
I’m also a fan of Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy mystery series featuring Mary Minor Haristeen, a postmistress, and her menagerie. The animals carry on conversations in these books, often bemoaning the limitations of their human companions. They also have their own hierarchies and rivalries. I love it. Tee Tucker the dog is more of a foil or straight man to the cats here, but he’s still quite charming. Of course I love cat characters, too – but that’s another list.
Finally, there’s Asta in The Thin Man books and movies about Nick and Nora Charles. The terrier made an important contribution to these frothy tales. Sometimes it almost seems he joins in the couple’s signature witty banter. Nora Roberts' In Death series pays homage to Nick and Nora.
In short, for some stories, there’s nothing like a dog to liven things up. Do you have favorite dog characters?