What Dick Francis is to horses and England, Gerald Hammond is to dogs and Scotland. His latest tale (no pun intended), Twice Bitten, continues the story of John Cunningham, owner of the Three Oaks Kennels and Scottish trainer of hunting spaniels.
When Mim is born, she is a throwback to an odd-looking, high-strung type of spaniel called a Clunie, and Cunningham doubts she will ever become a working gun dog. He signs her papers over to Daffy, one of the kennel girls, who wants to train a show-quality dog of her own. Daffy and Mim start out fine, but in a few unfortunate incidents, Cunningham’s prediction comes true, and Daffy reluctantly sells Mim to a neighbor, Quentin Cove, who has expressed interest in her.
Much to Daffy’s dismay, she later sees Mim perform flawlessly at a show, but when she tries to congratulate Cove and visit her former pet, Cove stops her cold, stating that it would only confuse Mim and to please keep her distance. Cove is equally cool to Cunningham, revoking training privileges on his grounds that he previously allowed and straining relations between the two. Cove’s feed foreman, Dougal Webb, is another odd duck, impressed by the trappings of wealth and given to oblique threats.
Cunningham sees more of Webb than he would like, since Webb is courting another of the kennel girls. When a badly burned body found in the woods is identified as Webb, Cove and Cunningham team up to solve the murder despite their animosity, since each has a reputation at stake.
Twice Bitten offers an interesting peek into the life and mores of Scottish society. It is interesting to compare how very differently the Scots treat their dogs -- as more of commodity than the beloved status most Americans tend to give their pets. Not to say the Scots don’t care for their dogs or about them, but they just seem so much more matter-of-fact about it all.
Oh, and if you dinna ken the Scottish dialects, dinna fash yourself -- sometimes it gets a bit thick, but that just lends believability to the various characters. Whether you are a dog admirer, sporting enthusiast or mystery fan, you’ll enjoy Twice Bitten.
--K. W. Becker