Reviewing Dash, PI by Carol Lea Benjamin

If you must leave your dogs at home while you go on vacation, do what I did: take along a ton of books and make sure that at least two of them have a dog-theme. But, be warned. You might not be able to easily find Carol Lea Benjamin’s, Dash, PI as it’s out of print.  I picked it up in the sale bin at the public library – and – having read all of Benjamin’s books on dog training,  I was pretty excited to find this one. I was hoping she’d be as good at writing fiction as she was/is at writing about dog behavior.

She didn’t disappoint me.

And, given the 1996 copyright date, she was also ahead of her time. Not so much with the main character – Rachel Alexander – a private investigator who lives in Greenwich Village: “… a place full of secrets … sexual secrets, passages across the gender lines that I thought, once upon a time, were immutable facts of life. But in this neighborhood of writers and artists, the facts of life were long ago rewritten, familiar images redesigned.”  (pg 10)

Rachel Alexander tells the story and she’s quick to acknowledge that although she gets “first billing,” it’s her canine partner, Dashiell (Dash), a pit bull, “…that’s the real teeth in the operation.” (pg 2)

As a matter of fact, with Dash, PI, you get two stories: This Dog For Hire and The Dog Who Knew Too Much. Here is some of what I liked about both:

1. Rachel Alexander and Dash are credentialed professionals. Before going out on her own as a solo investigator, Rachel worked for a guy who headed up his own investigative firm. Which makes her a professional. Dash is a certified therapy dog. Which makes him just as professional.

In the first story, they are hired to solve what appears to be the murder of a gay man and, in the second, they are asked to look into the supposed suicide of a young woman.

2.  As each story unfolds, telling details about Rachel Alexander’s personal life bubble to the surface and then fade away; she talks about her marriage and subsequent divorce, makes references to her therapist and her mom … with just a sentence or two Benjamin lets us hear Rachel Alexander’s inner dialogue, almost as if she’s carefully peeling away the layers of Alexander’s former life to show us who Rachel Alexander is.

3.  Gracefully woven into these stories are the nuggets of dog lore that reflect Benjamin’s professional experience with dogs. That they blend seamlessly into the story lines are the mark of a talented writer.

What I found myself thinking about after I’d finished reading Dash, PI, was how it was initially received by its first round of readers almost 20 years ago.  Back then, as a society, we weren’t comfortable talking about men loving men. Pit Bull Terriers were not anywhere on our horizon and, private investigators, even in books, were straight men.

All of these details have the power to be politically charged, but, Benjamin doesn’t let that happen. What she does is to tell two great detective stories that leave you wanting more.  Knowing that her novels are out-of-print makes me sad. But, knowing that they are out there somewhere, waiting to be found, makes for a sweet ending.








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