Pets are heroes of Penn’s mysteries

Jan Jones

If you’ve ever tried to figure out what a pet is trying to say, you will like Kathy Manos Penn’s three-book set “Dickens and Christie” mysteries.

After Aleta Petkas Parker’s husband Henry died in a cycling accident, “Leta” took early retirement, packed up and moved from Atlanta to the quaint village of Astonbury in the Cotswolds of England. She lives in a converted schoolhouse with her beloved Dickens, a dwarf Great Pyrenees dog, and Christie, a regal black cat.

Leta has the unique ability to understand animals but does her best to hide that talent. Unlike the U.S., most businesses in England welcome well-behaved dogs.

In book one “Bells, Tails and Murder,” Leta is enjoying an evening out at the local Inn owned by Libby and Gavin. As the guests mingle, they are served amazing snacks made by local gem Alice. The woman cleans for many people in the village and always leaves a basket of home-baked goodies for her clients.

The following morning Leta takes Dickens for a walk near the cricket pavilion and discovers Alice’s body. Leta is an avid mystery reader and very observant. She notes several things about the scene.

While waiting for DS Gemma, Leta peeks into Alice’s car. There’s no sign of her purse or her phone, making Leta suspect foul play. She shares her thoughts with Gemma, but the officer scoffs at the interference.

When Leta, Wendy and Wendy’s mother Belle go to Alice’s flat to rescue her cat, Tigger, they find the place has been ransacked. It doesn’t take long to find Tigger, but when Leta sees one of her cherished figurines on Alice’s bookshelf, she feels compelled to do a tiny search and take a few pictures whether or not Gemma would approve.

Soon the entire village is abuzz with questions about who would harm dear Alice and why. The ability to understand animals gives Leta an inside track, as Dickens eagerly shares things he overhears or observes, and Christie’s keen eye for detail picks out details in Leta’s photos.

Before long Leta, Wendy and Belle discover that Alice had been stealing small items from most of her cleaning clients. Many of those items were sold at flea markets or on the internet. As they dig, they are appalled to learn that Alice was blackmailing several people.

With help from Dickens and Christie, Leta finds a link between Alice and several signed, first-edition books by Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie. Apparently, he was a dear friend of Belle’s mother. He had a special love for little Belle and sent her several books. She has kept the books and his letters hidden away in a small box. Now someone is planning to steal and sell them. That someone was Alice.

Through friendly chats with those being blackmailed, Leta sees how Alice would be hated, but none of her information would be worth murder. With the help of American journalist Dave and book historian Thom, Leta gets insights into the value of Belle’s books and letters, but this only adds to the list of potential suspects. It takes a late-night break-in and the heroics of Dickens and Christie to reveal the culprit.

In the end, nearly all of Belle’s treasures are recovered and safe, the small village is peaceful again, and Leta has many new friends.

For many of us, books are treasures to read, shared and cherished. Find a treasure at your public library. This would be a good week to check it out.


Book: Bells, Tails and Murder (Dickens and Christie, Book 1)

Author: Kathy Manos Penn

Publisher: Manos Penn & Ink

Year published: 2020

Number of pages: 235