Here Comes Santa Paws by Laurien Berenson blends a cozy mystery with fantastic characters along with tidbits about dogs.  As the story progresses readers attempt to solve this “who done it” murder right with the main character Melanie, ever the amateur sleuth.

The plot begins with Melanie’s Aunt Peg calling her to announce someone left three Australian Shepherds puppies in the Christmas stockings at the end of her driveway. While visiting her Aunt and playing with the puppies Melanie gets a frantic call from her good friend Claire Travis, now married to Melanie’s ex-husband.  Taking on a personal shopper gig in the affluent town of New Canaan, Claire gets more than she bargained for when, after dropping off some gifts, she stumbles over her newest customer’s dead body in a private estate. The homicide victim Lila Moran has a secretive and untraceable past that might be tied to a reclusive but well-known socialite. Melanie must be very careful not to be seen as a suspect by the police as she gathers disturbing clues.

Anyone who has not read Berenson should venture into this cute and humorous mystery. The reader will feel they are a part of the story whether investigating the murder, playing with the darling puppies, or setting up holiday decorations.

Elise Cooper:  Do you enjoy writing the Melanie Character?

Laurien Berenson:  She is like a good friend of mine who has a lot to say.  I am invested in these characters. Since I am also a reader I relish plots that are character based, and mine is certainly that way. I enjoy writing a series because with standalones the characters are missed and there is the feeling that they are lost, similar to when a friend moves.

EC:  Why did you have the puppies Australian Shepherds?

LB: The main dogs in the story are poodles since I have been a poodle person for over thirty years.  They remain the dog breed of the books.  But my editor wants me to branch out and be more dog oriented.  Now the books have another breed featured along with the poodles.  I do feel an obligation to show people how much fun the world of dogs is, and to educate people about dog breeders, how they behave and what they do.

EC:  Since some of the dogs in the story are getting older do you think about having to put them to sleep?

LB: The worst part of having a dog is knowing you will probably outlive the dog.  We just lost a dog in the spring who died at the age of ten.  I thought I was going to have more time with her.  I keep asking to give me a little more time with my pets.

EC:  So this story blends puppies and Christmas?

LB:  I think buying a child a Christmas puppy is a terrible idea.  People do it because they think how exciting it will be for a child to wake up with a puppy under the tree.  But they do not realize the puppy is traumatized.  Anyone who brings a puppy into their household needs to slowly introduce the puppy to their new home. Puppies like to sleep a lot and children do not understand that and will want to constantly play with their new friend.  This will just exhaust the puppy.

EC:  It is obvious you are a dog lover?

LB:  Dogs are a stress reliever when things go wrong.  They have a way of pulling people out of themselves and making them feel better. They give unconditional love.

EC:  Moving away from the dogs, can you explain the quote, “Conversation is a dying art.”

LB:  It is true.  No one talks, they text.  People go to dinner and everyone is looking at their phone.  I think, ‘why did you even go out.’  As a writer, I get ideas from the current culture that finds its way into my stories because things are on my mind.

EC:  You also speak of debutantes?

LB:  Aunt Peg is near 70.  She lived in a different time and has a different background.  I grew up in Greenwich Connecticut and had many friends who were debutantes.  One of the nicest things my mother did for me is to not make me go through that process. 

EC:  You describe the Connecticut setting?

LB:  I want my readers to form their own picture and get a sense of place.  I hope they get a personal feeling so that people can feel the lives the characters are living. For example, I talk in the book about Shippan Point, a small peninsula that juts into Long Island Sound. It is a neighborhood of large homes, yacht clubs, and private beaches.

EC:  Interesting that Melanie has a good friend, Claire, who is now married to her ex-husband?

LB:  The first book of the series had Melanie and her son Davey on their own after the divorce. Claire shows up a few books later after she started dating Melanie’s ex.  At first, they did not get along since Melanie did not want Davey to spend time with Claire because she knew nothing of this woman.  But over time, they became quite good friends. Now Melanie is happily married to Sam, the perfect husband, has two boys, and owns six dogs: five poodles and Bud, a mixed breed.

EC:  Can you give a heads up about your next book?

LB:  A murder takes place when Aunt Peg is judging a dog show.  The Westminster Dog Show will be the background. Aunt Peg is a strong character: independent, successful, smart, and a very compatible partner to Melanie.