No Man’s Land by Sara Driscoll has a unique plot. A suspenseful mystery, whose main characters include K-9 dog teams, brings the characters to life. For first time readers, Driscoll is the pen name for Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan, who also wrote the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries.

The story begins with Meg Jennings and her K-9 companion, Hawk, exploring the ruins of a deserted building to sharpen their skills without the life-or-death stakes they face as part of the FBI’s Human Scent Evidence Team. While searching, Hawk finds the body of an elderly woman. The victim was left to die alone and unable to save herself. Through the investigation it is discovered that there is a spree of such killings where the elderly is left at urbex sites to die. Meg and her team must find the culprit who is particularly cruel, first kidnapping them, and then leaving them to die alone in a decaying and scary structure.

Interestingly, the writers put the vocabulary pertaining to the plot at the beginning of each chapter.  In this installment, urbex or urban exploration is an activity that people do to observe condemned sites that are left to deteriorate on their own.

The cast of characters teaming up with Meg are her sister Cara, who is a dog trainer and yoga instructor, Cara’s boyfriend Clay McCord, who is a journalist with connections and research skills, Chuck Smaill who helps find the best urbex sites to search, Meg’s boyfriend and EMS firefighter Todd Webb, and the rest of the search/rescue dogs: Blink, Saki, Coy, and Lacey.

This interesting premise has a subject matter that is endlessly captivating. Strong, confident, and likeable characters work together to help unmask danger and murder.

Elise Cooper:  Sara Driscoll are two authors writing together in the same manner as Charles Todd?

Sara Driscoll:  Yes.  I am Jen J. Danna and I write with dog trainer Ann Vanderlaan.  We write remotely because we do not live close so we depend a lot on the Internet.  At first, we wrote “trunk” novels, which means we put the stories in the trunk, never to see the light of day.

EC:  How do you write together?

SD:  We build an outline in the beginning.  Then I write each chapter, and send it to Ann, who rips it apart.  We then re-write it again.  Ann always picks the themes and the chapter titles. We like to have vocabulary at the beginning of the chapters to introduce the context and teach the lingo of the plot. 

EC:  Does the FBI really have canine teams?

SD:  It is actually a little bit of a challenge to write this plot. We need to involve the dogs in the entire case, which is not usually how it happens in the real-life cases. Handlers associated with the FBI are not really a part of them, but are more like external contractors that come with their own dog.  To keep the FBI involved we made the murders happen across state lines. 

EC:  Why make Hawk a black lab?

SD:  He is based on the dog I grew up with named Shady.  Hawk is written in Shady’s memory.  Labs are great dogs with a good drive.  They also make wonderful family dogs because they are very gentle.  Professionally, he is partly based on Ann’s therapy dog, Kane, who she trained for nose work so we could properly write this series.

EC:  How would you describe Hawk?

SD:  Loyal, driven, and goal oriented.  He was rescued by Meg as a puppy.  She was a canine officer who lost her partner, a German Shepherd while bringing down a suspect. To recuperate she went back to her parents and found a black lab puppy that had contracted the parvo virus. Meg helped nurse the puppy back to health and trained her to be a rescue dog.

EC:  How would you describe Meg?

SD: She is stubborn, loyal, takes on more than she should, and is a straight-shooter.  She chose the canine career because she loves animals.

EC:  Why the urban locations?

SD:  For the thriller aspect.  Many years ago, I stumbled upon a website called Opacity that has photographs of abandoned places.  Tom Kirsch runs it and takes fabulous pictures.  I was impressed by his ability to create an atmosphere with his photography as well as the range of locations and type of structures. It is not an exploration of nature, but of urban sites. We realized that urban exploration would provide interesting, challenging, and dangerous search locations for the K-9 teams. The title of the book comes from the space between the fence and the building. 

EC:  Did you ever do it personally?

SD:  I did a little bit of it.  My daughter took a photography course in her final year at the University.  Her project was on urban decay.  Going into the sites was very dangerous.

EC:  Can you give a shout out about your next book(s)?

SD:  I will be writing on my own a new series out in July about NYPD negotiators.  The next canine book is titled Leave No Trace and will probably be out in November.  It is about a hunter who is hunting people instead of animals in Georgia.