Four Corners-area mystery lovers who love dogs — or dog lovers who also love mysteries set close to home — have reason to cheer.
With “Killing Trail,” Margaret Mizushima has launched a fine, southern Colorado-based mystery series featuring kind-hearted small-town cop Mattie Lu Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo.
Canine aficionados will be happy to hear Mizushima devotes plenty of ink to the dog star of her series.
In her Timber Creek K-9 Series debut, Mizushima calls on Robo to play critical roles in every step of the investigation into the murder of a teenager high in the Rockies. Robo locates the buried body of the victim, sniffs out drugs, comforts frightened children, protects Cobb from harm, tracks suspects as directed by Cobb, and points out others of his own volition with growls and bared teeth.
Robo even plays the part of potential murder victim — a role generally reserved for whodunnit sleuths at the point in mysteries when sleuths get too close to their prime suspects. In the case of “Killing Trail,” when the unknown murderer grows frustrated by Robo’s uncanny tracking abilities and throws tainted meat over the fence into Cobb’s back yard, Robo wisely turns up his finely tuned nose at it.
Mizushima, the wife of a veterinarian and an obvious animal lover, describes in absorbing detail the involved process by which Cobb trains, readies and works with Robo. The author makes clear, for example, the differences between K-9 searches aimed at finding hidden contraband and those tracking humans.
“Killing Trail” is set in the fictional mountain town of Timber Creek. Mizushima , who lives near Denver, was raised in the small, San Luis Valley town of Saguache. She says Timber Creek takes aspects from a number of San Luis Valley communities but is most like South Fork, just over Wolf Creek Pass from the Four Corners.
Though the book is her first, Mizushima understands the expectations of her mystery-reader audience. While Robo is an example of canine, and K-9, perfection, Mizushima’s human protagonist, Cobb, is flawed in all the right ways. As the insecure young adult of a fosterhome upbringing, Cobb in Mizushima’s assured hands is tentative professionally and uncertain in the ways of love, endearing herself to readers from page one.
As “Killing Trail” progresses, readers easily find themselves rooting for Cobb and Robo as they work their way through numerous suspects — in Cobb’s case, with street smarts, logic, and not a small amount of compassion for the shortcomings of her fellow Burnt Timber citizens, and in Robo’s case, with a nose that knows no bounds.
Mizushima reports she has finished the second installme nt in her series, which will be released later this year. Assuming Cobb and Robo remain at the top of their respective games, look for Mizushima’s sophomore effort to be another winner.
Scott Graham is the National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of seven books, most recently “Mountain Rampage” (Torrey House Press), the second installment in the National Park Mystery Series. Visit him at scottfranklingraham.com.