Mystery lovers and dog lovers can team up to solve this
murder in Oxfordshire. As noted in many crime stories, dog-
walkers often report shallow graves or human remains
because these people are out in open areas with canine bone-
finders. THE WHITE SHEPHERD called Bonnie is with Anna
Hopkins at the start of the Oxford Dog-Walkers Mystery,
which promises to be a strong series.
Finding a dead young woman isn't how Anna expected to start
her day, and to make matters worse, she knew the dead girl.
There's no doubt that she was killed. Two other lady dog-
walkers come to Anna's aid, Tansy and Isadora. The police
get investigations under way, and warn Anna that this is
the third woman to be killed in Oxford recently. Perhaps
walking with a large rescue dog is all that kept Anna from
becoming the victim.
We learn that Anna had a tragic past which she would prefer
to forget. Her only remaining family is her grandfather,
comfortable in a care home. She shares her story with him
and finds a phone message from Naomi, the dead woman, who
was a researcher. Naomi claimed that she had found
something intriguing - shortly afterwards, she was dead.
Coincidence? Anna doesn't think so.
I really enjoyed the descriptions of the large, well-
behaved dog, and how Anna manages her despite not having
dog-owning experience. Working as an administrator in
Oxford's venerable Walsingham College, Anna shows us the
academic life. Actually, she shows around a visiting
American, Jake, who has made a career with the US Navy and
was once Bonnie's owner. But it's with the other two women
that Anna really shares her experiences and her private
conviction that Naomi's killer wasn't the serial murderer,
as Thames Valley Police understandably believe.
The Oxford setting will be familiar to fans of Inspector
Morse, and while this book is modern with e-mails and
smartphones, some aspects of the beautiful historic city
and colleges are unchanging, and familiar places include
Jericho and Woodstock. The celebrated modern poets and
receptions seem part of the picture, but each step takes us
further along a trail of danger and damaged lives. THE
WHITE SHEPHERD by Annie Dalton, who is English and has
written children's fiction, is a worthy addition to my
British crime fiction bookshelf.
First in the brand-new Anna Hopkins dogwalking mystery
series: an intriguing new departure for
award-winning YA writer Annie Dalton.
Anna Hopkins’ daily walk through Oxford’s picturesque
Port Meadow is rudely interrupted one autumn
morning when her white German Shepherd, Bonnie, unearths
a bloodsoaked body in the undergrowth.
For Anna it’s a double shock: she’d met the victim
previously. Naomi Evans was a professional researcher
who had told Anna she was working on a book about a
famous Welsh poet, and who offered to help
Anna trace Bonnie’s original owner.
From her conversations with Naomi, Anna is convinced that
she was not the random victim of a
psychopathic serial killer, as the police believe. She
was targeted because of what she knew. With the
official investigation heading in the wrong direction
entirely, Anna teams up with fellow dogwalkers
Isadora Salzman and Tansy Lavelle to discover the truth.
She had just reached the gates of Christchurch College
when Tansy caught her up. She pushed a wilted business
card into Anna’s hand. ‘It’s from the cafe where I work,’
she said breathlessly. ‘I’ve written my number on the
back. I just thought, in case you ever—’ She registered
Anna’s stony expression and pulled a face. ‘You probably
never want to set eyes on us again, right?’
Anna shoved the card into the front pocket of her leather
messenger bag, gave a curt nod and kept walking. The
autumnal light touched the ancient buildings with gold.
Somewhere bells rang, the clangorous medieval sound
mingling with the hum of traffic.
Throughout the interview she had longed for the moment
when she could go back to her safe solitary existence,
not having to monitor her expressions or explain herself.
But Inspector Chaudhari had shattered her illusion. I was
with the first-response team. It’s not something you
easily forget. With those brutally casual words he had
shown her that she would never now know any peace of
As she passed Carfax Tower a trio of teenage girls
hurried past, laughing, talking, flicking back their
glossy hair. She watched them rushing headlong into their
unknown future, girls every bit as self absorbed and
silly as she had been.
Anna began to walk faster, and her White Shepherd
obediently matched her pace. She mustn’t think. It felt
like if she could just keep moving she could put actual
distance between herself and the rising tide of horror.
Without slowing her pace, Anna fumbled one-handed for her
ear-buds, plugging herself into a talk radio podcast. She
needed impersonal voices; voices, and the physical rhythm
There had been a dark period in her life when mindless
walking was the only thing that had held her together,
and so she had walked and walked. Sometimes she’d walked
all night. When exhaustion finally stopped her in her
tracks, she’d slept – in doorways, on park benches, at
the bus station in Gloucester Green – while her
grandparents had gone frantic with worry. Once she’d gone
missing for two weeks. The police had eventually picked
her up on a street just off the Cowley Road. Her
grandparents had begged her to tell them where she’d
been, but she only knew that she’d been walking. Her
grandmother had cried over Anna’s grubby emaciated state.
She ran her a bath, put plasters on her blisters, tried
to persuade her to eat. For her grandparents’ sake, Anna
had made a superhuman effort to behave like a normal
sixteen year old: breathe out and in, chew and swallow,
even go to school, until the next time the furies in her
head drove her to walk out of the door and keep on
walking. Twice she’d been caught trying to let herself
into her old family home with her grandmother’s key with
no memory of how she’d got there.
That lost, driven teenager suddenly felt dangerously
close. Anna could feel her grief and terror. She
remembered how something from the external world would
occasionally break through the muffled undersea
sensations that had enclosed her – the smell of mown
grass from a college garden, a cafe door opening to let
out a babble of voices – before she was sucked back
under. She had walked so as not to feel, not to remember.
But sometimes, like today, memories would rise up, more
disturbingly vivid than when they were really happening.
In her memories, everything was burnished, glowing,
hyper-real. Whole scenes played themselves out before her
eyes. All the times she’d screamed at her mother for
being so stupid, for being so unfair, while her little
sister looked on, stricken. Worse than Anna’s shameful
memories were the ordinary good times; like the time she
and her brothers had attempted to toast marshmallows on a
beach in Cornwall in a near gale while her dad tried to
catch fish for their supper. The marshmallows had refused
to melt, then turned ominously black and finally burst
into flame. The fish had stubbornly evaded their father’s
hook and line. Her dad had ended up buying everyone fish
and chips, which they ate in the fish-smelling car with
the heater turned up high. Yet Anna recalled it as a day
of pure unalloyed happiness.
If she could just bring them all back for one hour, just
one hour . . .
Anna found herself sitting on a stone step. She could
feel the chill of the stone rising up through the denim
of her jeans. She was soaked through with cold
perspiration. Tiny black specks danced before her eyes,
and for a moment she didn’t know which Anna she was
supposed to be. Then she became aware of the solid warmth
of her White Shepherd pressing firmly against her hip,
pulling her back into present time, back into her body.
Anna dimly heard a passer-by say, ‘That’s the most
fabulous looking dog I have ever seen.’
And she remembered Naomi smiling up at her, her arms
wrapped around Bonnie’s neck.
Anna had offered to pay her for her investigations, and
Naomi had laughed. ‘Are you kidding! Finding out stuff is
like my drug of choice! I’m so lucky,’ she’d told Anna as
rain battered the car windows. ‘I actually get to do what
I love every day!’
Bonnie continued to press insistently against Anna. It
felt as if she was saying, ‘Are you OK? If not, I will
make you OK.’
Properly taking in her surroundings for the first time,
Anna saw that she was sitting on the bottom of the flight
of steps at the base of the Martyrs’ Memorial, just
across from the Randolph Hotel. All she had to do was
cross over to the Banbury Road, keep walking, keep
breathing out and in, and eventually she’d reach her
front door. She pulled herself shakily to her feet.