Interview with Tracy Carter, author of Dogged Pursuit (Veronica Kildare K-9 mystery series, Book 1)
Today it gives the Indie Crime Scene great pleasure to interview Tracy Carter, whose debut novel Dogged Pursuit (Veronica Kildare K-9 mystery series, Book 1) was published on March 22, 2023.
Dogged Pursuit is the first novel in your Veronica Kildare K-9 mystery series. What can you tell us about Veronica, your main character?
The formation of Veronica’s backstory was rooted in my career as a legal assistant, during which it occurred to me decades ago (prior to the era of mass shootings that have devastated this country), that it probably was not extremely safe for those of us employed by the prosecutor’s office to be accessible to anyone just walking in off the street. Defendants could be very unhappy with us and threats were made. Veronica, my main character, begins a new career as a professional dog trainer far away from her past and a devastating incident of workplace violence. She took shape quickly once I ascertained that she would be traumatized, but tough, relying on the steadfast love and close bond she shares with her dog to forge a new career as a dog trainer in a new state. I focused on pulling readers into the world of a relatable, tenacious female character — who had a heartwarming relationship with her father — and was bolstered at every turn by the love of a phenomenal dog.
Veronica forms a deep bond with a search and rescue dog, Leda, in Boulder, Colorado. How important is Leda to the story and how much did you draw on your own experience in training dogs?
In my 20s, I began working as an assistant trainer for a highly respected dog obedience school, and then added training in rally and agility to the mix. (Portions of obedience training sessions can be found in each book, as it is still a passion of mine.) My goal for the series transformed once I extensively researched the varied ways dogs can be of service to people, and that helped me define this series in a specific way. Dogged Pursuit is not simply a mystery in which the protagonist owns a dog. The featured dogs are never on the sidelines, but interwoven through every facet of their humans’ lives, just as my wonderful retrievers have been in my life. At its heart, Dogged Pursuit is the story of the powerful, healing relationship and impressive teamwork between Leda, a mistreated former rescue dog, and her traumatized owner. Leda gives Veronica affection, hope, courage, and sometimes — most importantly — back-up!
Veronica is drawn into the search for a missing scientist, and with Leda at her side, she sets out to comb the Roosevelt National Forest, part of the Rocky Mountain National Park. How do you research the detail of such a place, and did you visit?
When it came time to decide where to set Dogged Pursuit, beautiful Colorado was the natural choice of setting. I lived near Boulder previously and enjoyed the plethora of trails available for hiking, jogging, and biking that crisscross the state. My father, my siblings, and I spent a significant amount of time hiking with our collection of dogs all along the Front Range, and I have been on most of the trails in the book.
For additional detail on trails, elevations, and forest roads, I research online using the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and Boulder County Open Space maps. I did make slight changes to the area in which the last action scenes occur once I consulted a topographical map of the national forest with a massive magnifying glass. Quite a while had passed since I hiked that spot and I needed the terrain to work with, and not against, my main character. (Interesting fact: A portion of Roosevelt National Forest burned in a devastating wildfire several years ago. Certain trails were closed for a time to allow aerial mulching by helicopter to help combat the erosion of unstable soil caused by repeated flash floods. I can only imagine what the wildlife was thinking as mulch fell from the sky above them!)
What made you write a story about a dog handler working with the police and in search and rescue? Colorado is a place where people do get lost in the wilderness, so having my main character work in search and rescue was a natural fit. Plus, the restorative energy of the mountains, wildlife and scenery are crucial in Veronica’s journey toward rebuilding her life. Real life search-and-rescue scenarios have been well-documented, and the abilities of those teams are fascinating.
Also, Veronica is vested in being a productive member of society by locating missing people and keeping drugs off the street in a state that has helped her recover from a horrific event. She “saves” herself from her own painful past a bit more each time she restores a lost person to their frantic family, or helps the police decipher a mystery.
You worked for many years as a legal assistant with international law firms and prosecutors’ offices. How far has your experience prepared you to write about crime and detection?
My experience as a legal assistant in Cleveland, Denver and London prepared me well in terms of understanding how criminal cases are constructed, the drafting of legal documents, and the investigative work that goes into prosecuting a case — although I tended to work primarily on more mundane matters (like real estate and corporate law) for the law firms.
I am also fortunate enough to have friends who are attorneys, magistrates, assistant prosecutors, medical professionals, veterinarians, search-and-rescue team members, and are in law enforcement. I have handy resources whenever I have a procedural question. The answer is usually just a text or phone call away. So far, my friends are still answering my calls!
Veronica and Leda are searching for Dr. Randy Jeffers, a scientist who seems to have been kidnapped just before he was about to appear as a witness in the murder trial of a pro basketball player. What can you tell us about the case and who may have kidnapped Dr. Jeffers?
This is a tough one to answer without giving too much away! Dr. Jeffers is the prosecution’s expert witness relative to the suspicious drowning death of the wife of an NBA star. The famous athlete faces a murder trial set to begin days after Dr. Jeffers’ mysterious disappearance. But the renowned professional also consults on a variety of other water-related issues, and as Veronica’s father and law enforcement delve more deeply into his ongoing projects, the dilemma of why he was kidnapped, and by whom, becomes increasingly more complex. Veronica and Leda face the most challenging and dangerous assignment of their career as they pick up the trail of Dr. Jeffers beginning in Rocky Mountain National Park and then traverse rugged Roosevelt National Forest in pursuit of the truth.
How do you set about building up the mystery in your novels? Do you think about plot first, or characters?
I focused first on building up enough suspense about the pivotal disappearance of the expert witness, by doling out certain clues, but not so many that the mystery was easily solved. I don’t outline, but I kept mulling over the plot in my head until I was satisfied with the escalation of the mystery. Mysteries have a unique element to them; they ask you to test yourself against the puzzle created by the author. Can you wade through the red herrings and misdirection and spot the culprit, or deduce the motive for the violent act central to the book? Being proved right in your suspicions as the reader gives you a thrill—or a tip of the cap goes to the writer if they have managed to mystify you until the big reveal.
Having said all that, I wanted the book to be driven by the characters as well. A level of intrigue exists at first about the reason for Veronica’s relocation out West. As main characters, Veronica and Leda are equally central to the story. Their path together begins at a dog pound, detours through an alley outside a prosecutor’s office in Ohio, and eventually leads them to Colorado. Their backstory is gradually revealed as they work on a perplexing disappearance with the sheriff’s office.
This is the first book in a mystery series. The second book, “Lawyers, Dogs, and Money” is due to be released later this year. How do you see the series developing?
As Lawyers, Dogs, and Money unfolds, Veronica joins her search-and-rescue partner, a deputy sheriff for Boulder County, in trying to ascertain the source of threats against Kadri Ilves, a co-worker of Sgt. Donovan's daughter at a high-end import/export business. The woman being targeted is a native of Estonia and has a long history of advocating for social justice issues. Veronica's father assists the investigation by researching Kadri's background, including her work to end racial disparity in prison sentencing, and legal claims she has filed relative to disputed lands in Estonia — a cause which may have put her in the crosshairs of the California branch of the Russian Mafia. The book concludes with a stunning showdown involving all the main characters, and a shocking final twist related to the central mystery.
Veronica will continue to train dogs for new vocations in upcoming books. The third book will feature a dog being trained as an endangered species search dog for a wildlife biologist. And Veronica and her father will continue to assist her search-and-rescue partner, Sgt. Tim Donovan, in unravelling mysterious illegal events they encounter. Also, she will keep mentoring her young assistant trainer who does not have much dog experience originally, but has a kind heart and just needs an opportunity to flourish. The character of Michael Fletcher has proven to be very popular, and I have big plans for him moving forward in the series. I personally love a book’s supporting characters when I read for pleasure, so I wanted to introduce a strong cast of secondary characters for readers to invest in and follow through each successive book. The concept of girl power presented in Lawyers, Dogs, and Money is meant to be uplifting.
Lastly, Veronica will continue to heal from the horrific workplace violence that served as the impetus for her career change, despite ongoing efforts at revenge by an incarcerated mass murderer.
Would you characterise your work as cozy crime, or is the answer less simple?
I love this question! I define it is a step up from a cozy but not quite a police procedural. I try to focus on the partnership and affection between humans and dogs — with a mystery in the mix in each book — and a bit less on hardboiled, violent crime that might not be as appealing to some readers. I don’t want to shy away from real-world issues like drug trafficking, though, and Veronica confronts a different and extremely serious nationwide problem in book three of the series.
As well as working in the legal world, you have worked as the horse identifier at two thoroughbred racetracks. What is a horse identifier and what can you tell us about the job?
The primary focus of the horse identifier at American thoroughbred racetracks is to ensure that every horse running in every race is the correct horse. This confirmation was previously accomplished by flipping the lip of the horse and verifying that their tattoo (which each horse received before they first ran in a race) matched the records in the official database. As of a few years ago, horses began getting microchipped instead, which requires a scanner being passed over the neck and shoulder to check the microchip number. The horse identifier also looks at the body of the horse to ensure that the markings, color and any other identifying characteristics match the official records, and performs administrative functions checking that each horse has the required health records and proper ownership documents. The job carries a lot of responsibility, but is a wonderful job if you love working outside around horses part of every race day.
You studied history at the University of Glasgow and graduated with an MA What brought you to the United States?
Actually, the allure of post-graduate studies outside the United States took me from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, to Scotland! I was torn between the universities in Auckland, New Zealand, and Glasgow. Scotland won out because my mother’s family came to the U.S. from Scotland (centuries ago). I thoroughly enjoyed everything about residing in another country (except for haggis), made lifelong friends, and travelled on school breaks across the United Kingdom and Europe on the ubiquitous student Eurail pass. I also got to experience Northern Ireland and Ireland — where my father’s ancestor lived before coming to Pennsylvania just in time to fight in the Revolutionary War. (Readers will notice quite a lot of Irish names in my books, including Cavan County which is a true county in Ireland, but not in Colorado.) And as a fan of Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground, I was especially thrilled to see the Lipizzaner Stallions perform in person in Vienna!
Tell us something about your own dogs and how important they are to you.
A couple of readers have asked me if Leda is based on a real dog, and the answer is a resounding yes. Like the fictional dog, my Leda was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever — an abuse and neglect case who had been seized by the county dog warden in horrible physical condition. I adopted her on the very day she was scheduled for euthanasia for a whopping $19 and set about restoring her to good health and building her confidence. Leda grew into a gorgeous, strapping, self-assured girl who repaid my devotion to her by saving me from an attempted middle of the night home invasion just weeks after I moved to a cabin in Boulder, Colorado. She and my golden retriever accompanied me as I hiked and jogged solo around Boulder and the surrounding counties. I had the joy of seeing their amusing antics and the reassurance of Leda’s protective streak. I cannot imagine my life without my dogs, my constant companions when hiking (or writing), and my source of happiness. Every one of my dogs has been a rescue, and I enjoy working with them to overcome their pasts, and watching as they become happy and healthy much-beloved members of the family. The only thing better than a great mystery is a great dog!
Thank you very much for interviewing me!
Thank you for answering our questions!
About Tracy Carter:
TRACY CARTER graduated from the University of Glasgow, Scotland with a master’s degree in history. Her lengthy career as a legal assistant has included stints at international law firms and prosecutors’ offices, followed by jobs as the horse identifier at two thoroughbred racetracks — all while training dogs in obedience and rally. She lives near Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her husband and Llewellin Setter (aka the diva). The second book in her Veronica Kildare K-9 Mystery Series, “Lawyers, Dogs, and Money” will be released later this year.