Roll Over and Play Dead: Great Plot and Good Points


Roll Over and Play Dead, Joan Hess, 1991

Cover of 1991 paperback showing a shadowed man in front of a Georgian home looking at a basset houndRereading this at the age of 27 was quite a different experience from when I first read it–probably age 9 or so and while I liked animals, definitely not aware of what I was reading about. Also, 9 was not the target audience but I suspect stealing my mom’s Joan Hess and Elizabeth Peters novels made more sense than declaring at my 8th birthday party that Murder She Wrote was my favorite television show. Certainly it wasn’t any less weird than also stealing her Silhouette romance novels.

This mystery novel is one of Joan Hess’s early books in her Claire Malloy series. Claire, who runs an independent bookshop in a college town in Arkansas (Do you remember those things? The shops, not college towns. In addition to “Beth’s Best” a diner with awesome burgers, I also daydreamed about owning/running my own bookstore as a kid), is the heroine of our story.  When the beloved pooches she and her daughter are dog-sitting go missing, Claire finds herself investigating theft and murder.

Animal Pros:

  1. Class B dealers are an integral part of this story!I remember a friend getting quite irate at me when I expressed surprise that she planned to leave her dog outside all day in her suburban DC-area yard while she was at work. When I explained about theft, she claimed that no one would ever want to steal her mixed-breed dog. I wasn’t worried just about thieves wanting a new pet (though that does happen), but Class B dealers who sell animals to labs for testing (yes, there will be an upcoming post on animal testing, but not right now).There are thankfully only 8 active Class B dealers left in the United States. Class B dealers find dogs and cats from flea markets, “free to good home” ads, and even some shelters. In addition, some have had serious charges of “unlawful procurement” lobbied and proven against them (see the HSUS and Slate links below). Class B dealers then sell these pets to laboratories for experiments to be performed on them. Yes, like Legally Blonde 2 reminded us, testing is still performed on animals we otherwise consider pets.I have to give Hess props for writing about Class B dealers and bringing the issue to the attention of her readers. There’s a wonderful explanation of Class B dealers in chapter 2 from a dedicated though sorely underfunded animal shelter director.
  2. Community responsibility for animals, even from confessed non animal lovers. Rereading this book made me feel like I understood my mom a little better. My mom sewed gorgeous colorful bandannas for the dogs at my shelter after I told her about shelters finding that those helped get dogs (especially large dark dogs) adopted. She once came to a dead stop in the middle of a neighborhood street and waited minutes for a cat to leave the street for fear of hitting the cat. She also helped my girl scout troop call Animal Control when we found an injured but still alive and suffering squirrel across the street. However, my mom does not want a dog licking her, or a cat flank rubbing her. She’s highly allergic to cats and not the most comfortable around dogs. So while I genuinely appreciated her kindness toward animals and her support of my vocation, I wasn’t always sure I understood how it made sense to her. Part of me saw my mother in Claire Malloy’s determination to find and save the animals (in addition to solving the crime) despite mentioning clearly and vividly that she’s not a big fan of slobber or fur. You don’t have to be an animal lover to know that you have to do right by them.

Animal Cons:

  1. Poor presentation of pit bulls. While I know that people did use pit bulls as guard dogs and that yes, resident dogs (which is how the guard dogs in this book are described), can become aggressive and are more likely to bite, I didn’t like how this book described pit bulls. I had to keep reminding myself that this was in the early 90s and Hess’s description was no worse than how other media at the time described pit bulls. She does at least mention that the guard dogs were likely mistreated and abused which made it a bit easier for me.


This book is a little dated, but still great reading. The story moves along with compelling and humorous characters. As for the animal issues, the good completely outweighs the negative. Find a copy, then grab some treats and convince your animals to cuddle with you while you read it tonight!


For more reading
On Class B dealers:
Humane Society of the United States
U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health’s multi-part story on the theft of Pepper, a family dog
On Pit Bulls:
Bad Rap
Best Friends

About Bethany

Food-motivated though not food-aggressive bleeding heart animal lover and advocate. Views expressed do not reflect those of employers & may include bad words.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Roll Over and Play Dead: Great Plot and Good Points

  1. robena grant says:

    Love the post, Beth. Thank you for addressing these issues. Don’t believe I’ve read Joan Hess but am sure I would like the books.
    I featured a similar author on my site yesterday and think you would also enjoy her books. Linda O. Johnston writes mysteries about pet rescue and she volunteers at Pet Orphans. I have her in the Hot Seat this week so if you want to drop by and leave a comment or even better, a question, she will be responding to all questions next Tuesday.

  2. Bethany says:

    I just popped over and my immediate thought was “I have to read that book!” I’ll see if I can find a copy over the next few days so my question can be a bit more focused! Thanks for pointing it out. I’ve been a bit slow on my blogroll today!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>