A Review By M. Wayne Cunningham

Near the end of Anne Barton's fascinating novel, A Switch in Time, Sheriff Pete Torgeson tells his deputy, Clay Caldwell, "There are enough red herrings in this case to lure a fishing fleet out to sea." The case the two are discussing is the fatal poisoning of Grandma Beulah Glasser, who has been done in by an overdose of digitalis dog pills prescribed by veterinarian, Erica Merrill, in this the second volume in Barton's Dr. Erica Merrill Mystery Series. And Sheriff Torgeson is right on when he refers to the number of red herrings in the case since author Barton, a retired Canadian veterinarian herself, is more than adept at using them to keep her readers interested and entertained. Trouble is, sometimes her red herrings turn out to be live bait.

Although Erica Merrill graduated top of her class in vet school, she's still got trouble establishing her practice in her home town of Boulder, a farming and ranching community of Mountain County. Her receptionist is inept and must be fired. Her competitor, Dr. Trent Somers, has already stolen away one of her employees and bears enough of a grudge against her to file a complaint with the State Board of Examiners. Her Dad is still shaking his head over why she became a vet, and her love life has gotten complicated, first with her high school sweetheart, Deputy Sheriff Caldwell, and now with the entry of a recently arrived medical doctor substituting for the town's long-time physician on an unexplained leave of absence so he isn't available when Beulah has her attack. But most of all Erica's a feisty woman in a man's world determined to be twice as good at what she does just to keep her practice going and her head above water.

But with all this baggage on her back it's no wonder she gets upset when she is questioned about why she prescribed the digitalis for the dog, whether she prescribed too high a dose or too many tablets and whether she was sure she gave them in a capped child-proof container to Beulah's granddaughter, Nicole Maynard, the nine-year-old owner of the ailing poodle. And the plot gets more complicated with where the pills are kept, who can access them, and what other pills, like aspirin, are kept nearby. Remember the red herrings Sheriff Torgeson referred to?

Then there's the family, related and extended. Who might want to see Beulah into an early grave? And why? How about the sister-in-law, Beryl? Or the daughter, Denise? Or Denise's estranged husband who is Nicole's father? Or Denise's boyfriend who gets run off by her husband? Could Beulah's long lost son still be alive? And what about the husband and wife housekeeping duo?

They've all got their own fish to fry but most frightening of all is the precocious nine-year-old Nicole, so adept at opening child-proof vials, keeping an inventory of the pills around the house and being obnoxious to adults she doesn't like? Is she capable of teaming up with her Dad to get at Beulah's substantial inheritance as Clay surmises at one point? More red herrings but somewhere too is the live bait.

While every mystery novel takes us on a fishing expedition of one sort or another, red herrings, live bait and all, Barton's book is definitely one whale of an entertaining tale that should net a lot of readers in its wake. Readers can reel in their own copy from Husion House Publishing at 1-866-485-5556 or by fax at 1-866-485-6665.


M. Wayne Cunningham writes his reviews in Kamloops BC. Formerly an English instructor and a senior manager in post-secondary education in three provinces he also served as the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Arts Board. A member of the Crime Writers of Canada and the Canadian Authors Association, his reviews have appeared in various publications including a weekly column he wrote for two years for the Kamloops Daily News. He can be reached at

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