Ballantine, $25.00, 267 pages
When Realtor Babs Gallagher discovers a community of squatters living in foreclosed houses in Reno, Nevada, she enlists friends Mags Rogers and Jeep Reed to gather support to help those hardest hit by the current economic downturn and housing market collapse. After a murdered man is discovered in one of the abandoned houses, community interest in the situation intensifies. Along the way, crooked bankers and bureaucrats, hardhearted company owners, politicians looking to garner media airtime, drug dealers and cattle rustlers make appearances in this cluttered and uneven mystery by writer Rita Mae Brown. Like her Sneaky Pie series, Ms. Brown incorporates the thoughts and dialogue of beloved pets, in this case dogs Baxter, King and Howie, into the action and storyline. Although torn from today’s headlines, the setting, plot and characters provide a thinly disguised backdrop for a lecture on the causes and effects of the present banking and mortgage crisis. Readers with like-minded views and fans of Brown’s other works may perhaps enjoy.