Did you grow up with Lassie movies, Black Beauty, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, or any of those feel-good dramas about faithful dogs saving the lives of their companions/absolute strangers? If you've got a soft spot for an animal hero then our columnist Annie West has a TV show for you.
I started watching 'Inspector Rex' or Commissar Rex' as it's known in German years ago as a way of practising my limited German language skills. In the process I got hooked. This long-running Austrian crime drama is a regular on Aussie TV and has something for everyone, starting with the terrific view of St Stephens Cathedral in Vienna in the opening credits, through (English) song lyrics that still puzzle me and improbable plots where our canine hero saves the day in dashing style.
Rex is a police dog owned by a detective in the Viennese Mordkommission (murder squad - see it IS good for my German, though I'm hoping my vocab of words to do with sudden death won't come in handy!). Rex is more than just a trained pooch. He's the reason our guys in Vienna always solve the mystery and clean up crime. Devoted to his owner/partner, Rex can sniff out a body, a clue, or a trail with ease. He hears things no human can. He risks his life in death defying acts like leaping through plate glass windows to grab the gun arm of the villain just before he shoots. Rex is the ultimate protector and all round clever hero. Add to that a weakness for ham rolls (every hero has to have a weakness) and a sense of humour, as well as big brown eyes and the fact that he's a sucker for anyone in need of help and you've got a great hero!
I love the last five minutes of each episode when Rex comes into his own, chasing the baddy through streets and over rooftops, leaping to the rescue, or in some way outsmarting the evildoers. The truth is Rex is far superior intellectually to his human colleagues but they don't mind and he never lords it over them. He's happy with a game of tug of war and another ham roll.
So what if the plots can sometimes be a little cheesy? There's a fun ensemble cast of detectives: Stockinger (precise and punctilious but so appealing he even scored his own spinoff show - fantastic for anyone wanting to see the gorgeous lakes around Salzburg), Hoellerer (suspender wearing and addicted to ham rolls too), Christian (he of the sparkling blue eyes and cheeky smile) and Kunz (who never quite manages to come out on top of any tussle with Rex). There's a larger than life cigar smoking forensic pathologist, a retired policeman who mentors Ricky (Richard Moser seen here on the left, who is Rex's first partner in the Murder Squad) and a lovely vet Rex never quite approves of as she might come between him and Richard.
The show has been so popular it survived Richard's departure and kicked off again with Alex Brandtner (below), then later with a pair of investigators (where I'm sorry to say my interest began to wane - possibly because the focus was on them rather than the star of the show!). Rex has even gone to Rome where he continues to solve crime. I suspect the Italians don't quite know what a gem they've got as the Italian writers insist on the human detective solving crimes, often it seems by intuition, rather than using Rex to his full potential.
Are you a lover of animal shows? If so, which ones? Do you have favourite heroes on four legs or do you prefer your heroes human?
Annie's current release doesn't feature any dogs but it does have a dashing European hero and, oh yes, some lovely horses who take hero and heroine on a sleigh ride through snowy forests. You can read about PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE on Annie's website or grab a copy from Amazon or The Book Depository. Annie's also running a huge new contest with books to be won by seven different Australian romance authors. To enter go to the contest page on