Article published on March 1, 2016.
When nudge and nb contributor, Erin Britton, suggested she could write a piece on books about cats that solved crimes my jaw dropped. And once I’d lifted it back into place I just had to say yes – if only to see what she would come up with.
And now I have her copy I’ve had to search Amazon for the titles to see if they’re not just a figment of Erin’s hyperactive imagination. But no, they exist and to be honest I should have trusted Erin in the first place as she was good enough to provide our 12 Murders of Christmas wherein she gave us some seasonal Noir-ish reading ideas.
So here you are, lovers of cats and crime fiction, and don’t say we don’t cater for minority tastes!
There’s nothing quite like searching the shelves of a secondhand bookshop looking for hidden treasures. You might find a valuable first edition, or maybe a new title by a favourite author, or maybe if you’re really lucky you’ll find a shelf of books with titles like The Cat in a Jewelled Jumpsuit, The Litter of the Law, and Pawing through the Past. For it seems that there is a [both popular and populous] subgenre of cosy mysteries where a cat is responsible for solving the crime. Some of these cat detectives are professionals, some are merely meddling amateurs, but all of them apparently demonstrate excellent investigative skills.
It’s obviously a brilliant idea, although it’s not immediately clear how the narrative allows for the cat to know whodunit. Does the cat gather all of the suspects in a room and then sniff out the criminal? Would a dog not make a better crime fighter? More importantly, why would a cat want to wear a jewelled jumpsuit? It just doesn’t seem practical for either day-to-day visits to the litter tray or undercover work tracking criminals.
Perhaps it just depends on what kind of detective you need? Cat detectives certainly seem to be a lot of people’s saucer of milk. Perhaps for some crimes and some kinds of criminal, a cat detective really is the best choice? With that in mind, the best cats to call in case of emergency are:
- Midnight Louie
Biographer – Carole Nelson Douglas.
Appearance – Black, well groomed, slightly overweight.
Special Skills – Being short, dark and unobtrusive. Also possessed of a particularly well-trained nose.
Finest Moment – In Cat in an Aqua Storm, Midnight Louie and his human partner Temple Barr find themselves embroiled in murder and mayhem at a striptease convention. When the death of a contestant found hanging from her own G-string is closely followed by the murder of other contestants, it’s lucky that the purring PI is on hand to sniff out the culprit.
- Koko and Yum-Yum
Biographer – Lilian Jackson Braun.
Appearance – Both are Siamese and extremely dignified. Yum-Yum has slightly crossed eyes.
Special Skills – Koko has a well-developed sixth sense, perhaps stemming from having more whiskers than the average cat (60 rather than 48). Yum-Yum has no particular investigative prowess, but is very good at keeping Koko grounded.
Finest Moment – In The Cat Who Saw Red, James Mackintosh Qwilleran’s (or Qwill to his friends) peculiar career trajectory sees him assigned to writing restaurant reviews and inadvertently entering the perilous world of pottery. For his first piece, Qwill is asked to review Maus Haus, a restaurant in a building that also serves as a boarding house. Perhaps swayed by the convenience and quality of the food on offer, Qwill moves himself and his cats into the building. When people start going missing, including Qwill’s ex-girlfriend Joy, he determines to use all his journalistic experience to get to the bottom of the affair. Fortunately, Koko’s knowledge of the periodic table allows him to alert Qwill to a vital piece of evidence just in time to discover the fate of the disappeared.
- Mrs Murphy
Biographer – Rita Mae Brown.
Appearance – Tiger-like and graceful.
Special Skills – Genius, with highly attuned senses.
Finest Moment – Death stalks the Montpelier racecourse in Murder, She Meowed, so it’s fortunate that Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen and her faithful feline companion Mrs Murphy enjoy a day out at the track. When one of the jockeys is found stabbed to death, the only clue is the Queen of Clubs playing card that was found with the body. While the victim had many admirers among the wealthy, horsey set, he also had plenty of enemies and there is no shortage of reasons why someone would want him dead. It’s clearly time for Mrs Murphy to work the stable yard and paw through some clues.
- Joe Grey
Biographer – Shirley Rousseau Murphy.
Appearance – Grey and white.
Special Skills – He can talk, which comes in very handy when phoning in anonymous tips to the bungling police force.
Finest Moment – When 1940s film star Patty Rose is shot dead, the only witness to the murder is Kit, a tortoiseshell cat who just happens to be a close personal friend of feline PI Joe Grey. Cat Cross Their Graves sees Joe Grey set out to help his friend and unmask a vicious killer. That would be a difficult ask at the best of times, but when the bodies of several missing children are discovered near the Patty Rose crime scene, Joe Grey finds himself facing a greater danger than he could ever have anticipated.
- Owen and Hercules
Biographer – Sofie Kelly.
Appearance – Owen is a rather chubby tabby, while Hercules is a dapper chap who appears to be wearing a fur tuxedo.
Special Skills – Owen loves catnip, while Hercules loves Barry Manilow. Both cats have magic powers (i.e. Owen can turn invisible, while Hercules can walk through walls).
Finest Moment – In Faux Paw, feline detective duo Owen and Hercules are called on to help their human, dedicated librarian Kathleen Paulson, catch a murderous art thief. Kathleen’s life has been thrown into disarray by the arrival of an overbearing curator tasked with arranging security for an art exhibition at the library. Working late one evening, Kathleen discovers that the curator has been murdered and one of the exhibition’s most valuable sketches is missing. Luckily, she has two cats with helpful paranormal powers on hand to help her canvas the area.
Erin is more than likely to be back in the not too distant future with another wacky selection of crime titles. However, if you think you can match her for zany ideas then do email firstname.lastname@example.org.
See also Ripped from the Headlines by Erin in the April 2016 issue of newbooks, nb88.
One Honest Man by Mike Stafford: The siren called out once as the police Astra pulled up.