Clea Simon | Cattery Row



Cattery Row

Cattery Row is now available in a special mass market paperback edition from Worldwide Mystery at a special low price of $4.79. (That's the new cover, on the right) For more information, please click here. CATTERY ROW is still available as a trade paperback and in limited hardcover from from Poisoned Pen Press, your local bookstore, or order it now from Amazon or through your local Independent Mystery Bookseller.

Someone is stealing show cats, and when a kindly breeder is implicated, Theda Krakow determines to uncover the truth. But when Theda is attacked and her pals start acting strange, the feline-friendly freelance writer realizes that more than pedigree pusses are at stake - and that not all the competition is in the ring.


“Mystery fiction and cats: What's the connection?” Clea is profiled in the New York Post!

“Another fun and well-crafted mystery that is entertaining enough to appeal even to readers for whom cats hold little charm.” - Boston Globe

“In Simon's satisfying second kitty cozy (after 2005's Mew Is for Murder ), spunky Boston journalist Theda Krakow and her feline friend, Musetta, are plunged into a crazy quilt of cat-related crime. ... With its well-developed cast of characters and a multilayered plot, this feline mystery is the cat's meow.” - Publishers Weekly

“The mystery is convoluted and engaging, the cats run the gamut of feline personality types, the characters are fully developed individuals, the relationships realistically confused, the Boston music scene real enough to feel the bass beat and smell the beer, and the action non-stop.” - Gumshoe Review

“Simon has a real gift for creating quirky characters rather than standard-issue role fillers, then turning them into real people that you both care about and feel you understand. ... Cattery kept me guessing to the end.” - Kim Malo, MyShelf.com

“Colorful characters are embroiled in a crime that takes them into the world of purebred cat breeders, but this is no cozy. The plot will hold the reader's attention ... Theda uncovers more sinister crimes and lands squarely in the line of fire.” - Romantic Times Bookreviews

“Conventional wisdom once was that any cozy worth its salt had a cat and/or a teapot on its cover. Cattery Row is not that kind of cozy. Theda isn't sitting around in a floral print dress with a white lace collar sipping tea in her drawing room. She's more likely to wear jeans and a leather jacket while pounding down Blue Moon beer at a local music haunt. Although I'm neither a cat fancier, nor a connoisseur of contemporary music, I appreciated Cattery Row for its tight plotting, character development and the tidy way the author ties together loose ends. It's a fitting follow-up to her first book, Mew is for Murder. No sophomore slump for Clea Simon! - Cozy Library

“Clea Simon ensnares you immediately in her latest mystery...” - Newark Star-Ledger

More “Theda Krakow” press

Excerpt

They came in the night, quiet and professional. Two of them, dressed in black, their faces shielded by nylon ski masks and their hands gloved. They didn't have to be so careful. The head of the house was away, and the residents watched, wide eyed, as the team went first to one and then another, looking for their prize. When they found her, she didn't cry out. Bred to be regal, relaxed and calm, she only exhaled, giving up a sigh of discomfort as they hefted her soft pliant body out of her bed and into the waiting cage. As an afterthought, they grabbed three of her offspring, who had settled nearby. These were as wellborn as their mother, but a little more high strung, feisty with youth. One, then two went into the cage, but the third struck out, sinking her sharp new teeth into the hand of her abductor.  “Ah!” The hand drew back. The cry had been muffled by the double thickness of the mask, but still the other looked around, anxious and angry with the fear of discovery.  And then, fueled by nerves, the invader lunged for her again, grabbing for her more roughly this time as she cowered helpless in her rage.

Chapter 1.

Musetta pounced and her prey went flying. All across my kitchen table, the once-neat pile of overdue notices, envelopes, and vaguely threatening letters scattered into disarray.

“Kitty!” I grabbed at a phone bill that balanced on the table's edge and retrieved a final notice from the floor. October still had two weeks to go, but the paperwork had been piling up for over a month - to my discomfort but, apparently, my pet's amusement. I watched as my athletic little cat settled in on top of an auto insurance form and began licking an envelope. Beneath her white boot I could make out the words “Second Notice.”

“Never mind.” I reached over to stroke her sleek black head. “It's no good anyway, kitten. We're broke.”

Pushing aside an envelope edged with ominous red lettering, I let my other hand settle into her thick neck ruff. I called her “kitten,” but it was only a term of endearment at this point. My young cat had reached her full growth, developing into a full-bodied beauty, and as the weather cooled into a New England autumn that included a dense coat as glossy as a seal's. Unconcerned by our looming financial disaster, the round face that looked up at me could have posed for Currier and Ives, were it not for the off-center white star on her nose. That made her look slightly cross-eyed and goofy, but eminently squeezable. And after an early kittenhood on the streets she suffered fools of my sort gladly, letting me rub her neck and the base of her ears until her green eyes closed and she purred to the point of drooling. To strangers, especially those who didn't appreciate simple healthy beasts, I skimmed over her stray youth, introducing her as a medium-haired random-bred Jellicle, after T.S. Eliot's fanciful naming of “tuxedo” cats,  and let them make of it what they would.

It was harder, I had to admit, to come up with such attitude when describing myself. Thirty-three and feeling it, these days I was lacking the fire my red hair was supposed to signify. Partly that came from being a rock fan in a college town, a longtime habitué of the nocturnal world where the denizens all tended to look younger as I grew older - a shift particularly noticeable as each fall brought a new crop of students to flash their fake IDs and flood my favorite clubs. Partly that came from being a freelance writer, a free agent who had lacked the good sense not to alienate my one reliable source of income.

“It wasn't my fault, kitty.” Musetta had laid back on the pile of paper, lulled into near-sleep by my constant petting and the taste of glue. “Well, not totally.” Something about a cat compels honesty, and her green eyes, half-closed, demanded the truth. “I mean, you'd have bitten him, and that's what I did in my own way.”  She didn't respond, but that didn't stop me. I've always talked to cats. Who knows what they understand? And besides, nobody else would believe me.

When it happened, two months before, I hadn't thought it would be such a big deal. It had been one of those humid late August afternoons that make you either sleepy or mad.  I'd been leaning toward the latter when I'd gone down to the offices of the Boston Morning Mail, the newspaper where I'd toiled as a copy editor for close to seven years and for which these days I did the majority of my freelance writing. I went as much for the air-conditioning as anything else, since the cavernous plant tended to be chilled to the point of absurdity all summer while my third-floor Cambridge apartment held heat like an oven. I figured I'd pick up the accumulated fliers and other junk that tended to fill the mailbox that still bore my name. Maybe say hi to some of my former colleagues, and just cool off. I hadn't looked for a run-in with Tim, the features editor. But when I saw him gesturing from his glass-fronted office, I'd put on the best friendly-eager smile I could conjure, pulled at my still-damp t-shirt to erase some of the creases, and made my way over to the messy little room, waiting until he sat behind his desk before lowering myself gingerly onto the pile of press releases that covered his one guest chair.

“Krakow,” he barked by way of greeting, his gruff voice cutting through the air-conditioner roar. Most of my friends call me by my first name, Theda, but Tim had affected a Lou Grant-style grumpiness recently to match his expanding waist and receding hairline. Despite the chilled air, his button-down shirt looked rumpled and his neck was chafed red. I assumed the weather had gotten to him too, if not the constant noise. “That idea you had? You wrote me a note? I've been thinking about it.”

I'd been a regular music stringer for a while by then, filling in for the staff pop and rock critics whenever one of them felt like a night in or a night off.  Writing about live music, trying to translate those one-of-a-kind moments for those who missed them while also adding some perspective for fans who caught the show was the best, and I loved the rush of reviewing on deadline for the next day's paper, too. But such assignments were still few and far between. So to augment the reviews, I kept a steady stream of feature story pitches in circulation, ranging from two-paragraph outlines to a page or two from actual stories that I'd started writing.

 Not having any clue as to which of a dozen such pitches Tim was referring to, I sat waiting as he shuffled papers. He cursed under his breath, and I fought a growing urge to shiver or at least roll my eyes at his disorganized ways. I had to. Being a freelance writer  - I preferred the term “hired gun” - had its high points: the freedom to explore any topic that caught my fancy, the ability to research and conduct interviews the way I thought they should be done, the opportunity to structure my days around my writing. Even though I was paid by the piece, and not much at that, quitting my editing job the previous winter seemed like the right move for me as a writer. Selling my work, though, that's what tended to trip me up, and sitting there, waiting for Tim to find my proposal made me all too aware of what I lacked. As much as I believed in my stories, I found it hard to muster the marketing part, the smooth sell - hell, the sheer effrontery to pitch properly, effectively to the powers-that-be. Thirty words or less: that's what editors  wanted to hear, and god help you if you didn't have a hot hook in there somewhere. Sex or drugs, these were needed to sell even rock 'n' roll these days, and what any of that had to do with writing a good story I never could tell. But at least I could keep a lid on my impatience. As I stared at Tim and waited, I could feel goosebumps begin to rise and crossed my arms. If only I still had my office sweater. Or a book.

“The behind-the-scenes piece at the cat show?” I knew I was shooting in the dark. I didn't think Tim would care for a story about high-end breeders and their cut-throat competitions no matter how into it I was, but I couldn't remember what else I'd tried to sell him recently.

“No, no more cats, Krakow. You're getting obsessed.” He waved his pencil at me and started working through the papers piled in his “In” box. Yes, he was right that I liked to write about felines. But people liked to read about them, too. Tim paused, running his finger inside his collar, but I knew better than to jump in. “The club thing.” He pushed aside a coffee-stained napkin, which landed neatly in “Out.” “Oh, here it is.”

“'Night Lines,'” I said aloud, nodding as I recognized the query letter I'd dropped off  months earlier. This idea was special to me. A weekly column covering the music scene in the Boston area, I proposed it as half review and half preview, with news about local happenings - which band was breaking up, who was drawing record-label interest - for spice. I'd been hopeful about this one when I'd typed it up. With more than a decade's worth of nocturnal wanderings to draw on, I had the contacts to make it work and felt confident that my reporting chops would help me to ferret out the doings of those who made the Boston clubs thrive. I knew and loved the music scene and by now had written enough critical pieces to be able to describe what I listened to in a way that would help readers hear what I heard, maybe even love what I loved. As the weeks went by and the pitch had gone unnoticed, I'd almost forgotten about it. But the timing made sense.  I'd heard the same rumors as everyone else in the newsroom: The Mail's circulation was sinking, especially among younger readers. Tim would have to start making some concessions to the thousands of students and recent grads who called the city home. What better way than running a new weekly column on the clubs?

“Yeah, 'Night Lines.' I like that. It would be regular, too, so we could get rid of some of those damned reviews. I mean, the show's over. Who cares? But I'm thinking of calling it something different.” He tapped the paper before him with a pencil. I could see that at least two different hands had scrawled notes on it, and leaned a bit closer to decipher them.

“Something younger. More hip.” Tim flipped the page over, so I sat back. “'The Boston Beat'?”

I bit my tongue to stop a groan. “Um, I think that might have been used before.” At least a dozen times.

“Anyway, younger. That's the point, Krakow.” I waited. “You've probably heard about the focus groups we've been hosting?” He didn't pause for an answer. “Younger, that's what they found. Our demographics are skewing too old. Too many soccer moms in the suburbs with their minivans and groceries.” His voice took on the disparaging tone of someone who'd always had someone else to do his errands. Who brough his groceries home? My tongue was starting to bleed.

“So, we're going to go with it. At least for a trial run.” He must have heard my intake of breath, seen my eyes light up, but he stopped me with a raised hand.  “But we're giving it to one of our new hires, a bright young thing named Jessica.” His eyes wandered to the glass wall and I collapsed back in my chair, deflated. “Real bright, that girl.” With an effort I closed my mouth and followed his gaze out the window. A buxom young woman, made to look even younger by the long braids that held her dark hair, was smiling in at us.  She waved, one of those cutesy little finger wiggles, and the flush on Tim's neck rose to his face. My smitten editor waved back and with a visible effort swung around toward me again. To do him credit, he didn't even try to meet my eyes. Instead, he started shuffling through the papers on his desk.

“Anyway, we want you to show her the ropes. You've been around. Get her up to speed on what's going on. We'll pay you for your time.” He started stacking things,  my silence coming through loud and clear. “How about, oh, I don't know... maybe a hundred bucks a week for three or four weeks until she figures out which end is up?” More silence. “We could maybe squeeze out a hundred fifty.” He dared a glance up at me. “We really value your expertise and you'd be a great source for this column, Krakow. Give it a real sense of perspective. You know, give it some history. You're old enough.”

So that's when it happened ...

Copyright © 2005 by Clea Simon