Clea Simon | Cries and Whiskers



Cries and Whiskers

CRIES AND WHISKERS (Poisoned Pen Press), was nominated for the David G. Sasher Award for Best Mystery of 2007. Buy it now.

When an animal rights activist is killed by a hit-and-run driver on an icy Cambridge street, music critic Theda Krakow can’t get too upset. The victim cared more for wild animals than for people, and had no use at all forĀ  domesticated pets, such as the black-and-white cat Musetta that Theda adores. Besides, Theda is caught up in investigating the rise of a dangerous new designer drug that threatens the musicians and fans who make up the club scene she considers her second home. But when the feline-friendly writer learns that the accident victim was defying her own radical group to rescue feral cats on the eve of a ferocious winter storm, she puts her own prejudices aside to help out. As Theda and her buddy, the punk-rock shelter owner Violet, race to save these half-wild felines from the freezing New England winter, they uncover simmering tensions that make the activist’s death seem more than an accident. Could a friend have been the fatal driver? Is Violet more involved with the extremist group than she’s let on? Even while kittens are at risk and the new drug hits close to home, Theda tries to hang onto her journalistic objectivity. But when the threats become more personal and Musetta goes missing, Theda risks her reputation, her career, and possibly her life as the word “deadline” takes on a whole new meaning.

“With urban edginess, realistic characters, a feisty and sympathetic heroine and a big heart, Simon spins a frightening tale that will have you postponing your catnap till you turn the final page.” — Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Clea Simon is turning the cat cozy on its furry little head in her wonderfully fresh series.” — Reviewing the Evidence

“A fast-paced look at the Boston music scene and a delight for cat fanciers.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Readers will thrill to Theda's engaging adventures in amateur sleuthing.” — Publishers Weekly

“Simon has written a fast-moving story full of lively characters, both two- and four-legged. This series is highly recommended for mystery fans who love cats but who prefer to leave the crime-solving to humans.” — Booklist

“Definitely a great read for cat lovers.” — Reader Views

(click to read complete reviews)

“Not your ordinary cat cozy, Clea Simon's Cries and Whiskers turns the genre on its head. Theda Krakow, part-time journalist and full-time cat lover, is a quirky, engaging heroine, intent on getting the story, saving the cats, and enjoying as much rock and roll as possible. With strong supporting characters and a wonderful sense of place, as well as a serious (though never didactic) take on cat-related issues, Simon's latest is a delightful read -- a charming, idiosyncratic look at 'village' life in the modern world.” — Vicki Lane, author of the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian mysteries from Bantam Dell

“With the latest Theda Krakow mystery, Cries and Whiskers, Simon nails it: the cats, the Boston area music scene, the pressure of journalism. Wonderfully written and deeply engaging.” — Deborah Grabien, author of Cruel Sister

“Serious fun for serious feline fanciers. Cries & Whiskers presents a subtle murder mystery with real animal issues. Catnip for feline mystery lovers.” — Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, author of The Healing Power of Pets

“Playing cat-and-mouse with the reader, Clea Simon sprinkles a purr-fect dose of noir into her charming, cozy mystery that delves into the underworld of designer drugs, rock 'n roll, and animal activists.” — Karen E. Olson, author of the Annie Seymour mystery series

“One you'll want to savor, Cries and Whiskers can appeal to all comers.” — Carole Nelson Douglas, author of Cat in a Red Hot Rage

From the Theda Krakow mystery, Cries and Whiskers:

Prologue.

She felt sick. Sick as a dog. Hot and feverish despite the icy rain, the thought made her laugh. She was here for the cats, after all. But the laugh had her doubling over in pain, her head bowed so that the whipping wind chilled the sweat on the back of her neck. She had to get home, get back to bed. This was no night to be out, and the cramps were getting worse. No more laughing, she told herself. No more distractions. Tonight, it's all about the cats. She shone her flashlight under a pile of windblown trash. Hadn't she seen a pair of yellow eyes here earlier? Nothing looked back at her now and she stumbled forward in pain. Where were the cats? She'd been sure the tabby would be back, and the orange spotted one, too, still searching for their lost kittens. A tremor shook her and she dropped the flashlight, tripping over the broken edge of the pavement as she tried to force her numb fingers around the cold metal. There! What was that? The flashlight had rolled and as she crawled forward to get it, she saw the two bright spots spark toward her. She knelt, unable to rise, and stared as they grew brighter. Another cramp, sudden and fierce, doubled her over and sent the flashlight into the gutter. No matter, she was unaware of the darkness now, lying in the road as the two lights glowed brighter still.

From the cover of a nearby holly, two yellow eyes watched as the lights bore down. Blinking once, silently, they turned and disappeared into the night.

Chapter 1.

Day had broken, cold and gray. Exceedingly cold and gray, and I burrowed further into the snow for warmth. Sleep was the enemy, it meant death in this frozen world, but the desire to succumb was seductive. If I just let go, soon the cold would be gone, or at least I would no longer feel it. There would be stillness, a quiet drifting off. Peace.

But just then something damp touched my face, and I struggled to open my eyes. Round green eyes were close, too close, waiting for me to relax. To give in. Hypothermia had a gentle embrace, but I feared the fangs that went with those unblinking eyes. I opened my mouth to breathe, to call for help, and felt the touch of fur. The green eyes leaned in.

“Kitty!” My Jack London dream burst. I wasn't on the Yukon trail, buried in a snowdrift with my sled dogs. I was in bed, with - I sputtered - cat hair on my lip. “Musetta!” I spit and reached out from under the covers to wipe who-knew-what from my mouth. The kitty in question - my black and white Musetta - drew back, but only to the edge of the fluffy white duvet we shared. The room was freezing, and those round eyes were indeed staring, full of accusation. She was furious, but I couldn't help smiling. Puffed up against the cold, that offending paw now tucked beneath her white tuxedo front, my pet appeared even rounder than usual. Only the off-center white spot on her nose disrupted the symmetry, making her look ever so slightly cross-eyed and so adorable. But no less pissed. Those eyes were ruthless: I was the boss of our little pride, so such inclement weather was my fault, endangering us both. She'd been within her rights to wake me, with nose and paw or any means necessary. She was waiting.

“Hang on.” Dreading the shock of the bare wood floor, I swung my legs around her, out of bed, and pranced gingerly toward the window, slamming it shut as another blast of icy wind and, yes, some snow, blew into the room. At thirty-three, I still lived like a student, a result of budget as much as preference. But this one wasn't my fault. I remembered opening that window, hours before. I'd come back from a show, the band's bassist a friend of a friend, and while the music had been unremarkable, a lousy sound mix swamping whatever hooks there were in the mud of feedback, something had inspired me to take notes. And while I'd been trying to write, pecking away at my computer keyboard, the heat had kicked in full blast, turning my one-bedroom apartment into a sweat box. Musetta had been thrilled when I'd cracked the window then, jumping up on the sill to sniff at the night air.

But that had been hours ago. The radiator was cold now and silent, without the clanking that preceded the flood of steam into its antique pipes. Maybe the super had actually re-set a thermostat somewhere in this big ugly box of a building? Or could something have gone wrong? The giant furnace in the basement had a reputation as a temperamental monster, a creaking remnant from decades past, and it also had an entire brick apartment building to heat, six floors of renters. The whole place was falling apart, bit by bit, just out of neglect. Someday the management would kick us out, would sell the building for condos. A nasty thought crept into my sleepy mind.

“They wouldn't let us go without heat in January, would they?” That illegal, but effective, move had been tried before elsewhere. “Think they'll try to freeze us out, Musetta?” I always talk to cats. Who knows how much they understand? Besides, I wanted some sympathy in our mutual plight. But all I saw was her sleek black back. Although one ear shifted slightly, she didn't deign to answer.

I peeked around the blind. Outside my Cambridge apartment, the streetlights were still on. In their glow, I could see the snow turning slick, turning into the kind of freezing rain that would glaze the city I loved with a deadly beauty. Already, the tree out front sparkled with a coating of ice, and the road below glistened. New England in January: pretty, but treacherous for any poor creature stuck in the storm. And too cold for me. I grabbed the cat - who gave a small protesting “meh!” - and snuggled back under the comforter, trying to find the warmth I'd just left. That was one of the pleasures of city living: someone else in the building would deal with the heat, or the super if that was necessary. With any luck, by the time I was ready to get up, the radiator would be hot again, steaming my worries away. I curled around Musetta and she gave up a purr, grudging, maybe, but steady. I stroked her smooth head and nestled closer, my dark red hair falling over her black bulk. Her nose, still cold and wet, settled against my arm as her head dipped down and we slept.

Copyright 2007 by Clea Simon