As Dark as My Fur: A Blackie and Care Mystery, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8682-8
Readers who enjoy the prickly pleasure of stepping into a strange alternate universe will welcome Simon’s hypnotic second Blackie and Care mystery (after 2015’s The Ninth Life), set in a blighted unnamed city. Bands of gangsters control the various neighborhoods, bartering is more common than the use of money, and the mostly illiterate masses have to scavenge to eke out a living. Pink-haired teen Carrie “Care” Wright, an apprentice private detective, navigates this treacherous world aided by Blackie, a cat she rescued from drowning. Blackie, the narrator, is no ordinary cat. His consciousness contains not only his feline instincts but also flashes of memories from his past life as a human. When a factory owner hires Care, who has been in charge of the detective agency since her mentor’s murder, to shadow one of his workers, Blackie fears something isn’t quite right. Since he can’t talk, he can do little to warn Care of his misgivings. The novel perilously walks the line between dream and nightmare.
This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to author Roby Sweet. Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.
Monday, January 23, 2017
Book Review: As Dark as My Fur
We are in love with this series by one of our favorite writers, Clea Simon. As Dark as My Fur is the second book in the Blackie and Care series, and it fully lives up to the promise of the first book, with a darkness and grit that are engrossing but not overwhelming. These are not the sort of lighthearted cozy mysteries we usually review here. Simon’s characters live hard lives in a bleak setting. There is hope, though, in the way they just keep going, and going, and going.
Where did this cat come from, anyway?
The story is told from the point of view of a black cat (Blackie). He is not a young cat. His body hurts sometimes. He’s maybe not as fast as he used to be, and perhaps he can’t jump as high or fight as hard as he used to. Also, he hasn’t always been a cat. It’s probably best if you don’t think too hard about how the soul or spirit or whatever you call it of a human got into a cat, but that is what happened. The first book in this series, The Ninth Life, largely dealt with the cat figuring out who he is. Now he knows.
He used to be a mentor to this pink-haired girl named Care. He was an investigator of sorts, finding things that have been lost—that sort of thing. Only now he’s a cat, unable to speak, unable to clearly communicate all he knows. But he is devoted to Care, to her protection.
Finding things that have been lost
Care, meanwhile, has taken over her mentor’s old business. She and Blackie are living in the old office and trying to take on paying clients, and if they don’t get some soon, they’ll be evicted from the only safe place they have. Also, food would be nice. Blackie can catch his own food, of course, but Care refuses even the best stuff he brings her. This distresses him, as so many things do.
It is against this backdrop that Care and Blackie find themselves caught up in a complex tale of deception, greed, and murder. While Care works to find out what her new client wants to know, Blackie works to untangle the client’s true intention. Because the cat can smell that there’s far more going on than what Care has been told. And the truth in this case is very, very dangerous.
We found it absolutely mesmerizing to walk along in Blackie’s pawsteps through the streets of this unnamed city, a city whose best years are behind it. We can’t say that there is anything beautiful here. It’s a place where the strong dominate and use the weak, where nothing matters much beyond survival. We feel Blackie’s frustration at not being able to communicate fully with Care as, again and again, he senses something she does not. We feel his confusion at times, and his constant desire to protect Care at all costs. Each night when we curled up to read this book, we found ourselves reading farther than we intended because, as dark as Blackie’s world is, it’s hard to set aside.
As Dark as My Fur is not a book whose sentences go tripping happily along. It is instead a book that grabs you in the midgut area and doesn’t let go. We found this to be a not unpleasant sensation, and one that pulled us to keep reading, reading, reading. And we are so glad we did.
For those willing to face the darkness, we very highly recommend this book!
As Dark as My Fur is set for release on April 1, 2017. It is currently available for preorder.
At long last, Dulcie Schwartz seems on the verge of finishing her
dissertation: she’s polishing the penultimate chapter, one she thinks
might be good enough to submit to a prestigious journal, and has been
encouraged by her advisor to add material based on one of her recent
discoveries. Then a professor who has just joined her thesis
committee writes a scathing critique of her work, and her chances of
finally graduating in a few months dwindle. To top it off, he has
restricted access to the very documents she needs to finish! No wonder
Dulcie is angry enough to threaten to kill Dr. Fenderby—and no wonder
that the police see her as a person of interest when the professor in
question turns up dead.
Even worse, Dulcie finds herself on disciplinary probation, meaning
she has to stop work on her degree, loses her teaching assignment, and
is cut off from most of the university.
But there were others who would have had reason to wish Fenderby
ill—or do more than wish. After all, someone did beat him to death
with a book….
I always have a bit of difficulty deciding how to describe this
series and do it justice. It’s not a Gothic, though that is Dulcie’s
field of study; it is indeed an academic mystery, but some would take
that to mean “dry and dusty,” which it isn’t. There are supernatural
overtones—Dulcie feels a psychic connection to the eighteenth century
author she’s researching, and she often “hears” her dearly departed
cat, Mr. Grey—but again, this isn’t a supernatural mystery. There are
cats (almost always a plus for me) but it’s not a cat mystery in the
vein of “The Cat Who” by Lilian Jackson Braun or the Joe Grey series
by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. For me, a new Dulcie is like coming home
and slipping into a pair of old jeans and a comfy t-shirt. It’s time
to relax and enjoy a visit.
So why do I like this series? First off, I like Dulcie Schwartz,
our heroine. I like character-driven stories in general, and Simon
has done a wonderful job of creating a character who has grown and
changed over the course of the series. Dulcie is a graduate student
who is working her way through her dissertation but who tends to get a
bit sidetracked—well, okay, more than a bit. This dissertation has
morphed into work that may rival the Encyclopedia
Britannica unless Dulcie can bring herself to stop researching and
start writing. She also sees herself as an eminently sensible and
practical when in fact she has much more in common with the Gothic
heroines she studies, giving in to impulsive behavior and jumping to
unwarranted conclusions—and don’t forget, she believes she’s in
contact with the spirit of her late cat. The impression is heightened
by the snippets of (to us) wildly overwritten passages from the pages
(“Goblets o’erbrimmed with Blood, the noble Ichor…”) but which often
contain little clues concealed in the wording that either will reflect
Dulcie’s mood or draw attention to a circumstance. Dulcie comes by
her tendencies honestly: her mother, a long time commune member,
calls to deliver cryptic messages from the ether, all of which Dulcie
dismisses without a hint of irony as being too fanciful. The fact
that I find Dulcie so appealing is a real testament to Simon’s skill
at characterization. I usually have very little patience with heroes
or heroines who go off half-cocked, but with Dulcie I just imagine
Mr. Grey and I are sitting on the couch, watching indulgently and
bemusedly as she rushes in where angels fear to tread.
I like the whole atmosphere of the books: going down deep into the
stacks of the library and the almost claustrophobic feel, like going
through catacombs, to pan for literary treasure in the scraps of
manuscripts. I like the supporting cast, folks I’ve come to know over
the books and some of whom, unlike our Dulcie, have actually gone
ahead and, um, graduated. It’s no surprise that I like Thomas
Griddlehouse, the librarian, who understands and shares Dulcie’s
passion for older literature, even though his demeanor is strictly old
school professional. Finally, there’s the long-suffering Detective
Rogovoy who has a soft spot for Dulcie even when she’s trying to
convince him of her latest theory. What a patient man…
I loved that when Dulcie hears that the murder weapon was a book
she immediately wonders which title it might have been… because that
was my reaction, too. I also love Dulcie’s shock and indignation when
she discovers a book is shelved incorrectly, which is only heightened
by the lack of reaction of outrage from the police. Don’t they
understand the implications?
At this point, I’ll beg indulgence for a story. A long time ago,
the library had work study students who came in for some months and
did things like shelve books. Many were quite good, but a few were,
shall we say, a bit less dedicated. One such young lady came to me to
help her find a book she badly needed for a class. I remembered the
book. I had seen it on a truck she had been shelving a couple of days
before. It was not in its correct spot and in fact I didn’t find it
until about two months later. I am quite the fan of poetic
In short, Into the Grey is a bit like a
trip down memory lane for me. I get to wander the halls of academe,
hang out with friends in my department, solve a mystery, and play with
cats. Best of all, there’s no homework and no exams!
Severn House Publishers Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780727886279
Date: 01 September 2016 List Price $28.99
Things are about to change for Dulcie Schwartz. For one thing, she's in the home stretch on her dissertation. Then there are the upcoming decisions on what to do after she gains her degree. Where will she apply for work? How will she manage her relationship with her boyfriend, Chris, if they end up working in two different cities or states?
Those issues all become moot when Professor Fenderby is added to her committee and insults her scholarship and her handling of her material. He even locks her out of access to her research material. As if things aren't bad enough, when she goes to confront him in his office, she finds his body.
Once again, Dulcie has stumbled into the middle of a crime
scene. This time people are aware that she was angry and upset and had
made statements that could be considered threatening. This time, she's
nearly at the top of the suspect list -- well maybe at the actual top
of the list. Dulcie is determined to clear her name and get back to
her research as soon as possible. However, as usual, she operates on
emotion more than reason and that tends to get her in situations where
she doesn't know who to trust or what to do next. Mr. Grey, her dearly
loved but now deceased cat, gives her council, but Dulcie, as usual,
misinterprets the advice -- well it is rather cryptic.
I think one of the reasons I enjoy this series is that Dulcie seems so real. While it is unusual for anyone to so often be in the midst of mayhem and murder, it does fit with her interest in Gothic literature, active imagination, and tendency to rely heavily on emotions over logic when outside of class. She reacts as most of us would expect we would under the circumstances she finds herself in.
The crime has many possible motives and suspects. There's plenty of red herrings as well as a good measure of academic politics and procedures that tie into the crime and keep the pages turning.
Advice to the angry: No matter how upset or frustrated, never say
“I could kill (insert name here).” If that person turns up dead,
you’ll top the list of suspects.
That’s what happens to Dulcinea “Dulcie” Schwartz
in “Into the Grey” (224 pages, Severn
House, $28.99), the 10th entry in Clea Simon’s series featuring the
Harvard doctoral student.
Dulcie, who’s near to completing her dissertation, is chagrined to
learn that her adviser has added Professor Roland Fenderby, a known
lecher who dismisses Dulcie’s work as the efforts of a dilettante, to
her thesis-review team. And when his head is bashed in with a 10-pound
tome, Dulcie finds herself more than a footnote in the
investigation. So does her distant cousin, Mina Love, who has accused
Fenderby of sexual harassment.
A mystery with multiple potential killers — and a few messages from
Dulcie’s late cat, Mr. Grey — Simon’s latest adds to her engaging body
of work and will find admirers among academics, ailurophiles and
anyone who enjoys an unusual series.
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: INTO THE GREY
Issue: 15ST SEPTEMBER 2016
Into the Grey: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8627-9
Graduate student Dulcie Schwartz is preparing to finish her
dissertation when an eccentric professor newly added to her committee
cuts off her access to important research. She tries to visit his home
and encounters an angry wife. She tries his office and finds him dead
from a head wound; naturally, she quickly becomes the main suspect,
which gets her suspended from the university, bringing progress on the
dissertation to a grinding halt. Professor Fenderby was rumored to
have harassed female students, and Dulcie is shocked to find that her
cousin, Mina, was bringing a suit against him and that Alyson,
Dulcie’s student, was having a long-term relationship with him. As
always, Dulcie receives wisps of insight from the cats in her life,
though the spirit of the late Mr. Grey, usually her leading
consultant, seems peculiarly quiet. Simon again mixes Dulcie’s
personal relationships (human and feline, traditional and paranormal)
with realistic portrayals of academic life, including such current
hot-button campus issues as sexual harassment. An unlikely blend,
perhaps, but one that has found a core of satisfied readers.
Review: Into the Grey: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery
I have been a fan of Clea Simon’s Dulcie Schwartz mystery series,
featuring the Harvard graduate student, from the very first
installment, and with every book, the series just keeps getting better
and better. In Into the Grey, the 10th
book in the series, Dulcie is the prime suspect in the murder of a
professor who had been questioning her scholarship.
Readers of previous volumes know that Dulcie can’t resist becoming
involved in murder investigations, and this time, the stakes are even
higher: her own freedom and academic standing are in danger. As in
previous volumes, Dulcie’s tuxedo cat Esme and the spirit of her dear
departed Mr. Grey are helping Dulcie by providing insights and clues
along the way.
One of the things I love most about this series is the development
of Dulcie’s character over the years. Clea Simon has a way to make you
love her protagonist despite, or maybe because of, her weaknesses. I
found this book hard to put down, and breathed a sigh of relief when I
had reached the final pages. I won’t give away the ending, but the
final paragraph of this book is so beautiful, it brought tears to my
As with all of Simon’s books, she provides enough back story so
Into the Grey can be read as a standalone,
but why deprive yourself of the joy of reading the entire series?
There are a few cat-themed mystery series that we have been dying to read and review, and Clea Simon’s Dulcie Schwartz mysteries have been right at the top of the list. I am very pleased to report that we have finally gotten a chance to read one of these books, and the wait was worth it.
When a book begins with a line like “I could kill so-and-so,” you sort of know where the plot is headed, at least initially. This is the line uttered by Dulcie Schwartz, only with “Roland Fenderby” in place of “so-and-so.” Fenderby is a rather gross academic who can’t seem to keep his hands off the young ladies and who has recently insinuated himself onto Dulcie’s dissertation committee, where she most certainly does not want him. Dulcie is in the cauldron of finishing her dissertation when this Fenderby fellow has the audacity to criticize her work as being “a tad shallow.” And then he has the audacity to get himself murdered in a way that could suggest that Dulcie is the killer. The nerve of some people.
With Fenderby’s untimely death, Dulcie is off on a quest to identify which of various disaffected people killed him. Not everyone is happy about her insistence on investigating—the police, for example, and her boyfriend, Chris. Dulcie is also visited often by the spirit of her deceased cat, Mr. Grey, who provides advice that is a little less clear than she needs it to be. She also has a living feline, Esmé, a lively tuxedo cat who gives the book a pleasing feline presence.
As she goes about her amateur sleuthing, Dulcie also carries on with her academic research. She could be on the verge of an important discovery in the crucial box of literary fragments Fenderby had sequestered so Dulcie couldn’t consult them any longer. No one knows why he would set those items so deliberately out of Dulcie’s reach, but now that he’s out of the way…
Dulcie gets pulled in many directions in this book—between her own impulses, her friends’ advice, Chris, the police, Mr. Grey… There is no clear direction for her, although we’re pretty sure that whatever Dulcie thinks she should do is probably wrong. And she will no doubt get herself into all kinds of trouble, and possibly danger.
As I said earlier, we have been wanting to get into this series, and we are so glad we finally made time for it. We loved the complexity of the plot, and we loved all those many moments we found ourselves saying “No! Don’t do that!” when Dulcie was about to get into some sort of trouble. How this woman has managed to stay alive and out of prison, we are not entirely sure. Grey is so appropriate for this story, in which Dulcie faces so much uncertainty and none of her dilemmas are black and white. We also enjoyed going along with her on her academic quest in the depths of the library. What fun! While Into the Grey can be enjoyed on its own, we are trying to devise a way to set aside time to pick up the series from its beginning, because we feel like we’ve missed a lot and we want to find out more about this Dulcie Schwartz and her feline companions.
If you are not into academic research, if you don’t get all tingly over the possibility of discovering some new little thing in a box of old papers, then this might not be the series for you. But if you do feel a shiver over the prospect of poring over obscure documents, if part of you salivates over all the things you could learn if only you had time for grad school, and if you can’t imagine learning anything without a wise feline as your guide…then you should dive in to the Dulcie Schwartz series.
A note on the "Paws Up" system: Miss C gives either one or two paws
up. One paw is for a good read; two paws is for a great read. She
never gives three or four paws because that would require her to lie
on her back...and Miss C does not do that!
From Publishers Weekly
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: INTO THE GREY
Publication: PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Issue: 1 ST AUGUST 2016
Into the Grey: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8627-9
Much to the dismay of Harvard doctoral candidate Dulcie Schwartz, professor Roland Fenderby has joined her dissertation committee, in Simon’s well-plotted 10th academic paranormal cat cozy (after 2015’s Code Grey). Fenderby’s harsh critique of the final chapter of Dulcie’s dissertation, on the anonymous female author of the 18th-century gothic novel The Ravages of Umbria, threatens her commencement deadline. When Dulcie discovers Fenderby’s body on his office floor, she becomes the chief suspect in his murder. She’ll have to do a lot of searching in the stacks before she can clear her name. When the humans in Dulcie’s life let her down, she can turn to her late cat, Mr. Grey, who provides comfort and advice (“Only kittens rush about so heedlessly, Dulcie”) without playing any active role in the crime solving. Series fans will enjoy the latest developments in Dulcie’s saga, though those unfamiliar with her backstory may struggle to fully sympathize with her plight.
Susan McKinney: A new mystery with the animal psychic
Sun, 05/22/2016 | Susan McKinney
"When Bunnies Go Bad" is the latest installment in the Pru Marlowe Pet Noir mysteries by Clea Simon.
Pru Marlowe is an animal psychic who fled from Manhattan to Beauville years ago when she suddenly developed her powers.
She has a curmudgeon of a cat named Wallis that assists her in solving the mysteries. Wallis the cat is the only one that knows the whole truth about Pru and her past.
Pru is attempting to deal with Henry, a supposedly tame rabbit that
has gone wild that lives illegally with an 84-year-old lady, when the
newest murder happens.
Pru and her sometimes boyfriend, Detective Creighton, are trying to
enjoy a steak dinner when their attention (and everyone else's in the
restaurant) is drawn to a loud, obnoxious man who is verbally abusing
his waiter and his female companion.
It's no surprise to Pru when he is found murdered. However, the snow
bunny, Cheryl Ginger, whom he was verbally abusing, is the main
suspect, and Pru is asked to take care of the woman's spaniel.
Caring for Pudgy, the spaniel, drags Pru into the middle of a murder
investigation that will bring out the news that an old enemy has
resurfaced in her life, involve some of her new friends in Beauville
and bring out information about her own past.
Pru doesn't just have a murder and spaniel on her hands; there has
been an art theft at a museum, and now the feds are involved in the
little town's business.
Pru tries to live under the radar with her special gift. She has a
growing business in Beauville of helping people deal with animal
problems. She doesn't trap or poison; she talks to the critters. She
walks dogs, helps people with mice invasions and, in general, takes
care of the animals around town.
As the story progresses, Pru comes very close to being exposed for
what she is, a modern-day Dr. Doolittle.
Simon's mysteries are lighthearted with a fair amount of humor in
the mix. Her animal characters are as three-dimensional as the human
characters. She makes Pru's ability believable and realistic in how
she interacts with the animals. She draws you in with the first
paragraph and keeps you engaged to the final word.
Susan McKinney is the librarian at the St. Joseph Township-Swearingen
Meet Care and Blackie. Both are creatures of an unnamed city’s mean streets. Both must use their wits and instincts to survive.
But Care is a girl in her early teens. Blackie is a cat in late middle age — and the narrator of “The Ninth Life” (229 pages, Severn House, $28.95), the first in a new series by the talented Clea Simon.
The two meet when Care saves Blackie from men who try to drown him in a drainage ditch. With wary gratitude, he accompanies his rescuer, who’s mourning the murder of her mentor, a private detective who had taken her on as an apprentice.
In the course of Care’s quest to learn the killer’s identity, she and Blackie face threats from thugs who stop at nothing. As Simon spins her yarn — one that includes a mysterious marker, an emerald necklace, bootleg whiskey, fur pelts and more deaths — the plot develops through Blackie’s thoughts and Care’s dialogue with other humans. And what follows is at once a conclusion and a cliffhanger.
Far darker than Simon’s three other series, all of which feature females and felines, “The Ninth Life” displays the author at her creative best. Unlike other catcentric mysteries — there’s nothing cozy here — it offers an unusual and satisfying take on contemporary noir.
Jay Strafford is a retired writer and editor for The Times-Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com.
Beauville, Massachusetts, is having one of its worst March winters in history, and all of the residents are suffering from cabin fever. The outburst by an angry restaurant customer still manages to stand out though, especially when his obnoxious demands reduce his ski bunny companion to near-tears. The bigger surprise is that when a body is found, it’s that of the belligerent diner Teddy Rhinecrest, and the arrested culprit is his meek girlfriend, Cheryl Ginger.
Animal behaviorist and pet-sitter Pru Marlowe is skilled at interpreting animal behavior and motivations, but humans prove to be far more confusing and complicated. Perhaps her comfort with her charges derives from her unique ability not only to sense what animals are thinking and feeling, but to hear the thoughts of her own feline companion, Wallis. No one knows better than Pru how even the mildest of prey can be turned vicious when threatened, but she questions whether the skittish Cheryl was the one with the most reasons for wanting Teddy dead.
The unnerving reappearance of Gregor Benazi, a lethal and very dapper criminal magnate with whom Pru has a tentative détente, further complicates this case of a mistress done wrong. As much as he would prefer it, Pru’s almost-boyfriend Detective Jim Creighton knows better than to order Pru to stay uninvolved. Fate and Pru’s dedication to her non-human clients compels her into using her inexplicable and unasked for skills to untangle an increasingly tangled web of criminal activities and deception.
Much of the enjoyment of this fifth in the Pru Marlowe Pet Noir series stems from Pru attempting to apply her animal behaviorist skills upon humans. The results may be mixed, but they are always fun. Pru continues to be annoyed by the gossip-mongering person of Bichon Frisé “Bitsy” (he prefers to be called Growler); the creepy minder of a ferret has an equally repellent cousin; and the wild animals Pru encounters prove to be the most sane and least neurotic of all. Pru fled the city and the confined spaces that seemed to amplify the voices in her head, and it is in small, economically struggling Beauville that she is learning to adjust by modeling her behavior on the non-humans she admires. Pru’s wry voice, sharp intelligence, and empathy for animals guarantee that this elaborately plotted mystery will entertain with its good humor and compellingly quirky characters.
Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).
In the World of Cat Fiction, Fur Flies Over Whether Stars Get Speaking Roles
By Jennifer Maloney
Claws come out as chatty kitties rack up awards; one author decides to turn tail
Shirley Rousseau Murphy swings a big tail in the world of cat fiction. Her “Joe Grey Mystery” series has more than a million copies in print and the Cat Writers’ Association has awarded her a medallion for best novel 11 times. In her books, a pair of talking cats help police solve crimes.
Patricia Fry is the author of the “Klepto Cat Mystery” series. Describing the first installation on her website, the author reassured readers: “Don’t worry, there are no talking cats.”
Cat mysteries are a subgenre of cozy mysteries—detective stories typically set in small towns and intended as clean, gentle fun, with minimal sex, violence and profanity. There’s nothing genteel, however, about the debate among authors and fans over whether cats’ tongues should be tied.
Ms. Murphy’s talking Joe Grey leaves evidence in squad cars. He also has the police chief on speed dial. In Ms. Fry’s series, a thieving tomcat named Rags silently collects business cards, photographs and a pouch of diamonds—clues to murders, kidnappings and a jewelry heist.
When it comes to cats and speech, “people tend to feel very strongly about it,” says Clea Simon, whose first cat mystery, “Mew is for Murder,” featured silent kitties. Once, during a mystery conference panel, “I got up there and said, ‘Cats that speak, they’re an abomination.’ ”
Then she turned tail and wrote a book about a talking ghost cat.
“I realized at some point that we all talk to our pets,” says Ms. Simon, 54, of Somerville, Mass. “And most of us imagine the other side of the dialogue.”
Founded in 1992, the Cat Writers’ Association has often leaned in favor of verbose types, awarding its top fiction prize to books featuring chatty-cat characters.
Last week, Ms. Murphy, who is 87 and lives in Carmel, Calif., published the 19th installment of her mystery series, titled “Cat Shout for Joy.” It missed the deadline for this year’s competition, leaving an opening for a silent cat to slink in. Author Carole Nelson Douglas (a three-time winner) has a hero named Midnight Louie—a Sam Spade in black fur—who narrates her books but doesn’t deign to speak to bipeds. Ms. Fry also hopes to catch a prize with her “Klepto Cat” series.
Talking cats have a long literary history, much of it in children’s stories, from “Puss in Boots” and the Cheshire Cat to the “The Cat in the Hat.” But they have appeared in works for adults, too, including Saki’s “Tobermory” and T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” (upon which the musical “Cats” is based).
“So many fans tell me they wish their cats could speak,” says Ms. Murphy, whose series, which began in 1996, has 1.3 million copies in print, according to her publisher, HarperCollins, which, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.
“Sometimes I say, ‘Are you sure you want to know? They might be thinking something not flattering.’ ”
The original grande dame of cat mysteries was Lilian Jackson Braun, author of the best-selling “Cat Who” series. She died in 2011 at 97. Her series began in 1966 with “The Cat Who Could Read Backwards” and concluded in 2007 with the 29th volume, “The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers.”
Author Amy Shojai, a founder of the Cat Writers’ Association, falls into the mute-cat camp.
“It was important to me to represent cats in a realistic way,” says Ms. Shojai, who is also an animal-behavior consultant. “They are beyond human understanding in many ways.”
On the book-recommendations site Goodreads, the verbal vs. nonverbal debate gets heated. Fans urge skeptics to give feline fantasy a chance. Others draw a firm line.
“I don’t want talking cats,” a Goodreads reviewer identified as Lesa from Evansville, Ind., wrote about a book called “The Whole Cat and Caboodle.” “I like my cats to be cats, even if they do help to solve cases.”
Leslie Ramalho, a fan of the “Joe Grey” series who has corresponded with Ms. Murphy, feels differently.
“The fact that the cats can speak, that adds to the fun,” says Ms. Ramalho, 62, a retired legal assistant who lives with her husband and four cats in Homosassa, Fla. “You kind of wonder, What are they thinking? If they’re sitting there looking out the window, what would they say?”
Writer Rita Mae Brown is the “co-author,” along with her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown, of a mystery series called “Mrs. Murphy.” The 25 titles, including the latest due out in May, have more than 5.1 million copies in print, according to her publisher, Penguin Random House’s Bantam imprint.
The author lives on a Virginia farm with horses, fox hounds and barns full of feral cats. Ms. Brown is known for her 1973 novel “Rubyfruit Jungle,” a groundbreaking portrayal of lesbianism. Her more recent cat mysteries feature fictional felines who chat among themselves—and to other animals—but not to people.
“Animals do have language,” says Ms. Brown, 71. “Think about it. If you are a cat… you can puff up enormously, you can change the pupils of your eyes, move your whiskers back and forth. All of that means something.”
Ms. Brown hadn’t heard of the Cat Writers’ Association until a Wall Street Journal reporter told her about it a few weeks ago. Ms. Brown’s newest installment, “Tall Tail,” comes out in May. Her publisher plans to enter it in the association’s next competition.
Write to Jennifer Maloney at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ninth Life: When a Cat Mystery Takes a Turn for the Dark
Book covers don’t always reflect a book’s actual content, but in the case of The Ninth Life, the first in Clea Simon’s dark new series, the cover is a perfect reflection of the book’s feel and tone.
Written in the voice of Blackie, a black cat with a mysterious past, and combining elements of fantasy and mystery, The Ninth Life introduces this unusual feline and his human companion, Care, a fifteen-year-old homeless girl. These two vulnerable beings are fending for themselves in the nightmarish urban landscape of an unnamed city. When Care’s mentor, a private investigator, is found dead, Care vows to solve the last case he took on, and she also wants to take over his business. The duo encounters a world of drugs, thieves and murderers, and must cope with a number of dangerous situations.
This book is a departure from Simon’s past cat-centric mysteries. The Ninth Life is much darker and disturbing at times. I had a hard time reading through a few passages when Blackie is abused and treated violently, despite the fact that these sections were important to the plot. Knowing how much Clea Simon loves cats, I appreciated that she took the time to share why she chose to write this book and what writing it was like for her.
What made this book for me was the absolutely wonderful way in which Clea narrates the book in Blackie’s voice. Writing in a cat’s voice is challenging,and few writers do it well. Clea does it masterfully. Blackie is all cat, although he does appear to understand human language. I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between Blackie and Care, especially Blackie’s frustrations with the limitations of being able to communicate with Care. You can’t help but fall in love with this brave cat, and his equally brave girl.
If you enjoy gritty, hard core mysteries with an element of urban fantasy, you will love this book.
Darkness, Drowning, and a Drug-Danger Landscape in THE NINTH LIFE, Clea Simon
Ready for some shocks to the heart and mind? THE NINTH LIFE from Clea Simon releases on March 1, the start of this Massachusetts ex-journalist's fourth crime fiction series. But if you think you already know all about Clea Simon because you've read her other books, forget it. THE NINTH LIFE is tough, gritty, urban, and often violent -- and can best be read as if it were a debut for both the author and the series, with its radical new direction.
Before you read further, think about this: There's a release party for this book at the Harvard Book Store. Got that? The cover may have a cat on it, but Simon is tackling grim and serious issues, in a fast-paced mystery that depends on Blackie, the cat on the cover, being able to somehow communicate to his human partner Care what he's able to discover:
The night's shelter has done me good. I leap and land with a grace I'd not remembered, and my satisfaction is deeper than vanity. I am on a hunt, and I cannot afford to fail.
Haunted as he is by the moment when he seems to have woken into this cat body after being drowned in a culvert -- from what form? for what reason? -- Blackie is nevertheless the ultimate rational investigator, persistent and straightforward and without scruple. That puts him in opposition to Care; even though she's at once his guardian and partner, grasping his needs without entrapping him, he soon realizes she's trapped by her emotional attachments to the group of homeless, battered kids she's hanging out with. And the criminal and drug-pushing gang maneuvering them through the harshest regions of the city, wherever it is.
In a recent interview in The Big Thrill, Simon spoke of her drive to cut new terrain in this book, deeper and darker than in her other series: to probe the nature of isolation, as well as the bonds people forge with their self-made "family of choice." For Blackie and Care, the guardianship Care assumes so passionately for both the independent Blackie and the very dependent (and drug-addicted) boy Tick come into inevitable conflict.
And by the end of the second chapter, it's clear that Tick's mistakes are costing everyone at the most basic and dangerous levels, as Care herself reveals while Blackie evaluates the scene:
Her voice has tightened. I sense the others listening.
"He had a message. I was supposed to find you. Only --" He breaks off. Kicks at the dirt. ... "He said someone is weighing down the scale. That you'd know what to do. That Fat Peter wasn't on the level."
"Fat Peter?" She's leaning in. "He said that?"
... "I figured I could do it. I mean, I'm sorry you won't get the coin --"
"The coin?" She explodes, spitting the word out. "I'm not thinking of the coin. This was a message, Tick. A message. If you had found me, if you'd told me this before, maybe I could have saved him."
For all the efforts Care makes to provide affection and direction to the ragged crew around her, the dire and hungry poverty drilling into them and the siren call of "the scat," the drug that Tick's embraced, keep driving this group into worse risks and greater danger.
Simon nails (sometimes brutally) the cruelty and costs of living on the street and wrestling with people who aren't trustworthy. Blackie serves as blunt narrator of this dark world where there is no social safety net. Trading sex, drugs, and deals is a terrible way to get by. And it's raising the cost of what Care will have to pay if she's ever going to pull Tick back out of danger.
There are mysteries here beyond the crime narrative. What city are Blackie, Care, and Tick inhabiting? And when? Some aspects speak of the eras of the guilds in medieval Europe -- others of some barren and fire-blighted sections of modern New York City or Detroit. And what about Blackie -- does the "ninth life" refer to his ninth time as a cat, or has be been human at some point in the past? What chance does Care have to make a life for herself, beyond what she needs to do for Tick?
The book's stunning finale begs a sequel, and it's good to know there's one in the works. I'll be watching in particular to see whether THE NINTH LIFE trickles out of the adult (and cat-centered) categories, toward the young-adult dystopian fanatical readers, who'll recognize something from other worlds and other despairs in these pages.
This isn't an easy book to read. It has the rough edges of a deliberately coarse narrative, and the darkness of an "Oliver Twist." I had moments when I objected to being held in prolonged suspense, and wanted more assurance of loyalty and growth. But this sensation seemed also to fit with the nightmare of homelessness that Simon evokes, and most of the time, I accepted it as the price for a very new kind of crime fiction.
I'm looking forward to the next in this new series -- from Severn House, bringing out an American edition, which almost guarantees a modest print run and the need for collectors to get quickly into action. Don't miss the chance.
WHEN BUNNIES GO BAD, Clea Simon -- Animal Talker Pru Marlowe Fights Crime
The sixth book in Clea Simon's "pet noir" series, WHEN BUNNIES GO BAD, hits bookstores on March 1, and from the wild humor of the title, to the wry conversations between animal behaviorist Pru Marlowe and her cat Wallis, every chapter of this new mystery is jammed with surprises and suspense.
Of course, you'll have to put up with setting aside any skepticism about horse whisperers and people who "get" what a dog or cat is saying to them. It shouldn't be too hard. Pru herself is at pains to point out that her midlife ability to "hear" the thoughts of animals in words is actually not what it seems. Her cat Wallis, the mature adult in all of this, reminds her often that the "words" are simply Pru's own mind imposing a framework on the information and emotions coming her way from, say, Growler the (gay) dog she walks regularly, Frank the ferret, and a not-so-talkative rabbit whose owner is hiding some secrets of her own.
And as someone whose four nearest neighbors all have dogs living with them and running their lives, I'm inclined to ride with Pru's take on the situation in her small, western Massachusetts town.
This time she's worked up right away abotu what looks like a "moneyed older man" manipulating a beautiful young woman, a ski bunny in town to enjoy the nearby snowy slopes while also collaborating in an affaire. But if you're reading this, you pay attention to crime, both fictional and non, right? So if I say, "Think Whitey Bulger and his girlfriend," you'll see things differently from Pru's line of vision. Of course, all the clues are in front of Pru. But she's a bit stubborn, and the fact that her pet wrangling's being demanded by a woman she sees as weak, and another (the rabbit owner) who's somehow afraid, doesn't make for clear insight.
Take this scene, for instance, when a human corpse has already been discovered (this is noir, remember?) and Pru is searching the nearby woods alone for a dog she's sure she heard barking before the death was revealed. Of course, the nearby birds and squirrels are making their own sort of racket in Pru's mind.
"Where is she? Where?" A new voice had joined the cacophony -- and this one I did understand. What I heard as a question was the sharp bark of a little dog, racing toward the development -- and me. ... "Where? Where?" The barking was growing louder, and I turned. It would be a sad circumstance if the little dog were hit by a car just as he emerged from the woods. ...
The car -- a silver Honda -- braked and a redhead -- Cheryl Ginger -- stepped out. ... "Did you hear him?" she asked. "Is he here?"...
The woman beside me knelt as the dog -- a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, from the size and silky coat -- leaped into her arms. "I've been looking for you everywhere." She was talking to the dog, but I saw her glance at me as he reached up to lick her cheek. When she caught me looking, she turned to work a small twig out of her pet's jeweled collar. "Where have you been?"
The dog didn't answer. Then again, I had the feeling her line of questioning had actually been for me. I wasn't sure what the pretty ski bunny was about but I knew a staged scene when I was placed in one.
Readers of the earlier books in the series (Dogs Don't Lie, Cats Can't Shoot, Parrots Prove Deadly, Panthers Play for Keeps, and Kittens Can Kill) will get extra pleasure from the appearances in the book of Pru's held-at-a-little-distance police officer lover, and know right away that Pru's efforts to keep both her animal insight and her crime-solving out of Jim's focus are in trouble. There's also a criminal figure from earlier books, the very dangerous Gregor Benazi. Well, this is noir, right? Some evil, plenty of danger, collaboration with people you know aren't trustworthy?
No, you don't need to read the other books first. Clea Simon (who writes three or four mystery series) is adept at inserting just enough background so you can steam through these chapters, chasing the killer and his or her motives along with Pru. And yes, I understand being a bit reluctant to trust the narrator about animal communication -- but trust me on this one, Simon's ingenious in how she outlines Pru's talent and its costs. Set the issue aside and focus on the clues and twists. Above all, this is a fiercely traditional crime novel, with red herrings (not fish, but four-legged and two-legged) and a relentless trail of risk and discovery.
Grab a copy while the book's in its first printing -- you can make time later to collect the entire batch if you get hooked. And please check out this evening's OTHER Clea Simon review. This prolific author has two mysteries releasing on March 1, and the other one's the start of an even darker set.
WHEN BUNNIES GO BAD is in the hands of Poisoned Pen Press -- more proof that this specialty mystery publisher knows when to carry on with an intriguing and successful series.
We know nothing of Blackie when we meet him and when we meet Care, the ragged, pink-haired street rat that soon becomes his favored companion. His memory picks up from where she picks him up and their adventure seems to begin there. Blackie feels an unusual connection with this Care girl and chalks it up to the fact that she saved him from what he can only remember as three foggy shadows of what he assumes are men from their shapes.
Through Blackie, his eyes, his observations, his smells and cat-senses we get a look at the world in a different way. We go on a journey with his newfound companions to find out who murdered her former friend and father-like figure whom she refers to as “The Old Man.” Through this journey we are introduced to a boy, Tick, who used to share a foster home with her and who also is now on the street. He, a younger brother-like figure to Care. Only, this boy is tied up in the world of drug smuggling, and other illegal trades, unable to shake their hold. Having escaped this life, Care had been taken under the wing of The Old Man and learned how to become a detective of sorts, taking down men such as those who Tick was now working for. Only a young boy, Care hopes to save him from this life of crime and need for drugs that are now becoming a life-style. Being a cat, Blackie has a heightened sense of smell, location and knowledge of people. He doesn’t know how, but he just seems to know what to do, how to go about it and that this girl, this Care has been well-trained and that he must stick with her and help her as best he can. Again, you become aware of how human-like Blackie is in his way of dealing with issues. Even though the people around him can’t hear his thoughts, we as readers are treated to his genius schemes and insights all through the book. If all cats think like this, I will never look at another cat the same again.
As “The Ninth Life” progresses, Care and Tick come in and out of each others lives and danger envelopes them both many times. Blackie is able to help them with various warnings and even searching out places beforehand. By the end, we are invested in the characters. I, for one, wanted Care to triumph in her journey and accomplish what she had been trying to do through the entire book. I also wanted Blackie to figure out the dream that continued to haunt him; the dream of the three shadow men. Care is a brilliant sleuth with Blackie. A most shocking reveal is made at the end that changes all you think about Blackie and the future of Care. The second book cannot come soon enough.
Clea Simon has twisted my brain with this book. I have been taken to the dark, damp underbelly of a drug infested, money greedy, mob-like
What different voices in books this week. First, a young girl who doesn't speak is the narrator. Now, Clea Simon introduces us to Blackie in The Ninth Life. Blackie is another narrator who doesn't speak, and, at times is frustrated when he can't communicate as he would like. Blackie is a cat who doesn't remember anything until he's drowning and a teenage girl rescues him.
Care rescues Blackie, who only knows he's a streetwise older cat. And, to accompany Care, he needs to be streetwise. The old man who was teaching her to be a detective is dead, murdered, and now she's heading out out her own to find answers. But, Care lives in a dangerous world in the streets, and even some of the members of her old gang don't want her to search for the truth. She's bullied and threatened while she hunts. The only person who seems to care for Care is a young boy, Tick, but Tick has problems. His mother was an addict, and Tick himself is addicted to a street drug called scat. While Care is desperate to help Tick, Blackie doesn't trust him. He doesn't know if Tick is a scapegoat or if he's betraying Care. Blackie and Tick share a mutual distrust.
As Care and Blackie question criminals, and search the streets, docks, and deserted shops, they stumble towards a surprising answer. Blackie sees only the danger in the investigation, but he's determined to protect and assist Care. He knows why she's so desperate. "She seeks redress for her mentor. To avenge him and solve the mystery of his death, and that is the most dangerous motivation of all."
Clea Simon leads her characters to a surprising conclusion, and leads Blackie to an amazing realization. Simon, a writer who loves cats, creates an appealing, unusual narrator in Blackie. He relates the story with the vision and skills of a cat, and we see it unfold through his eyes. And, although the book is entitled The Ninth Life, Simon leaves an opening for the return of this remarkable duo, a cat and the girl he has claimed.
Bunnies abound in this new entry in the Pru Marlowe Pet Noir series.
There’s the wild bunny being kept illegally by an elderly woman who
calls on Pru because she’s heard of Pru’s skill as an animal
behaviorist; there’s the bunny in the painting stolen in a recent art
heist; and then there’s that fixture of the resort slopes, the ski
The latter is Cheryl, the arm-candy girlfriend of an obnoxious
businessman type named Teddy Rhinecrest. Pru encounters the couple
while out with her sometime boyfriend and full time police detective
Jim Creighton. What should have been a nice dinner is spoiled when
Rhinecrest picks a fight with his girlfriend Cheryl, the
aforementioned ski bunny. Creighton steps in to calm things down, but
it won’t come as any surprise to readers when Teddy turns up dead.
For once, Pru doesn’t have a personal stake in the investigation. She
really doesn’t want to be involved, but then Cheryl calls Pru for help
with her King Charles Spaniel. Pru goes to help the dog and finds
things are more complicated than she expected. . . not to mention the
appearance of an old acquaintance who brings both old world charm and
I’ve enjoyed this series from the start. For the uninitiated, Pru is
more than a behaviorist. She’s an animal psychic, able to pick up
bits of information from a variety of animals. The communication is
disjointed, bits and pieces of things that Pru struggles to
understand. It can also be very distracting because she can’t turn it
One of the things I like the most about the series is the way that the
characters continue to evolve. At the beginning, Pru was all but
shattered by this sudden gift of inter-species communication. She was
so convinced that she was mad that she checked herself into a mental
health clinic. She lives in fear that someone else will find out
about her ability. Add this to her history of unhappy and unfortunate
personal relationships and Pru is one defensive and prickly lady,
given to consuming large amounts of alcohol to deaden the pain and
fear. Her one confidant is Wallis, her opinionated tabby cat who
functions as advisor and commentator, whether Pru wants to hear it or
not. (No pun intended.) However, over the course of the series Pru
has begun to open up just a little. She is learning to question some
of her own assumptions and to figure out that maybe, just maybe, she
doesn’t have to face everything alone. She’s also getting better at
trying to decipher the messages she gets from the various creatures.
That’s not to say that this is a series that has to be read in order.
Each is a standalone, though some characters carry over for several
The murder actually takes a bit of a back seat to some of the other
mysteries in the book; while there is a resolution, it happens off
camera so to speak. Thinking it over, I still found it a satisfying
read as I was more interested in some of the other things that were
going on. I admit I often read more for character than for plot, and
this one was particularly well done in that respect. This isn’t to say
that the mysteries got short shrift, just that as a long time reader I
was more attuned to the character development.
This series just keeps getting better and better.
Full Disclosure: I was sent an ARC (Advance Reader’s Copy) of the
book. I was under no obligation to review the book and receiving the
ARC did not affect my review.
From Library Journal
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: THE NINTH LIFE
Publication: LIBRARY JOURNAL
Issue: 1ST MARCH 2016
Simon, Clea. The Ninth Life Severn House. (Blackie & Care Cat, Bk. 1). Mar. 2016. 229p. ISBN 9780727885715. $28.95;
Care rescues Blackie after he is almost drowned. Our feline protagonist and narrator, who has used up nearly all of his nine lives, does not remember much beyond three shadowy figures who held him underwater. Now he must save the pink-haired Care from herself and the men who seek to use her to deliver their drugs, including heroin-addicted boyfriend Tick, or frame her for murder.
VERDICT With this new cat series, the author of the “Dulcie Schwartz” books (Code Grey) takes on a darker tone. Blackie is an enigmatic hero, trying to keep Care safe and lamenting his inability to communicate with her. Care is a troubled child attempting to do right. Where they go from here remains to be seen. A delight for anyone who relishes cat mysteries.
The Ninth Life is one of Clea Simon's best novels yet February 14, 2016
The Ninth Life By Clea Simon
Mystery & Thrillers
Pub Date: March 1, 2016
Clea Simon's newest novel, The Ninth Life, is
an astounding novel that grabs the reader and doesn't let go.
The Ninth Life captivated me from the start.
Whenever I was forced to put the book down to do chores or run
errands, it stayed on my mind, the story haunting me until I picked it
up again. The world of Clare, Blackie, and Tick is not a happy
world. It is dirty and grim, with little hope. Despite this the
novel made me want to linger, to stay with Clare and Blackie and to
find some way to help - an impossible feat for a reader.
The story is told from the perspective of Blackie, a cat Clare rescues
from drowning. A few days earlier, the Old Man, a private
investigator who was mentoring Clare, was murdered. Clare desperately
needs to find out who killed him and why. The Old Man showed her
respect, taught her to think and follow clues - skills that would
prevent her from becoming another street kid addicted to scat.
Blackie devotes himself to helping Clare, protecting her despite his
age. His senses and his instincts help him perceive danger, even when
she is unaware. The streets teach that trust is slowly earned and
easily broken. Despite this, she clings to her loyalty towards Tick,
the child she thinks of as her younger brother. His divided loyalties
and lack of understanding of the consequences make him easy prey. He
helps Clare, but also endangers her. Like Blackie I hated him, didn't
trust his weaknesses, but because he was important to Clare, he
Clare is a child on the cusp of adolescence, forced to grow up too
fast. Yet, as unlikely as it seems, she retains her compassion. The
Old Man taught her well, and gave her a hope for the future. Blackie
is a cat who puts pieces together. He isn't a furred human, but he
has a unique understanding of people and human nature. His memory of
the time before his drowning is fleeting and dreamlike, but somehow
his past is tied to Clare's case - the death of her mentor. Each of
the characters was so real. I could almost touch Blackie's fur.
The Ninth Life is one of Clea Simon's best novels
yet, showcasing her talent for creating vibrant characters both human
and animal and for developing an unforgettable story. Her books have
pioneered a new genre of animal mystery - pet noir. If you love
animals and mysteries, you should never pass up the opportunity to
read Clea Simon's novels.
The Ninth Life is available for preorder and will be
released March 1, 2016 I received a copy of The Ninth Life from the
publisher and netgalley.com in exchange for an honest
Monday, February 15, 2016
Book Review: The Ninth Life, by Clea Simon
For years, we’ve been reading and loving cat cozies—those fun, light
books featuring one or more cats, a quirky amateur sleuth, and a
rather delightful murder—and yet somehow, Clea
Simon’s The Ninth Life is exactly the book
we’ve been waiting for. Compelling is not a word that comes to mind to
describe most mysteries we review here, but it is the first word that
came to mind as we read the first book in Simon’s new series.
The Ninth Life is not a cozy mystery. It is
instead the kind of darker story that grips you by the throat on page
one and does not release you until you’ve turned the final page. I say
it’s the book we’ve been waiting for partly because it is told
entirely from the cat’s point of view, and I can tell you, Clea Simon
is a writer who has spent some time thinking about what it’s like to
be a cat. The story starts in a most disturbing way, with the cat’s
near-drowning. Fortunately, the cat is rescued by a pink-haired girl
of perhaps fourteen, but if you think the story is going to get all
warm and cuddly from that point on, think again.
Because this girl—Care, her name is—lives the uncertain existence of a
child of the streets. It’s not unlike the life of a stray cat, only
with the added pressures exerted by those humans who are older, or
just bigger and stronger, and are eager to use the younger and weaker
for their own ends.
Care names her new feline companion Blackie, and he begins to follow
her—and not just for the meager amount of subpar food she’s able to
share with him. Blackie sees himself as Care’s protector as the girl
tries to solve the mystery of who killed the unnamed “old man” who,
until his death, had been her mentor in the field of private
investigation. But for this cat, Care’s on her own as she works on the
old man’s last case, with precious few clues and surrounded by a bunch
of sleazy types with names like Fat Peter (only he’s dead too) and
Diamond Jim. And then there’s the younger boy named Tick, whom Care is
looking after, or trying to, though we’re not sure what Tick is trying
to do to her.
Good thing Blackie is along for the ride. He knows to be wary of
everything, for this is not his first rodeo, as they say in some
places. Curiously, though he’s older, he also seems brand new in some
Blackie seems to be remembering—or perhaps discovering?—who he is as
he goes along. “I am a cat…I am older.” He makes this statement as
much to himself as to the reader. Blackie also seems to suffer from
PTSD after that near-drowning, sometimes waking from nightmares that
cause him to lash out at Care, drawing her blood. At first he
struggles whenever she picks him up, not understanding her intentions,
not really trusting her, fearing she will betray him after the little
bit of trust he’s granted her. But Care never turns on him, and so
they stick together, surviving in the shadows as the pink-haired girl
moves ever closer to a dangerous truth.
The mystery part of this story may or may not involve a stolen emerald
necklace—or something much, much bigger. The reader receives bits of
the story as Blackie receives them, through others’ conversations and
the cat’s keen sense of smell. Those intricate criminal intentions are
not always easy to follow, and we still wouldn’t swear we understand
them, but when it comes down to it, we don’t really care: The magic in
this story is all between Care and Blackie, and there’s plenty of it.
As I said earlier, Clea Simon has clearly spent some time considering
what it’s like to be a cat. Blackie (and Care, ultimately) moves
through the city as both hunter and prey, vulnerable and dangerous at
the same time, depending on who the foe is. He understands both less
and more than Care does, and he longs to communicate with her as
easily as she talks to him. We especially like the way Blackie grooms
when he is upset: “One asserts order however one can.” So true.
We found The Ninth Life to be true
edge-of-your-seat reading. The story is stark, as is the setting, yet
Simon dots it all with moments of insight and small beauties that
offer hope. We’re left feeling that as long as Care and Blackie have
each other, they’ll somehow be okay. This story isn’t cute and cuddly,
but oh, is it good!
Full disclosure: I read an early chapter of this book and was sent a free copy after publication. I was under no obligation to review, favorably or otherwise.
Teenaged Care is living a precarious life on the streets, trying to stay away from the worst of the low-lifes who haunt the dark alleys and docks of the city. She had been mentored by an older man who worked as a private investigator, and his death has left her all but friendless. She looks out for Tick, a younger boy who may already be getting in too deep by running errands for dealers and other shady figures.
When she sees a stray cat in trouble, Care intervenes to save it
and earns herself a feline companion. And not just any feline,
either. Blackie, who serves as the narrator for the book, is a
shrewd judge of character, human and otherwise. He is streetwise in
ways that Care is not, but is hampered in his ability to communicate
his well-considered opinions. Unlike many non-human narrators,
Blackie is meticulously observant and erudite, but always with a
slight remove: he is quite aware he is a cat and quite aware that a
cat is both predator and prey. He feels a kinship with the girl,
who is in much the same situation though she may not realize
it. He’s alarmed to realize that she is bent on finding out what
happened to her former mentor. He knows that while her youth is a
definite advantage in many ways, she also has the impetuousness, the
feeling of invulnerability, and the fearlessness which can lead to
And it appears that Care is well on her way to such a disaster as
she persists in asking dangerous questions of ruthless people.
While Simon’s books have always tended to have more grit than the
average cozy, this book is a definite departure. The urban setting
could be post-apocalyptic or just a particularly grim inner city area
peopled by scavengers: runaway children, drug addicts, prostitutes,
petty criminals, and the crime lords who prey on them. What could have
been unremittingly bleak is softened by Blackie’s narration. He sounds
like a bit like a Victorian gentleman: not prudish, but descriptive
and analytical, eschewing street slang. If Sherlock Holmes were a cat,
this is the sort of cat he would be.
The book’s main strength for me is the narrator. Blackie has a
unique voice and point of view. He reads human body language well and
notices things that Care does not, but his commentary is more factual
than critical. By that I mean Simon avoids using Blackie for social
commentary. It’s a technique several mystery authors have employed
with mixed results. Having an animal comment on human foibles can be
both entertaining and illuminating, but some authors turn the animal
into a mouthpiece for their own political viewpoints and for me, that
tends to get very old very fast. Care intrigues him; at first, it
comes from obligation, but it soon turns into affection. From his
point of view, Care is half grown kitten who needs guidance.
Blackie has his own personal puzzle as well: how did he come to be
nearly drowned by those ruffians? The shot seems to have erased part
of his memory. He cannot remember his life before the rescue, but he
is a cat and what is important is the here and now.
That’s another aspect that I appreciate: we never lose sight of the
fact that he is a cat. His senses are more acute, his reflexes
quicker. His size allows him to slip into and out of places a human
cannot. But he doesn’t have brute strength nor can he read. His paws
aren’t hands. He’s an older cat, and age is taking a toll but he
doesn’t mourn his lost youth. Again, he lives in the NOW, not in the
past or future.
I would recommend the book on the basis of the narrator alone, but
Simon has also constructed some interesting mysteries along the way.
The conclusion is very satisfying, and leaves readers poised for more
to come. Best of all, the book avoids what I refer to as “First In
Series Syndrome” in which an author tries to pack in a lot of
background before ever getting around to a plot or characterization. A
cool, clever read with heart, just like Blackie himself.
Cozy author Simon (When Bunnies Go Bad)
takes a turn to the dark side with this edgy first in a series
introducing Carrie “Care” Wright, a homeless girl in her early teens
who lives on the streets of an unnamed city. Care rescues a drowning
cat, naming him Blackie, and the two have an instant affinity, but
Blackie, who narrates the tale, is an unusual feline. Care and her
foster brother, Tick, who’s about 10, live in the clutches of a gang
leader, AD, but Care has been mentored by a private detective and has
a chance to get out of the life until her mentor is
murdered. Determined to find his killer and get Tick away from AD,
Care soon finds that a pernicious drug known as scat is at the center
of frightening events, including the murder of a pawn shop
owner. Meanwhile, Blackie knows more than any cat should, but can’t
tell Care, so he does his best to keep her safe. Noir fans who are
fond of felines will find a lot to like.
Agent: Colleen Mohyde, Doe Coover Agency. (Mar.)
Issue: February 1, 2016
When Bunnies Go Bad.
Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof
Simon, Clea (Author) Mar 2016. 264 p. Poisoned Pen, hardcover,
$26.95. (9781464205330). paperback, $15.95. (9781464205354). e-book,
In this latest title in the only series to combine pets with noir
(or a semi-tame form of noir), animal psychic Pru deals with a sneaky
rabbit and finds a few bodies strung about her quaint Berkshire
hometown of Beauville. It starts with an an obnoxious tourist whom Pru
observes at a restaurant with his girlfriend; later she finds his body
in a condo. Maybe weirder is the fact that the girlfriend needs Pru’s
help with her dog, a persnickety spaniel. And let’s not forget that
rabbit, a wild bunny named Henry, who is living with an 84- year-old
woman. Oh, and there’s a mobster, too, whose presence somehow forces
Pru to deal with some secrets of her own about her hasty exit from New
York. Usually, Pru can sort out her various entanglements by hearing
what the pets have to say, but this time neither the rabbit nor the
spaniel are coming through clearly. The plot is nearly as challenging
to follow as the critters, but once again Simon’s wacky humor—darkish
but surely not black—provides more than enough entertainment.
He's drowning and he's not going to make it. Then someone grabs
him and helps him on to land. She's a young human with pink hair and
is skinny, but she's his friend now.
Severn House and Net Galley allowed me to read this book for
review (thank you). It will be published March 1st.
This is a new series about a cat named Blackie that is helping his
human solve a mystery. Who killed her friend and mentor who was
investigating a case? And why?
The story is set in the squalid underworld of the homeless
children living on the streets. You can feel the cold, the hunger and
the terror of being small and hunted. No one is your friend, everyone
is using you. Survival of the meanest works here.
Care, with the pink hair, wants to get away from the drugs and the
gang but it's hard to do. She was learning how to investigate but
then her teacher is killed. Can she find out who and why without
getting killed herself?
This was a good read. Care and Blackie will be back since this is
the first book in a new series. After all, some of the bad guys have
been captured or are dead but the figure head at the top is still
alive. There's still danger out there...
Code Grey: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery By Clea Simon
by Cynthia Chow
It’s spring break at Harvard University, and ubiquitous graduate
student Dulcie Schwartz is feeling abandoned. Her boyfriend Chris is
visiting his family, her good friend is off doing post-grad work, and
burst pipes in the campus buildings closed most of the offices. A
fifth-year graduate student, Dulcie is determined to stay on campus in
order to complete her dissertation on a gothic novelist and mysterious
manuscript. While campus security and Chris are concerned about the
spurt of burglaries plaguing the empty buildings, Dulcie has complete
faith in the protective spirit of her beloved Mr. Grey. The ghost of
her late cat companion continues to provide Dulcie with advice and
warnings, and her living feline roommate Esme is just as
Also still on campus is Jeremy “Mumbles” Mumbleigh, a disturbed and
shambling former scholar who somehow lost his way and remains
broken. After failing to complete his dissertation, Mumbles apparently
never left the university city and remains a troubled but harmless
presence. Darcie finds that she has too much in common with the man,
and she fears that she is one incomplete paper away from following in
his footsteps. Perhaps that explains why, after Mumbles is injured and
blamed by police for the burglaries, Dulcie becomes completely
obsessed with proving his innocence.
The condemning evidence found on Mumbles is a book believed to have
been part of a collection stolen from Harvard’s library in 1989. As
Dulcie seeks the aid of Thomas Griddlehaus, the librarian and director
of the Mildon Rare Book Collection, she tests the patience of Chris
and exasperates Detective Rogovoy. The two men, as well as Dulcie’s
friends, all believe that Dulcie is engaging on a misguided quest to
clear a man who is not her heroic protector of books.
By the ninth installment of this series, Dulcie’s thesis advisor is
not the only one who suspects that she may be using her investigations
to distract her from completing her dissertation. Once Dulcie finishes
her studies, she’ll be forced to defend her dissertation and
eventually leave her comfortable academic world. This, combined with
the fear that she could easily suffer the same breakdown as Mumbles,
has Dulcie irrationally determined to serve as his advocate.
Author Simon delightfully exposes the eccentricities prevalent in
the Ivy League institution and deftly plots out an academic
mystery. Esme and Mr. Grey continue to prove stabilizing forces in
Dulcie’s life, and Esme retains all of the feline qualities that cat
lovers adore. Book lovers will also find much to appreciate in the
descriptions that have scholars (who value books for their content)
battling against thieves (who only appreciate their superficial
price). Dulcie’s narrow focus may make her an irritant to the police,
and her naïve belief in fellow academics may not be logical—but it is
charming. Mr. Grey and Esme are considerably more sensible than their
human, but with their support Dulcie will no doubt prevail in solving
these very literary crimes.
Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: CODE GREY
Issue: 1 ST JULY 2015
Code Grey. Simon, Clea (Author), Aug 2015. 224 p. Severn, hardcover, $28.95. (9780727885067). Severn, paperback, (9781847516107). Severn, e-book, (9781780106618).
Working on her dissertation, Dulcie Schwartz is one of the few people
remaining at Harvard over spring break. Her scholarly pursuits are
interrupted when she comes to the defense of a former Harvard student,
Jeremy, now homeless, who is found at a construction sight, holding a
long-missing, valuable book. Police like Jeremy for the rash of recent
campus break-ins, but Dulcie doesn’t buy it. With the help of her
friend, rare-books librarian Mr. Griddlehaus, she begins to research
the history of the missing book, which was part of a collection
donated to the library decades ago, when Griddlehaus, Jeremy, and the
head of facilities were all students. Cats play a role, of course, in
sorting out the mystery, and Dulcie’s abilities to communicate with
felines comes in very handy. This unusual and intelligent series
continues to surprise, with additional backstory on some of the
characters adding layers of interest. Readers will not want Dulcie to
finish her dissertation anytime soon.
Review by Gayle Surrette
Severn House Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780727885067
Date: 01 August 2015 List Price $28.95
It's Spring Break and campus is nearly empty. Dulcie Schwartz figured this would be the perfect time to push through on writing her dissertation. So, her boyfriend has gone to visit his mother, most of her friends are also gone away, and Dulcie plans to write enough to at least get a complete draft before the end of break.
Of course the best laid plans of even the greatest tacticians never make it past actual contact with reality, so things do not go quite as planned. During Stages of Grey campus was having some excavation work done. Now there seems to be plumbing problems and pipes are bursting all over campus -- or at least in the areas that Dulcie needs to be during break.
Her mother called with the usual vague warnings, and then Special Collections was evacuated due to a burst pipe and flooding nearby. Things were definitely not going as planned. Her boyfriend was making her feel guilty for not writing more, but she was having difficulty finding places to work. The weather was cold, the walk from campus to her apartment at night was a lot lonelier, and with Dulcie's imagination heightened by working with Gothic literature all day the walk was getting scarier. Taking a break to warm up in an alcove by the library's back door on the way home, Dulcie runs into Jeremy "Mumbles" Mumbleigh, who once had been a grad student in her area until he had a nervous breakdown. He was also spouting warnings and cryptic messages. He was very frightened and nervous about … something. The next day, Dulcie learned he was in an accident.
Readers of the series know that Dulcie can't let a mystery alone. Besides, she feel responsible for Jeremy as she'd seen him before his accident. Once she starts digging, she learns a lot more about Jeremy, Mr. Griddlehaus (the head of Special Collections), and some information on the new segments of the manuscript she was working with. She also is threatened.
The pressure and tension mount to a surprising and quite satisfying conclusion. Dulcie must cope with her fears, her desire to continue her research, her need to finish her degree, and her need to exonerate Jeremy, all while dealing with vague warnings from her mother, and even more cryptic hints from her cats.
Posted: Saturday, August 1, 2015 10:30 pm
BY JAY STRAFFORD Special correspondent
A mystery without a murder?
Rare, of course. But not impossible.
Dorothy L. Sayers concocted such a tale in 1935's "Gaudy Night" -- and now, 80 years later, Clea Simon does so in "Code Grey" (216 pages, Severn House, $28.95), the ninth entry in her series featuring Dulcinea "Dulcie" Schwartz, a doctoral candidate at a university in Cambridge, Mass. Both novels are set in academia, and both are filled with suspense.
Dulcie is continuing to work on her dissertation about an anonymous author of at least one Gothic novel written two centuries ago. But her labors are interrupted when Jeremy "Mumbles" Mumbleigh -- a homeless, aging former student with psychological issues -- is found gravely injured and whose coat conceals a rare book believed stolen years ago. Convinced that Jeremy is innocent, Dulcie sets aside her research. But when she discovers that the stolen volume is connected to her own work, she redoubles her efforts to advance her quest for more information about the anonymous author who has become the focus of her life.
Along the way, as always, she receives help from the spectral presence of her late cat, Mr. Grey, and her current feline, Esmé -- and from Thomas Griddlehaus, who heads the university library's rare-book collection.
Simon's fertile imagination in plot and character -- Dulcie, a mix of determination and delicacy, is particularly appealing -- results in an entertaining read that ailurophiles, bibliophiles and anyone who enjoys a good yarn will find stimulating and refreshingly different.
Jay Strafford is a retired writer and editor for The Times-Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com
From Library Journal
Dulcinea Schwartz's homeless friend Jeremy Mumbleleigh is accused of stealing a valuable book, but Dulcie knows the gentle Jeremy, who had a breakdown years ago, is innocent. It's spring break, and the library is in the throes of a renovation. As Dulcie investigates, more crimes come to light. This is the ninth entry (after Stages of Grey) in the series, and Mr. Grey, Dulcie's cat ghost, continues to provide insights and appeal along the way.
An aging, abrasive father. Three daughters, not bound by sisterly
King Lear, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia? Nope. Retired lawyer David
Canaday of Beauville, Mass., and his daughters, Jackie, Judith and
Jill, are the focal points of “Kittens Can Kill” (294 pages, Poisoned
Pen Press, $24.95 hardcover, $14.95 paperback), the fifth entry in
Clea Simon’s series starring Pru Marlowe, who can hear animals’
thoughts and communicate with them.
When Pru arrives at David’s house to check on a 6-week-old kitten —
an unexpected gift from Judith — she finds the old man dead and the
kitten playing with a button. The death seems to be the result of a
massive heart attack, but was it aggravated by an animal allergy, the
victim’s tendency to overmedicate or something worse?
Oldest sister Jackie has been her father’s caregiver for
years. Judith long ago escaped to Los Angeles to work as an actress,
and Jill, the youngest, attends college in Vermont. As the
recriminations fly, each of the women seems to have an odd
relationship with their dad’s former legal partner, Laurence
Wilkins. Helped by kitten Ernesto and her tabby cat, Wallis, Pru
learns the killer’s identity — but not before an attempt on her
With a clever plot that keeps the reader guessing — and a deeper
look into Pru’s inner life and demons — “Kittens Can Kill” shines as
the best installment yet in Simon’s entertaining and thoughtful
Kittens Can Kill: A Pru Marlow Pet Noir By Clea Simon
IN THE MARCH 7 ISSUE
by Cynthia Chow
When she arrived at David Canaday’s Beuville mansion, all animal
behaviorist Pru Marlowe wanted was to assess the kitten his daughter
had hired her to check on. The last thing she wanted to discover was
Canaday’s dead body—with the tiny kitten completely distraught,
calling for his mother and wanting to play. Pru doesn’t have to guess
the kitten’s intent, as she can hear animals’ thoughts and
telepathically speak to them.
Typically, her human clients are the ones who prove to be the most
challenging. David Canaday’s three daughters are all in varying stages
of grief, and none is willing to take on the kitten that some believe
induced Canaday’s fatal heart attack. In fact, the eldest daughter
Judith, after having spent years caretaking her father, demands that
the cat be put to death. Middle daughter Jackie had fled the small
town to pursue a career in California as an actress, but while Pru
sympathizes with her need to escape, she also distrusts Jackie’s
motivations. Canaday’s youngest daughter Jill may be the most
troubling of them all: not only does she receive the greatest share of
their inheritance, but she also pressures Pru into becoming a
mentor. Pru has spent years building barriers to guard her privacy and
protect her secret abilities, and not even the growing relationship
with Detective Jim Creighton has breached her protective walls.
Perhaps what makes this series so compelling is how grounded it
feels in reality. Despite the fact that, yes, Pru can “speak” to
animals, they never break their own very non-human thought patterns
and much of the difficulty occurs with Pru’s inability to immediately
interpret their communications. Only Wallis, her tabby roommate (who
once saved Pru from a self-destructive spiral), succeeds in speaking
clearly. Pru is challenged by her own troubled upbringing that has her
relating to and sympathizing with each of the Canaday sisters even as
she suspects then of having a hand in their father’s death.
Despite Pru’s prickliness, her brittle nature, and a
less-than-pristine past, she is ultimately likable and admirable as
she guards over animals that seem far nobler than humans. As she says,
nature isn’t pretty but humans only make it worse. The title comes,
prophetically enough, from an animal control officer’s ferret that
provides the clue Pru interprets incorrectly. This novel delves deeply
into noir territory with family drama and the secrets of an
unforgiving small town, and it features a superbly strong heroine
learning to lower her defenses and open herself up to a life filled
Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the
island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and
hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos
March 06, 2015
Review and Giveaway: Kittens Can Kill by Clea Simon
Pet behaviorist and psychic Pru Marlowe is back in this fifth book in Clea Simon’s Pet Noir series, and the series just keep getting better with each book. In Kittens Can Kill, Pru arrives at a client’s house and finds a fluffy white kitten next to the client’s body. Was it a heart attack? Were drug interactions to blame? Or was the victim allergic to the kitten, which one of his three daughters had given her father as a gift only recently?
Pru gets drawn into a tangled web of family dysfunction as the three daughters fight over their father’s considerable estate. Aided by her wise, if somewhat cranky, tabby Wallis, Dru takes temporary custody of the kitten, whose name, according to Wallis, is Ernesto.
Pru’s life is complicated enough without adding the stress of a murder investigation, between her heightened sensitivity to animals, which caused her to flee Manhattan for the quiet Berkshires, trying to hide her psychic abilities from her on again, off again boyfriend detective, and money problems at the local animal clinic that is the source of much of Pru’s business. The only one who knows what really happened is the kitten, and Pru can’t reveal what Ernesto knows without exposing her own hidden talents.
Even though some readers may find that they have to suspend belief when it comes to Pru’s ability to communicate with animals, it is one of my favorite aspects of the series. Simon handles this topic well without entering “woo woo” territory, and her sensitive portrayal of Dru’s abilities will make you want to believe even if you may be a skeptic. I particularly enjoyed the parts where it becomes clear that Pru’s gift of being able to read animals’ thoughts does not come without a price. This becomes painfully evident when Pru is called upon to remove some squirrels from a home’s attic.
Of all the animals in the book, curmudgeonly Wallis remains my favorite. She knows Pru better than Pru knows herself, and she challenges Pru to step out of her comfort zone.
Kittens Can Kill is a thoroughly enjoyable, fast-paced and well-plotted mystery. The author provides enough back story so that this book can be read as a stand-alone, but why not treat yourself to the whole series. One of my favorite parts about reading a series novel is the development of the central character, and nobody does this better than Clea Simon.
Here's a title to reserve for March reading, a classic traditional
mystery with plenty of twists and memorable characters -- several of
them on four legs.
Those familiar with Massachusetts author Clea Simon's “pet noir”
series are already accustomed to the wild premise of this amateur
sleuth series: Pru Marlowe, an “animal behaviorist” who works via
referrals through the local vet, animal shelter, and even the town,
specializes in changing how critters behave. But her methods go beyond
the standard reward and reliability systems -- because Pru is also an
animal psychic, someone who “hears” words from the cats, squirrels,
dogs, and even a ferret around her.
Although that's obviously a great tool in her work (because she can
find out, for example, exactly why a dog is barking so much), it's a
personal handicap of increasing proportions. Earlier titles in the
series showed Pru's hesitation about getting involved with the local
police detective, Jim Creighton, KITTENS CAN KILL finds Pru routinely
allowing Creighton into her home at various hours, and the couple is
working out what they can and can't ask each other. But above all,
since even Pru initially thought the animal voices she heard showed
she was crazy, she's desperate not to reveal her talent to the police
My next call was to Creighton.
“Hey, Jim. Just a heads-up.” He was driving -- I could hear the
road. That as fine. I planned on keeping it short. “I'm going to
bring the Canadays' kitten back after the funeral. Jill, the youngest
daughter, just okayed that.”
“That's fine, Pru. Turns out we don't need him for any
“No death by kitten?” I was joking. ...
“Look, Pru, you know I can't give you details, but I think it's
fairly safe to say that the lab won't need the kitten. They've got
enough to work with without it..”
“So, you do suspect something?”
Creighton may not intend to give Pru a hand (or any information),
but he's not good enough to prevent her insight. And he has his own
about her. Pru's secret -- shared only with her loyal but often
sardonic and stand-offish cat Wallis -- gets increasingly hard to
protect. After all, it looks pretty irrational that Pru is insisting
on keeping and protecting the life of a 6-week-old white kitten found
next to the body of a local lawyer. Who would believe her if she said
the kitten had witnessed a killing? In fact, among the lawyer's three
competitive daughters, there's even some notion that the kitten's
arrival caused the (accidental) death of their dad. One daughter is
even pushing to euthanize the wee ball of fluff, out of anger at the
But Pru and her resident four-footed ally, Wallis, know
better. Still, sorting out the few phrases that the inexperienced
kitten conveys isn't easy, especially as time presses -- there's a
will being read, a controversy over who controls the kitten, and more
wickedness that Pru barely guesses at, before it's not just the kitten
who is in danger.
Skeptics, relax: The solving of the crime and Pru's revelations
about the people involved come through hard, traditional investigative
work. Consider the pet psychic aspect to be scene music, if you like,
and plunge on into this well-constructed and intriguing mystery. Clea
Simon knows what she's doing with those three sisters, as well as Pru
Marlowe's eccentric support team. It's a good read, and a great
distraction for the in-between season of March, coming up.
When Pru goes to check up on a kitten, she finds much more than
she’d bargained for! The kitten is playing with a button beside the
dead body of the man who was supposed to be its owner. This starts the
tale – is is murder or natural causes. The man had three daughters and
all seem to take sibling rivalry to the extreme, each seeming to blame
the others for his untimely demise. Pru has little option but to
investigate further and makes great use of her hidden talent and
secret supporter to help her do so. Her talent is her ability to
communicate telepathically with animals and her secret supporter, her
Doctor Watson, is Wallis – her cat.
This is a great story set in small town America. The character –
both animal and human – are superbly portrayed and there are lots of
surprises as the story unfolds. This is another great story in the
series and I highly recommend it!
Animal whisperer Pru Marlowe arrives at a client’s house, only to find
a kitten next to the owner’s body. Pru’s gift of being able to
understand animals helps her decipher what the kitten knows about the
dead man and his feuding family. While trying to sort out the issues
behind the victim’s death—Was it really just a heart attack?—Pru must
revisit her own past to find a pattern in all the human and animal
activities. Simon’s renderings of what the animals are thinking tend
at times to push the boundaries of reason, but this quirky series has
a devoted following among the Animal Planet crowd, and the unique
premise has its own appeal.
(Amy Alessio Booklist)
Kittens Can Kill A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir by Clea Simon
Pru is going to a new client's house to check out a newly acquired
kitten. When she gets there, the door is open and the cat's owner is
dead. Not again!
Poisoned Pen Press and Net Galley gave me the opportunity to read
this book for review (thank you). It will be published March 3rd, so
you can grab a copy then. If you haven't read the others in this
series, you can grab them to keep you busy until this one comes
This is my favorite one in this series. It reads smoother and I
enjoyed the continuing romance between Pru and the cop. Pru always
seems to be in the middle of his cases and keep pestering him for
information but he won't tell her anything. She doesn't always tell
him what she's learned either. Sounds pretty typical of any
Pru takes the kitten home and tries not to get attached to it. Her
older cat is not enthused. So home life is bit tough for a while. By
having the kitten, she gets involved with the three daughters of the
man who died. The sisters themselves are squabbling about
everything. Good old dad seems to have pitted them against each other
and there are some family secrets that aren't out yet.
The more questions Pru asks, the muddier the case gets. Some info
is good, some is misinformation, people are protecting other people
and nobody is being totally honest. Good thing she can talk to Wallis
and the dog she walks. They don't converse the way we do, but she
does get an idea of what they mean.
Before the story is over, all the sins of the household will be
known. It's a good mystery with enough twists and turns to keep you
going. And I'm hoping Pru will finally settle down and confide in
Jim. They make a good pair and I think she's a little too hesitant.
Of course, there's no hurry. The longer the dating, the more fun
Review of Kittens Can Kill: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir
Published January 19, 2015 | By crittermom
Pru Marlowe is an animal behaviorist with a unique gift, the
ability to hear the thoughts of animals. While it is a great help in
her career, the ability leads her to isolate herself from others. When
an assignment leads Pru to discover a dead body next to a young
kitten, she is reluctantly drawn into investigating. Unveiling the
secrets of the dead lawyer’s feuding daughters forces Pru to face
aspects of her own past in order to catch a killer. Pru is not the
most likeable protagonist, but she is very real and the author makes
her behaviors and motivations easy to understand. Pru’s flaws add
dimension to her character. Her love for and connection with animals
is clear throughout. Clea Simon does a fantastic job with her
characterization of animals. The animals within the book are not
simply humans with fur. They behave in a recognizably species specific
manner. The mystery keeps the reader guessing until close to the
end. I would highly recommend this novel to animal lovers and to
anyone who enjoys a well crafted mystery.
I received an advanced reader copy from Poisoned Pen Press and
Netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.
Kittens Can Kill: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir Clea Simon. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (294p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0360-2
At the start of Simon’s fluffy fifth Pru Marlowe mystery set in the
Berkshires town of Beauville (after 2014’s Panthers
Play for Keeps), pet trainer Pru arrives at the home of David
Canaday to find him lying dead on his kitchen floor with a tiny kitten
playing nearby. The wealthy lawyer appears to have died naturally,
perhaps of a heart attack. Or could he have suffered a fatal allergic
reaction to the kitten, named Ernesto, whom one of his three grown
daughters had recently dropped off at his house? Pru’s own kitty,
Wallis, grudgingly agrees to look after Ernesto, while Pru tries to
prove the kitten’s innocence, despite the amused misgivings of her
boyfriend, Det. Jim Creighton. The solution to Canaday’s mysterious
death may be predictable, but cozy fans will enjoy spending time with
Pru and her two- and four-legged friends. Agent: Colleen Mohyde, Doe
Coover Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on 01/02/2015 | Release date: 03/01/2015 |
Stages of Grey (Dulcie Schwartz Mystery)
by Clea Simon
Review by Gayle Surrette
Severn House Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: B00MHREUD2
Date: 01 October 2014
Dulcie Schwartz is getting a lot of pressure from her dissertation
adviser, who is also the department chair, to finish her writing and
get ready to defend. Dulcie feels she's got a lot more research to do
and has recently found some new evidence to support her theories.
That's not the only pressure in her life. She believes that her
boyfriend, Chris, is really a werewolf. This story doesn't take place
in an alternate universe and isn't an urban fantasy. Dulcie is a
graduate student studying Gothic literature and she has a very, very,
active imagination. She's predisposed to confuse reality with fantasy,
even though she believes firmly that she only deals with facts. This
is what makes her such an endearing and frustrating point of view
It's winter. It's cold. Writing and researching her paper, while
teaching classes and trying to keep her relationships with Chris and
friends from fraying, is adding more items for Dulcie to stress
over. Her friends want to attend a new experimental theater. Dulcie
agrees it could be fun even though funds are almost as tight as her
schedule. However, an unfortunate misadventure at night on the ice
leads to Dulcie getting free tickets to the show for herself and a
With werewolves on her mind with a side thought to possible
vampire incursions, Dulcie is primed for adventure when shortly after
the play, one of the actors is murdered. Dulcie gets warned off, but
the theater cat escaped on the same night the actor got killed. Dulcie
worries for the cat being out in the cold, snowy weather. No matter
how many times she's warned off, she continues to get involved with
the people at the theater. This is one of those books where the
reader gets so caught up in the narrative that you try to help the
main character. You have to keep on reading because you continue to
hope against hope that Dulcie will make the right decisions, or at
least have a lot of luck if she makes the wrong ones. The writing
draws in the reader and keeps them enthralled.
BY JAY STRAFFORD Special correspondent | Posted: Wednesday, October 1, 2014 11:20 am
Actors and hackers and sleuths, oh my!
ll are among the featured players in “Stages of Grey” (217 pages, Severn House, $28.95), the eighth novel in Clea Simon’s mystery series featuring Harvard doctoral candidate Dulcie Schwartz, her pals and a few felines.
The fun begins with a local theater group, which is staging “Change: A Metamorphosis Musical,” a disco (yes, disco) version of Ovid’s play. But the fun ends when one of the actresses, Amy Ralkov, is found dead, her throat sliced.
Dulcie, who’s still working on her dissertation, puts herself in peril by engaging in some amateur detection. Aided by Gus, a Russian Blue cat who has been adopted by the theater group, she learns the truth.
Simon, a former journalist and the author of two other mystery series, uses her fertile imagination in all her work, and “Stages of Grey” is no exception. With a keen eye for the hothouse world of academia and a touch of the supernatural, she creates another entertaining story, one that combines a clever whodunit with an update on the lives of cherished characters.
Jay Strafford is a retired writer and editor for The Times-Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stages of Grey: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8393-3
Simon’s diverting eighth Dulcie Schwartz mystery (after Grey Howl ) finds Dulcie, now a fifth-year Harvard grad student, in need of a break from her academic toils. As a distraction, Dulcie attends a “disco interpretation” of Ovid’s Metamorphosis at a Cambridge theater, accompanied by her boyfriend, Chris Sorenson. During the performance, a blonde actress lures Chris to the stage by picking his pocket, and a cat walks a tightrope above the audience. After the show, Dulcie and company discover the blonde actress lying dead in an alley, her throat slashed. Was she the victim of a passing stranger, or possibly of domestic abuse? Or is the truth even more sordid? The feline complications of the plot should please those readers who crave shed fur in their whodunits. Dulcie herself is an endearingly fragile but determined protagonist.
Graduate student Dulcie Schwartz is preoccupied as usual. She’s
still trying to solve the mystery of the identity of the anonymous
author of The Ravages of Umbra, work on her thesis, teach her
sections, and find out if her boyfriend Chris is a werewolf. Her
mentor, the ghost of her beloved cat Mr. Grey, has remained silent on
the subject, though he does offer occasional life advice. It’s also a
blustery winter in Boston (is there any other kind?) and the ice and
snow make travel difficult, but it’s certainly a great atmosphere to
be studying a gothic novel.
Maybe a bit too perfect, as Dulcie is taken in by a bit of
theatrics that has her believing she’s seen a man being dragged away
by wolves. It’s a promotion for a new production of Ovid’s
“Metamorphoses” which features some rather unconventional
staging—think Roman deities and a disco beat. Under the circumstances,
Dulcie isn’t inclined to go see the play, not even with free tickets
but her friends finally convince her to go. In addition to strobe
lights, the production includes a gorgeous Russian Blue cat who walks
a tightrope as well as a bit of unexpected sleight of hand when Chris
discovers his wallet is missing and ends up as part of the
performance. It turns out to be a lot more fun than any of them had
expected—until one of the performers is found dead, her throat
Dulcie being Dulcie, she soon finds herself involved in the
investigation and discovers that nothing is what it seems.
This is a fun entry in the series and, because the focus is on the
mystery at hand, it’s particularly accessible one for newcomers.
Longtime fans won’t be disappointed either, as some progress is made
on continuing storylines. Dulcie likes to think that she’s very
practical and realistic, unlike her mother who still lives in a
commune and calls her daughter with vague warnings from the spirit
world, but she has her share of imagination and a tender heart for
those in trouble, especially those of the feline persuasion. Like Don
Quixote, she wants to save the world but tends to run into a lot of
windmills. (I don't think it's coincidence that her real name is
Dulcinea.) She gets some guidance from Mr. Grey and kitten Esme (when
her little feline nose isn’t out of joint) and is ably supported by
Chris and her other friends. The academic setting brings back fond
memories, especially to those of us who belong to Garrison Keillor’s
POEM (Professional Organization of English Majors). As usual, Simon
strikes a nice balance between the supernatural (talking ghost cats)
and the realistic, always taking care to see that the solutions are
dependent on real world clues and not messages from beyond. I of
course am always interested in the scenes with the cats, and Gus the
Russian Blue makes a nice addition.
I always enjoy Simon’s work and Stages of
Grey is no exception. As with many of Simon’s heroines,
Dulcie struggles to overcome the past and a fear of abandonment while
moving ahead with her life. At times, she also has a charming naivety
and behaves impulsively—much like the heroines of the gothic
literature she studies. Another thing I enjoy is the way the books
effortlessly juxtapose the past (18th century literature, with samples
of the overwrought style appearing at times) with the present
(computers and electronics usually play a role in the plot
somewhere). The mysteries are well done, appropriate clues presented,
and there’s a sense of fun in the books. Finally, these are all books
I can recommend to those folks who don’t like a lot of explicitness in
their stories, be it excessive gore, sex or language, but these aren’t
fluffy, sugary tales either.
In short these are entertaining mysteries with solid plots and
characters which are fun without being silly. If you like to read in
order, start with Shades of Grey and don’t put a “50” in front of it
or you’ll get something else entirely.
Full disclosure: I was sent a review copy of this book but that did
not influence my review except in timing: the book won't be generally
available until October.
Panthers Play for Keeps: Pru Marlowe Pet Noir Mystery By Clea Simon
IN THE APRIL 26 ISSUE by Cynthia Chow
An animal behaviorist and therapist with an unusual psychic talent for
hearing the thoughts of animals, Pru Marlowe’s latest job has her
training a service dog, Spot, before he can be assigned to his new
client, Richard Haigen. Unfortunately, Spot leads Pru to a mauled body
one endangered lands, which pleases her maybe boyfriend, Detective Jim
Creighton, even less. The body happens to be that of Mariela Gomez,
the Haigen’s maid and the death is initially blamed on a mauling by a
possible cougar or other large animal. Pru is less certain and when
her suspicions are confirmed by Jim, Pru feels that she must do all
she can to discover the truth before she releases Spot into the Haigen
While Pru is able to hear the thoughts of most animals, her
communication with humans proves to be much more confounding. With a
con artist father and a resentful mother, Pru has always had a tenuous
relationship with the law and a distinct inability to trust. This has
understandably proved to be problematic in her unlikely relationship
with Jim, but that doesn’t mean that Pru doesn’t feel a twinge of
regret or jealously when she suspects that he may be interested in the
new and attractive psychologist Dr. Laurel Kroft.
While Jim would rather that Pru remain on the sidelines of the
murder investigation, he has become accustomed to her queries,
especially when they involve the animals she loves. With the help of a
cranky and misogynistic Bichon Frise, a ruthless but oddly ethical
gangster with exquisite taste in cars, and Pru’s judgmental and
cynical tabby Wallis, Pru strives to discover who is attempting to
frame a wild animal for murder before trigger-happy hunters can
destroy a beautiful and innocent animal.
Despite the fantastic premise of a heroine who is able to
psychically communicate with animals, the novel feels surprisingly
grounded in reality. Pru can hear and speak quite clearly with Wallis,
but deciphering the thoughts of animals proves much more complex, as,
well, they are animals. Pru herself is bristly and acerbic, but she is
gradually allowing others into her life even while she must always be
on the guard to prevent the reveal of her secret.
In this fourth in the Pru Marlowe Pet Noir series, author Clea
Simon entertains while exploring the fascinating duties and
obligations of service dogs and how focused they become to fulfilling
their job. Simon brilliantly conveys how Pru does not always interpret
her communications with animals correctly, and a re-reading of this
mystery completely and logically reveals how the animals truly did
hold the clues to solving the murders. A strong heroine who sometimes
acts much too impulsively, sarcastic humor and a respect and affection
for animals enhance this tightly plotted mystery where the motives for
killing prove to be all too human.
is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of
Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns
with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry,
Book review (mysteries): Panthers Play for Keeps and Grey Howl
BY JAY STRAFFORD Special correspondent | Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 4:39 pm
Mystery fans sometimes have to wait too long for a new installment by a favorite author. But not in the case of Clea Simon, who offers her readers new novels in her two continuing series.
To a dog, a dead body has some intrinsic value. To me, it was just one more hassle.
Simon intrigues the reader from the opening sentence in “Panthers Play for Keeps” (247 pages, Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95 hardcover, $14.95 paperback), the fourth book in her series starring animal behaviorist Pru Marlowe of western Massachusetts.
Pru, who can hear animals’ thoughts, is training Spot, a service dog, for wealthy Richard Haigen, who is rapidly losing his sight to macular degeneration. On a walk through a forest, Pru and Spot come across the body of a young woman who appears to have been mauled by a mountain lion. Trouble is, mountain lions (also known as panthers or pumas) apparently no longer roam the East.
When the victim is identified as Mariela Gomez, housekeeper to Haigen and his wife, Dierdre, the mystery deepens. And it's not long before Pru begins looking into the case, despite warnings from her former boyfriend, homicide detective Jim Creighton, who's now dating local psychiatrist -- and Spot's foster mom -- Laurel Kroft.
Others involved with the Haigens include Richard's wingman, Nick Draper, and gardener Raul. The discovery of another victim complicates things, but Pru -- aided by Spot; her tabby cat, Wallis; and charming gangster Gregor Benazi -- follows a dark trail to a murderer.
Infused with a killer plot and an engaging heroine -- as well as striking originality and a measure of humor -- "Panthers Play for Keeps" continues an addictive series and displays Simon's profound talents at their best.
In the world of academia, teaching can combine with turmoil, and such is the situation in “Grey Howl” (197 pages, Severn House, $27.95), the seventh entry in Simon's series featuring grad student Dulcie Schwartz of Harvard.
This time out, Dulcie is helping her department chairman wth a conference of literary scholas. The problem: Four of the visiting professors -- Paul Barnes, Stella Roebuck, Renee Showalter and Marco Tesla -- appear to have issues with each other. And when one of them is found dead, Dulcie and her boyfriend, computer whiz Chris Sorenson, find themselves caught up in a twisty case of higher-ed homicide.
“Grey Howl” features less emphasis on Dulcie's communicative cat, Esme, and her late feline, Mr. Grey, than its predecessors, but Simon doesn't ignore her feline characters (or the paranormal aspects of her series) in this complex and satisfying whodunit.
Jay Strafford is a retired writer and editor for The Times-Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com.
Clea Simon. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59058-872-7
At the start of Simon’s engaging fourth mystery featuring animal behaviorist Pru Marlowe (after 2013’s Parrots Prove Deadly), Pru and Spot, a service dog she’s training for a wealthy man who is going blind, discover the badly mauled body of a young woman while walking in the woods outside the Berkshire town of Beauville. To all appearances, a large animal, most likely a wild cat, killed the woman, yet no cats like this have been seen in the area in years. Det. Jim Creighton, the man in Pru’s life who has recently become uncomfortably chummy with the attractive therapist sponsoring Spot, is inclined to think the woman was murdered. Pru, whose psychic powers allow her to understand animals’ thoughts, receives conflicting and confusing suggestions from Spot, as well as from her tabby, Wallis. In the end, Pru’s sleuthing instincts guide her to a satisfying resolution of the crime. (Apr.)
Note: I was given a copy of this book by the author, with no stipulations attached. It did not affect my review.
Graduate student Dulcie Schwartz has even more on her plate than usual. She’s the university liaison for the ELLA conference, in which the Big Names in English Literature will be gathering to present their papers. Dulcie will be presenting one too, albeit in a decidedly more humble setting. The big problem is managing all the visiting scholars, all of whom seem to have their own agendas. At least some of them are in the running for the job as department head, a position now occupied by Dulcie’s advisor, Dr. Thorpe – and one he would like to keep. Things get off to a rocky start as various prickly personalities start showing up, often bringing a lot of old grudges along with them. Then one of the star academics has her presentation stolen, accusations are thrown, threats are made, an untimely death occurs, and the unearthly howl that sounded in the previous book is back to slice through the night.
t least things seem to be looking up in Dulcie’s personal life. Her boyfriend Chris is working more regular hours, giving them time to be together. Dulcie feels she’s making great progress with her thesis. She’s found some leads as to the identity of the mysterious Unknown Author, thanks to some genealogical help from another student, and now not one but two professors have expressed interest in the work. It should be a boost to her career—unless one or the other of professors has an ulterior motive.
Since Dulcie’s thesis is on an 18th century gothic novelist, it’s only fitting that a few of the chapters begin with what could be an excerpt from that author: vivid descriptions of stormy skies and sickly dawns, lurking Evil, ghostly presences, sputtering tapers, and ghastly howls in the ebon darkness. It’s no wonder that Dulcie’s imagination sometimes runs away with her. In the real world, though, things are no less dramatic: Stella Roebuck, the prima donna presenter who dresses to mirror her subject matter, seems determined not to let anyone upstage her. There’s also some gossip that she has at least two ex-lovers attending the convention. And there is a LOT of gossip going on! Like most places, academia seems to run on rumor.
Then of course, there’s the fact that Dulcie’s deceased cat, Mr. Grey, is still hanging around to keep an eye on his favorite human kitten. She hears his voice at odd times, offering cryptic advice and comfort. Her current cat, Esme, also communicates—but definitely on her own terms. She is, after all, a Principessa. Dulcie’s mother also gets into the act, calling with warnings gleaned from dreams, tea leaves, and other such methods.
his entry in the series reminded me of a traditional village mystery. A reader doesn’t need to know much about literary criticism or academic settings to enjoy this one, and many of the clues are handled the way Agatha Christie would have done: through gossip. The trick is to sort the true from the false. There’s a small population of suspects in one general area, and almost everyone can be a suspect. It’s just all draped with some otherworldly trappings, though the mysteries are NOT solved through supernatural intervention. As with most of my favorite books, it’s the characters I enjoy most. Dulcie is the modern day gothic heroine, sometimes rushing in or jumping to conclusions, while trying to be logical. Chris is the steady hand, ready to help. The cats are a delight, especially Esme who, like many cats, perceives herself to be the center of the universe and gets her dainty little nose out of joint if this isn’t recognized. The supporting cast members always add their bit, from Dulcie’s New Age mother to Griddlehaus the librarian. (You knew I’d have to mention the librarian, didn’t you?) I did have the sense that groundwork is being laid for the next book, but this doesn’t interfere with the pleasure of reading this one.
Finally, I really like the way that Simon pays sincere homage to the gothic tradition while having a lot of fun with it. Some books end up making it all way too silly, too over-the –top, but Simon never does. There’s no deep message, unless you want to say that it’s to enjoy books and literature for what they are.
As regular readers will know, I’m one of those who prefers to read a series in order. However, I think this is a book that can be read and enjoyed without having read others in the series.
Clea Simon. Severn, $27.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8346-9
Academic politics and the world of literary scholarship provide the background for Simon’s charming seventh Dulcie Schwartz mystery (after 2013’s Grey Dawn). Harvard grad student Dulcie, who’s been researching The Ravages of Umbria—a gothic romance—and the role of women in 18th-century society, is looking forward to a prestigious academic conference in Cambridge, Mass., at which she’s to present her first paper. On the eve of the conference, Marco Tesla, a visiting scholar, is found dead with a broken neck, having fallen from a balcony. Detective Rogovoy and Dulcie, with the help of three cats she communes with for assistance (one of whom, Mr. Grey, is deceased), determine that Tesla was murdered and try to uncover who, among the scholars vying for the position of department chair, is the culprit. Extracts from The Ravages of Umbria add to the fun. Agent: Colleen Mohyde, Doe Coover Agency. (Mar.)
More adventures in the dangerous groves of academe.
Doctoral candidate Dulcie Schwartz is thrilled that
she is getting the chance to read a paper she wrote on aspects of a
gothic novel by a so-far-unidentified woman author who’s the subject
of her thesis. The literature conference is being held for the first
time at a prestigious university in Cambridge, Mass. Dulcie has been
pressed into service as a liaison and fixer of problems by her nervous
department head, Martin Thorpe, who’s fighting to keep his job. Dulcie
would prefer Renée Showalter, a Canadian professor who’s made
available to her some highly interesting documents that will help in
her research—at least, until she meets charismatic Paul Barnes,
another candidate for Thorpe’s job who hints that he’d like to work
with Dulcie. When a paper that Stella Roebuck had planned to read
vanishes from her computer, professor Roebuck, blaming her former
lover Barnes, demands that Dulcie’s boyfriend, Chris, a computer
expert, find it. Then Marco Telsa, Roebuck’s newest lover, falls off a
balcony at an evening party, and the police suspect murder. Dulcie,
who often seeks advice from the ghost of her deceased cat Mr. Grey and
her new cat, Esmé, is worried about Thorpe, who appeared to be drunk
at the party, and Chris, who’s acting strangely. Although she’s
survived several murder investigations (Grey
Dawn, 2013, etc.), her immersion in all things gothic gives her a
distinctive slant on sleuthing that puts her in peril.
Though Dulcie’s rather scatterbrained approach to
sleuthing may put readers off, her seventh provides a plethora of
suspects that keeps them guessing.
From Publishers Weekly
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: GREY DAWN
Publication: PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Issue: 20TH MAY 2013
★Grey Dawn: A Dulcie Schwartz, Feline Mystery, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8261-5
With the lightheartedness and strong
themes that characterize a cozy series with staying power, Simon
delivers her winning combination of academic rivalries, student
relationship drama, and kitty wisdom in the sixth Dulcie Schwartz
mystery (after 2012’s True Grey).
A student who closely resembles Dulcie is discovered, alive but with
multiple throat wounds, in the same area of the Harvard campus where
Dulcie heard howling and saw her harried thesis adviser, Martin
Thorpe, looking strangely wild the night before. The gothic romance
The Ravages of Umbria—a
dark, cryptic novel that Dulcie is studying in hopes of attributing
it to the anonymous author who is the subject of her thesis—frightens
her even more, as do warning messages from her ghostly cat adviser
Mr. Grey, as Dulcie tries to determine whether Martin is actually a
dangerous werewolf. Excerpts from Dulcie’s melodramatic research
project offer a delightful homage to 18th-century
fiction that also binds this whodunit to its historical predecessors.
Grad student Dulcie Schwartz is back, still working on her
thesis—or trying to amid many distractions. For one thing, her
department is searching for a new director and while Martin Thorpe,
her advisor, is in the running, the university is bringing in some big
name scholars for interviews as well. It’s hard to know what to
hope for: on the one hand he isn’t particularly enamored of her
topic, but if he leaves, she’ll have to start over with a new
A more enticing distraction are the pages of a manuscript that
Dulcie believes might be a new, undiscovered work by the anonymous
author of the somewhat obscure 18th century Gothic novel
entitled The Ravages of
Umbria Since Dulcie has pretty much staked her thesis
on this author, this find could make or break her academic
future. She’s so involved in transcribing the text from the
original handwritten version that she’s even dreaming sections of the
story, especially those parts involving a coach trip with a mysterious
stranger in a dark, wind-swift night with unearthly howls filling the
She’s so caught up in the tale that she’s only vaguely surprised
when she thinks she hears a wolf in downtown Cambridge as she heads
home that evening. She knows that’s quite unlikely, but then she
catches sight of her advisor looking disheveled, disoriented and—well,
WILD. He rushes off into the night and Dulcie runs in the other
direction. The next morning she hears that an undergraduate was
attacked, possibly by some sort of beast.
Was Dulcie an ear-witness to a crime? Could her advisor
be a werewolf? Could Dulcie have read a few too many Gothic
tales? Can Dulcie resist investigating this mystery?
The answer to the last question is an obvious and resounding “No!”
Aided once again with cryptic advice from her late beloved feline Mr.
Grey and her new kitten Esme, Dulcie rushes in where angels fear to
Why do I like these books? Because I can understand the
rarified academic world Dulcie inhabits. While most of us
read books for entertainment or enlightenment, for Dulcie each turn of
phrase in a book can have another meaning entirely and interpreting
them can make or break her academic career. She searches for
scraps of writing as diligently as a forensic investigator looks at
blood spatter. (I have vivid memories of nitpicking phrases from
Shakespeare for my own college paper and trying to make them fit my
objective.) She careens back and forth between the insular academic
world and the more or less real world, albeit a real world where
Dulcie can believe in communications from her cats (living and
otherwise) yet scoff at her mother Lucy’s premonitions as being
products of an overactive imagination and too many hallucinogenic
drugs during Lucy’s younger days. In this book, which I see as a
tour de force of the genre, Simon juxtaposes all those florid images
from early Gothic novels with Dulcie’s everyday experiences.
Dulcie could be the very model of some of those Gothic heroines, yet
would be appalled if you were to suggest this to her. I find her
disconnect to be funny, a sort of English major version of the
physicists on “Big Bang Theory” but without a laugh track. Sure, other
books have done something similar, but I appreciate Simon’s subtlety
in the matter. I’ve seen this sort of thing done in other books,
but most feel they need to point out what they’re doing--wink, wink,
nudge, nudge. I’ll admit that sometimes I’m not the most astute
reader, but honestly I don’t need to be hit over the head more than
once. Okay, maybe twice.
I also enjoy the way Simon brings the setting to life. I've
never been to Cambridge, MA but she almost makes me feel as if I have
visited "our fair city," as the Magliozzi brothers might
But what I liked best of all about Grey
Dawn is the way that Dulcie solves the mystery through her
deep understanding of academic studies. I particularly enjoyed the
scene where Dulcie explains her reasoning to a somewhat bemused police
detective (who had reached the same conclusion through less esoteric
means.) It's that bit delicious insider humor that still makes sense
to someone who hasn't done Literary Analysis in over 30 years.
As might be expected, I found all the scenes with cats were
delightful and true to the feline spirit. I have given up on a
couple of mystery series with cats because the cats seem so
generic. One cat is not the same as another, nor is a cat a dog.
(I can’t believe I have to actually say that, but apparently I
If all you want is a cozy book with a single linear plot to solve,
this may not be the book for you. If, on the other hand, you
like multiple stoylines, an academic sleuth who is less practical than
she likes to imagine, and some slightly otherworldly felines,
then Grey Dawn is a definite
winner. I suspect Garrison Keillor would recommend it to members
of POEM (Professional Organization of English Majors) for their
delight and amusement.
Kingdom Books is a specialty mystery
bookshop in northeastern Vermont. Beth Kanell, co-owner with her
husband Dave, writes New England mysteries, adventure travel, and
poetry, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Dave
Kanell's sleuthing record among mystery books takes first place,
whether classic or cutting edge.
Clea Simon, PARROTS PROVE DEADLY: Pet Noir #3
Clea Simon's companion feline
is named Musetta -- and there's a photo on Simon's blog of this canny
cat, staring into the computer screen. Whether Musetta can guide Simon
in plotting, who knows? But the years of companionship show up
wonderfully in Simon's newest mystery, PARROTS PROVE
Cat mysteries have a long and honorable tradition, with the most
recognizable being the series by Lilian Jackson Braun: the "Cat
Who" books center around the life of former newspaper reporter
James Qwilleran, and his two Siamese cats KoKo and Yum-Yum. But
Braun's series was relatively light-hearted, and Simon's is ... well,
you've got the message about "pet noir," right? And
"deadly"? There are dangers and risks for animal behaviorist
Pru Marlowe, and most of them come from the owners, not their
More than dark and deadly, the Marlowe mysteries wrestle with what
humans believe about other species, and why they could be dead
wrong. For instance, the African grey parrot that's causing an
emergency call from the local senior complex keeps repeating a
frightening sequence of sounds. Is it a replay of the death of the
parrot's "person," aging and infirm Polly Larkin? An
accident being voiced over and over, due to the bird's own trauma? Or
could there be a hint from the parrot that murder took place right in
front of the bird?
Pru Marlowe isn't sure -- and that's one of the most enjoyable
aspects of this hard-working and determined sleuth: Pru questions just
about everything. She has to. Her very bright cat Wallis turns out to
be able to "speak" to Pru through a sort of interspecies
telepathy, and Wallis has scornfully made it clear to Pru that all
creatures do something of the same. But not as well as Wallis can! A
lot of cats are fluffy-minded, dogs are obsessed by their noses
announce, the ferret that Pru sometimes consults is more bite than
bright, and don't start on what squirrels and pigeons have in mind.
If she's not going to consider herself crazy, then Pru's got to pay
close attention to grasp this strange world of messages around
The thing is, parrots live a long, long time -- but they're not
bright the way Pru's tabby is. So ... what exactly did the bird
witness, and what does it mean about operations at the LiveWell
complex, and between Polly Larkin's rather unusual grown children?
Also worrying is the relative silence of guide dog that's been living
next door to the deceased -- and who seems traumatized. Pru's
worrying about it all while taking time for one of her regular
assignments, walking a tough little dog whose self-chosen name is
He lifted his leg and then with a sigh that carried a wave of
resignation, he plowed ahead toward his inhospitable
home. "Women." That I got, loud and
clear. "Don't see what's right in front of
Growler?" I stopped, and since I held the other end of the
leash, he had to, as well. He turned and eyed me, his button eyes
"The guide dog -- the one you call 'Buster'?" he broke his silence. "She's more concerned with her person than with anyone else -- and with good reason. People die there. She smells it, and I can smell it on her."
I nodded, grateful for that damp black nose. ... It was an old
folks' home, no matter what anyone called it. Death's waiting
room. Did he -- or did Buster -- mean there were suspicious deaths?
Deaths that shouldn't have happened -- what the coroner would call
misadventure? Or even murder?
"Watch what happens to that bird," Growler said,
barking once as we came up to his door. "Nobody likes a
Nobody likes a snoop, either, but that's what Pru becomes, unable
to let the circumstances rest until she knows the truth. In Simon's
quick-paced narrative, there's plenty of suspense and a very real
sense of struggle to translate what's important in the
"speech" of companion animals into something Pru can make
I enjoyed the first two of Simon's pet noir series, Cat's Can't
Shoot and Dogs Don't Lie; this one is at least as good, and
a great diversion from the gritty urban thrillers I've also been
considering this month. You don't need to have read the others
in order to enjoy PARROTS PROVE DEADLY, although they build nicely in
terms of Pru's discovery of her ability to receive animal voices and
the stresses and fractures in her life. Great series -- thanks, Clea
Simon, for this third title!
PS -- Okay, if you've read your mystery classics, you already see
the coincidence of Pru's surname in a book of noir: Marlowe, right?
Now, can you place Wallis? Hint: Don't let the spelling trap you. And
think about a noted Boston writer, one who shared the Bay State with
Clea Simon until his passing, just a couple of years back. Come on,
you can do it!
From The Conscious Cat - conscious living, health and happiness for cats and their humans
March 29, 2013
Parrots Prove Deadly by Clea Simon
Posted by Ingrid
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Clea Simon’s cat-centric
murder mysteries. I knew I would enjoy Parrots
Prove Deadly, the third in Simon’s Pet Noir series featuring pet
behaviorist and psychic Pru Marlowe – I just didn’t realize just how
much I would love it.
Pru is hired to retrain the parrot of a woman who has died in a
retirement home. The parrot needs a new home, but isn’t likely to find
one with the vocabulary of swear words he seems to have acquired, and
the dead woman’s family is hoping that Pru can help. As Pru starts
working with the bird, she is wondering whether some of the parrot’s
words are a replay of the woman’s death, and whether that death could
have possibly been a murder. The only other possible witnesses are a
blind neighbor, her seeing-eye dog, and a non-commital health care
aide. Pru can’t help herself: she begins to look into the woman’s
death, and she gets drawn into a tangled web of family dynamics,
possible land fraud, and a potential rabies outbreak.
With the help of her cantankerous tabby Wallis, a service dog
names Buster, a gay bichon named Bitsy who insists that his real name
is Growler, a ferret named Frank, and even a wild raccoon, Pru
investigates the murder.
This book has a little bit for everyone. Animal lovers will enjoy
Pru’s communications with the various animals. Mystery lovers will
enjoy the wild ride Simon takes the reader on. The pace of this story
never lets up, and I highly recommend that you don’t even start this
book unless you have a good chunk of uninterrupted time ahead of you,
because you’ll find it almost impossible to put down. Romance lovers
will enjoy the developing on again, off again relationship between Pru
and her detective boyfriend, who finds it exasperating that Pru
turns up in the middle of a murder investigation yet
The thing I love best about reading series mysteries is the
character development, and Simon is one of the masters at creating
characters with depth and substance. She does not just do this for her
human characters, this talent also extends to her animal
characters. I’ve come to love Wallis in the first two books in the
series, and I was happy that she’s even more involved in helping
Pru solve the mystery in this book. I knew next to nothing about
birds, and thoroughly enjoyed learning more about them through Simon’s
portrayal of Randolph, the African Grey central to the story. With
each book, I come to like Pru a little bit more as we get more insight
into her life.
If you’re not familiar with Simon’s fiction, this book could be a
great introduction. You can definitely read it as a stand alone,
but why not treat yourself to all three books in the series. As
with all series novels, part of the fun is not just in the story
itself, but in revisiting the characters.
Pru Marlowe, hired to retrain a parrot after its owner’s death,
becomes intrigued when the bird keeps repeating statements suggesting
that the owner did not die a natural death. The owner’s children place
no credence in the bird’s utterances and seem more concerned with the
distribution of their father’s money. Interviews with a caretaker and
an eccentric neighbor across the hall sharpen Pru’s feeling that
something is wrong. When the neighbor is attacked, Pru uses her
ability to communicate with animals to learn more about what the
humans are up to. Meanwhile, while trying to save other endangered
animals, she runs afoul of a shady land development company. Simon’s
use of Pru’s animal whispering will be an entertaining twist to some
readers, but others may find that it muddies the plot. A good choice
for fans of Susan Wittig Albert’s Beatrix Potter series.
Clea Simon relates to animals; that's clear when one reads
"Parrots Prove Deadly." As a result, her protagonist Pru
Marlowe relates to them as well. Actually, Marlowe does more than
relate to them. She hears them psychically and can, on occasion, carry
on quite detailed if somewhat erratic silent conversations with
Marlowe's skill can lead to complicated situations, such as when an
old woman's African gray parrot starts squawking some deadly sounding
statements after the woman dies. The poor bird needs a new home, but
he isn;t likely to get one with his current vocabulary. Marlowe, an
animal behaviorist, gets the call to rehabilitate the bird and finds
herself in the middle of a possible conspiracy.
Murder, rabies and apparent land fraud keep Marlowe on the run in
this high-powered mystery. Her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Detective
John Creighton, isn't thrilled with the way she keeps turning up in
the middle of police matters. Her opinionated tabby cat Wallis helps
her translate information from the bird as well as a blind neighbor's
service dog. Now all she has to do is translate it from feline!
Simon's third Pru Marlowe Pet Noir novel delivers a twisting
mystery and heart-pounding moments of sheer terrifying threats. Her
easy-to-stick with style may keep you up at night as you look for one
more clue before you close the book. The various characters are
endearing, infuriating or inexplicable.
Any animal lover will enjoy the interaction between Marlowe and her
animal informants. Mystery enthusiasts will appreciate the well
crafted plot. And the relationship between Marlowe and Creighton, with
its witty dialogue and undercurrents, will satisfy romance lovers.
If you haven't crossed paths with Clea Simon's work in the past,
it's time you did. Jump into the beauty of the Berkshires and the taut
mystery of "Parrots Prove Deadly." You may find yourself
falling under the spell of an unlikely but excellent female detective
and her friends.
Reviews by the Reference Department of the Bristol Public Library, Bristol, Virginia
TUESDAY, MARCH 12, 2013
Parrots Prove Deadly by Clea Simon
Reviewed by Jeanne
Pru Marlowe has worked with a lot of dogs and cats in her time, but a parrot is something new. Pru is called after owner Polly Larkin has passed away in a nursing home, and the owner’s daughter isn’t eager to take on a foul-mouthed bird with the almost uncanny ability to use the most insulting phrases possible at the worst possible time. Pru is hoping her psychic link to animals will help her get Randolph in shape for a new home, but communication with the bird is proving difficult. He seems agitated, repeating certain phrases and sounds. Soon Pru begins to wonder about the “accident” that killed his owner, and to ponder if Randolph is a witness to a murder.
If it was a murder, there are any number of suspects: a down-trodden daughter who might relish no longer having her life dominated by her mother, a son who seems no more interested in his mother dead as he was when she was living, a nosy nursing home neighbor who seems to know quite a lot about Polly’s business, an aide who seems to know more than she’s saying, and a supercilious doctor who likes to pop up unannounced but be unavailable when needed. Jim Creighton, her police detective friend who would like to be a bit more than a friend, is preoccupied with another situation and doesn’t seem inclined to investigate a seemingly routine death of an elderly person at a nursing home.
Meanwhile, Pru is also dealing with a young raccoon who has gotten himself in deep trouble at a housing development with a bit of breaking and entering of his own.
All our favorite characters have returned for this third book in the series. Bitsy the Bichon, aka Growler, is still a mighty dog in a tiny body, who tolerates his insensitive owner because he has no other choice. Frank the ferret is still after his shiny objects, and Wallis the cat is still making her pungent observations. Pru has grown up a bit, become more comfortable in her own skin, and while still wary of her ability has accepted it and tries to make use of it. She’s even thawed just a bit toward Creighton, though her skittishness at relationships means there’s still distance between them. On the other hand, she still has a streak of recklessness that indicates she needs to work on her sense of self-preservation.
As I read Parrots Prove Deadly, it occurred to me that in some ways this is a New Age version of the classic puzzle mystery. Instead of having a word written in blood or a conveniently torn scrap of paper, Pru receives rather cryptic messages from creatures. Well, cryptic to humans; to the animals they make perfect sense, and they are sometimes as frustrated as Pru that the message isn’t understood. That’s one of the things I like about this series: the animals understand things in their own way, devoid of the layers of trappings that humans tend to add. They also tend NOT to meddle in or spend a lot of time commenting on human behavior.
Another part I enjoy is that Simon does her research so that she knows a bit about the behavior of parrots, raccoons, etc. Not all authors do, and sometimes I find myself questioning as assumption the character makes; it takes me right out of the story. I don’t have that problem with Simon’s work. She’s also even-handed in her treatment of some sticky issues in animal welfare, giving each side a say. Finally, I admire Simon’s restraint. It would be so easy to make the non-human characters dependent and adorable rather than adult creatures. It would be easy to ratchet up the supernatural element and jump on the mystic bandwagon. Instead, she works to make her story fit a realistic setting. The result is a classic mystery with some modern trappings, but one which will also appeal to animal lovers.
Clea Simon. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (278p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0104-2
A parrot proves a key murder witness in Simon’s clever third mystery
featuring Pru Marlowe, a latter-day Doctor Dolittle, who practices in
the Berkshire town of Beauville (after 2012’s Cats Can’t Shoot). When
84-year-old Polly Larkin, who lives in a room with her parrot,
Randolph Jones, in a retirement complex, dies abruptly, Pru
investigates. Pru determines that someone attempted to poison Randolph
Jones, presumably to cover his or her tracks. Suspects include Polly’s
two grown children; resident gerontologist Dr. Wachtell; Polly’s
blind friend, Rose Danziger; and Rose’s aide, Genie. Pru meticulously
pieces the clues together with psychic advice from a fuzzy crew of
confidantes: her tabby, Wallis; Rose’s seeing-eye dog, Buster; Frank
the ferret; and the neighbor’s bichon, Growler. Det. Jim Creighton,
her on-again, off-again boyfriend, lends human assistance. Simon’s
pithy dialogue and distinctive characterizations more than compensate
for the predictable plot. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/25/2013
From Publishers Weekly
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: TRUE GREY
Publication: PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Issue: 22ND OCTOBER 2012
True Grey: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8215-8
An academic rival poses a threat to Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz in Simon’s intriguing fifth paranormal cat cozy (after 2012’s Grey Expectations). Melinda Sloane Harquist, a visiting scholar, is preparing to publish a biography of the anonymous 18th-century author of The Ravages of Umbria, the same author Dulcie has been researching for her doctoral thesis. If Melinda is able to publish first, Dulcie’s thesis will be ruined. When Dulcie decides to pay a friendly call on Melinda at Melinda’s university lodgings, she’s dismayed to find that someone has brained Melinda with a marble bust. To prove she wasn’t the killer, Dulcie turns for help to her usual supporters—her spectral cat, Mr. Grey; her telepathic feline, Esmé, now past the kitten stage; and her boyfriend, Chris Sorenson. Simon, who attended Harvard herself, provides an authentic and appealing view of campus life
Kingdom Books is a specialty mystery bookshop in northeastern
Vermont. Beth Kanell, co-owner with her husband Dave, writes New
England mysteries, adventure travel, and poetry, and is a member of
the National Book Critics Circle.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Dogs, Cats, Murder, Detection -- Mixing It Up with Sparkle Abbey and Clea
Looking for dark, intense, hard-boiled thriller reviews?
Or complex political suspense laced with social commentary and
This is not your pair of reviews. Click on a different post (see
the search box at the top left of this page? type in Olen Steinhauer
or Taylor Stevens or Lee Child or even S.J. Rozan, who skirts the
darkest areas while laying out a complicated detection plot in New
York's Chinatown and ... wait a minute, you're distracting
Let's talk pets and plots.
In an unusual
twist, Sparkle Abbey (pen name
for two authors and their rescued pets), bringing out a fourth
mystery in the Pampered Pets Mystery Series, sent a review copy of
Book 1 here recently. DESPERATE HOUSEDOGS scared me off at first
-- what if the dark parts involved dead dogs or cats? This could be a
heartbreak (and gross). Well, I was wrong to wait so long. The
entirely normal dogs in this first Sparkle Abbey murder mystery do not
get stalked or wounded. On the other hand, when pet therapist Caro
Lamont pays a call on one of her California clients in posh Laguna
Beach, the two German shepherds on hand are majorly acting out. It's
actually the second day they've spent barking nonstop at the patio
doors, even though there's nobody out in the yard, and Kevin, their
owner, is understandably upset. Caro's intervention, showing Kevin how
to increase his dogs' silent times through carefully timed rewards,
lowers the volume some.
But when Kevin is murdered soon after, it takes Caro a long time to
realize the dogs' behavior might have been an understandable response
to a threat.
Admittedly, there are distractions, like Detective Judd Malone, on
the case. Let Caro fill you in: "He hadn't offered a badge or an
ID and though I truly didn't think serial killers looked like Brad
Pitt's brother and stalked pet therapists, you can't be too
careful." Then there's wealthy Sam, who's offering the kind of
dating experience that will get Caro's nagging mother off her back for
a good long time. But none of that prevents Caro from nosing around
the scene of the crime ... and getting herself into trouble with the
already mentioned "hot" Judd Malone.
Caro's persistent nosing around eventually tips the case wide
open, and DESPERATE HOUSEDOGS is a brisk, lively read, full of
socially climbing merriment, suspicious characters, and unexpected
discoveries. I enjoyed it; the sequels are GET FLUFFY; KITTY KITTY
BANG BANG; and coming this summer, YIP/TUCK (dare I guess it features
plastic surgery?). If you're already a fan of Southern California
mysteries, social entanglements, and gutsy but cute women, put the
Sparkle Abbey Pampered Pet Series on your shelf.
Now we segue into a mystery that really couldn't be more different:
TRUE GREY by Clea Simon, fifth in
Simon's Dulcie Schwartz series (after Shades
of Grey, Grey Matters, Grey Zone,
and Grey Expectations). Here's a
spooky and often danger-filled exploration of the murderously manic
jealousies among scholars seeking their reputations at a college
campus. The book opens with a nightmare: a murder of a scholar who's
trespassing on Dulcie's terrain, where new discoveries around an early
Gothic novel are about to make Dulcie's academic reputation, not to
mention her first published book.
Except that the mysterious arrival of Melinda Sloane Harquist
turns everything upside down. This new scholar on campus has some
unexplained power over the Dean that actually cuts Dulcie off from her
own research material, and more. So when Dulcie dreams Harquist has
been brutally murdered, it's a nightmare that's far too real. And she
soon discovers that the dream is only a taste of what's really
happened. Here's a murder that looks like it could easily hang the
Fortunately for Dulcie, she's got backup. (If you haven't indulged
in paranormal mysteries, here's your chance to slide into one, from
the pet side ...) Her cat Esmé is being coached by the ghost of
Dulcie's earlier pet, Mr. Grey. And the two felines will do everything
they can, from telling Dulcie to run, to encouraging her in her
investigations. But first she's got to pay attention:
Dulcie gasped, unable to breathe. The pounding in her head
threatened to take over, the noise of the fly a deafening roar as
Dulcie released the statue and it crashed, once again, to the carpet
with a deep, dull thud. Dulcie didn't hear it, though. Didn't register
the voices below her either. The last words she'd heard echoed through
her mind -- warned, she'd
heard. Three times
Mr.Grey had been trying to help her.
is currently offering three series of mysteries, and I'm definitely a
fan of her pet noir books involving animal psychic Pru Marlowe (and
looking forward to the upcoming third in that series, Parrots Prove Deadly) -- Pru wrestles
with the discomfort of realizing that the animals she helps take care
of have actual voices (some of them not at all sensible, and all of
them distinctively geared to animal hungers and instincts) and I can
identify. Simon paces her action tautly, and her protagonists are
feisty, intelligent, and skeptical. I like them!
That said, I'm more resistant to buying into the voice of a ghost cat,
talking to another cat, talking to a person ... but if anybody can
get me into this form of "pet paranormal," it's Clea Simon,
and I'll keep on reading her books. If you've always suspected your
cat really knew more than she or he was letting on, you'll savor
Dulcie Schwartz is just starting to see some daylight at the end of her long academic tunnel. She has a hot lead on the anonymous author she’s been researching for her thesis, and she thinks she may be ready to start writing. Then the incredible happens: a visiting scholar shows up who claims to have already found the missing novel and is about to publish her paper on the topic. Dulcie is devastated. Years wasted! In hopes of finding out if maybe there’s still something left from which to carve out a thesis, Dulcie tries to contact this Melinda Sloan Harquist despite several warnings that she shouldn’t. There is a meeting at last, but Melinda is dead and Dulcie has blood on her hands—literally.
True Grey is the fifth in Clea Simon's Dulcie Schwartz series and I think the best so far. Dulcie is a bit more settled in her life. After several false starts, she’s finally making some real headway with her paper. She and boyfriend Chris have settled into a steady relationship. Esme, the willful little kitten who captured her heart after the death of her beloved feline Mr. Grey, seems to be growing up a bit. Did I mention that Esme can talk? And that Mr. Grey is also still looking out for Dulcie? Both offer help after their own fashion, but advice from felines can sometimes be a bit obscure. Like the Oracle at Delphi, one has to attach one’s own meanings to some of their pronouncements.
I especially enjoyed these little interludes with the cats, but the whole book is fun—especially if you are or ever have been a member of the Professional Organization of English Majors. Actually, anyone who’s been involved in academia will recognize how passionate people can be over things the general public would think to be totally inconsequential. Think of the TV show Big Bang Theory, only with less slapstick and Engligh majors instead of physists. People carve out their own areas of expertise and are focused on that to the exclusion of almost everything else, so that someone studying the Gothic tradition sniffs at someone studying the Victorian era and vice versa. Simon catches the atmosphere perfectly, even having Dulcie accept being a murder suspect with relative equanimity but being shattered to learn that she’s suspected of –GASP!—plagiarism!
Another aspect I particularly appreciate is the way Simon has the story mirror some of the material Dulcie studies, with its portents and foreshadowings which the headstrong heroine ignores. Dulcie has a good number of these both from her cats (alive and otherwise) and from her New Age mother, who calls to inform Dulcie when the signs are unfavorable. Dulcie, so intent and earnest in her evaluations of fictional situations and so heedless when it comes to real life, makes me smile in recognition. I also like Dulcie’s thoughts on the anonymous author of The Ravages of Umbria and comments on the early feminist movement as she tries to reconstruct the author’s life.
The subplot with the anonymous author remains one of my favorite aspects of the books and I’m interested in seeing how it plays out. That said, I think these books can be read as standalone mystery novels. As with most series, it’s a bit better to read in order to see the character growth but it’s not mandatory.
Full disclosure: I was given a copy of the book-- or rather, Melon was given a copy of the book-- but it did not influence my review.
I dare you to read Clea Simon's CATS CAN'T SHOOT -- because it's the only way you'll be convinced how good this mystery author can be, if you've already sworn to reject any book that might involve a talking animal, or a cat that picks out criminals from a line-up. Oh, I understand: Dave and I get touchy about animal mysteries, too ... But Simon's Pru Marlowe "pet noir" series doesn't purr or meow. It scrapes against bone, dark and sharp, asking hard questions about people and the malicious things they often do. The things that can involve their pets.
When Marlowe gets a call to assist the police in a "cat shooting," the animal expert is understandably furious. Who's been shooting cats? She knows people can be cruel. But it turns out that the white Persian cowering in the corner is literally a killer kitty: Evidence indicates her paw pulled the trigger on a valuable firearm that's caused the death of her owner, Donal Franklin.
Marlowe's more than just good with animals -- she picks up their thoughts from time to time. It's a mixed blessing. After all, what does a dog waiting to go outside think about? (Hint: He's gotta go. Fast.) And how much do you really want to know about a hunter's feelings toward prey -- that is, a cat toward food? Or a cat toward a weakness in its "owner"? Pru Marlowe has had reason to regret her relatively new ability to overhear animal commentary (and their insults of her), especially since she can't explain it to even her closest friends without risking being locked up, herself.
Simon's sharp, quick plotting, sturdily mixed motivations, and decisive characters move this crime fiction along briskly. And if the idea of a pet psychic is a bit outside normal beliefs, it's the only notion the reader will have to swallow against the grain; this title, like its predecessor Dogs Don't Lie, is a thoroughly enjoyable traditional mystery with a likable twist.
And actually, now you mention it ... didn't you say your cat knows which sweater is your favorite, and always chooses to curl up and shed on that one?
Simon's created a worthy shelf companion to the great early titles by Lilian Jackson Braun, with shades of Agatha Christie in the character analysis that eventually solves the crimes. I'm looking forward to more in this series. – Beth Kanell
By: JAY STRAFFORD | Special correspondent
Published: April 29, 2012
Numerous mystery authors write more than one series, but it's a rare occurrence for one writer to publish entries from two of them simultaneously. But that's what the versatile Clea Simon has done for the second year in a row, releasing installments from her Dulcie Schwartz and Pru Marlowe novels this month.
In "Grey Expectations" (215 pages, Severn House, $27.95), Harvard grad student Dulcie is continuing work on her thesis about an obscure, incomplete 17th-century gothic novel when she finds herself embroiled in multifaceted trouble. Two of her colleagues — Roland Galveston and Trista Dunlop — have gone missing, and so has the Dunster Codex, a valuable book dating to 11th-century England and the prize possession of Harvard's special collections. And Dulcie soon realizes that someone is trying to set her up for a big fall.
Meanwhile, she is receiving fewer messages from the ghost of her late cat, Mr. Grey, and not picking up on those from her new kitten, Esmé. But Dulcie's determination — seldom dormant — kicks in to help her unravel the disappearances.
The feline in "Cats Don't Shoot" (276 pages, Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95 hardcover, $14.95 softcover) is alive but endangered, accused of accidentally — and fatally — shooting her owner.
Enter animal behaviorist Pru, whose abilities include that of "hearing" what her charges are saying. When wealthy Donal Franklin is found dead, and his white Persian's fur and paw prints are found on the antique dueling pistol, the authorities rule the case an accident. But Pru, who has fled New York City for her hometown in western Massachusetts, isn't convinced. And her investigation propels her into a case of guns, greed and multiple murders. When the cat, who has refused to communicate with Pru, vanishes from a local animal shelter, Pru must find the real killer in a litter of suspects in this true whodunit.
Simon, a self-described "recovering journalist" who lives in the Boston area, brings talent and passion to her novels. Ailurophiles, naturally, will ind them a tasty treat — but so will readers who enjoy the author's creativity and characters who inspire great affection.
Jay Strafford is a retired writer and editor for The Times-Dispatch.
The second Pru Marlowe mystery has the soon-to-be-licensed animal behaviorist defending a Persian cat that may have shot its owner with an antique pistol. Pru is convinced that cats can’t shoot, but the cops sure think this one did. Normally, Pru would use her psychic abilities and ask the Persian what happened, but the cat ain’t talking, leaving Pru on her own. Her first instinct is always for the animals, something the rest of humanity doesn’t always understand. In fact, Pru’s animals-first philosophy, combined with her nosy investigating, is giving her quite a reputation as an eccentric, but she doesn’t care as long as she keeps her charges safe. Pru’s strongest and clearest communication has always been with her own grumpy feline, Wallis, but she’s expanding her range to actual conversations, which turn out to be a great boon for an investigation, as animals often have evidence no one else could gather. Between the vengeful widow and a strangely similar-looking mistress, Pru is dealing with some tough women. And when a Russian mobster arrives in town looking for one of Pru’s sometime boyfriends, the tension escalates still further. Simon excels in creating unique and believable animal characters as well as diverse and memorable humans, and this sequel is just as good as Dogs Don’t Lie (2011). A perfect read-alike for fans of Rita Mae Brown and Shirley Rousseau Murphy.
Grey Expectations: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery Clea Simon. Severn, $27.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8134-2
Simon’s enchanting fourth Dulcie Schwartz mystery (after 2011’s Grey Zone) finds Harvard grad student Dulcie still at work on her doctoral thesis on late 18th-century gothic fiction and still trying to identify the anonymous author of “her long-time favorite adventure,” The Ravages of Umbria. Esmé, Dulcie’s telepathic tuxedo kitten, provides distraction. When an 11th-century manuscript, the Dunster Codex, goes missing from the rare book collection in the Widener Annex, suspicion falls on Dulcie’s brash Victorian studies friend, Trista, whom the police already suspect of having something to do with the disappearance of visiting scholar Roland Galveston. Dulcie, aided by her ghostly cat, Mr. Grey, and her live-in boyfriend, Chris Sorenson, seeks to solve the puzzle, which soon takes a murderous turn. Fans of academic paranormal cat cozies will be in heaven. Agent: Colleen Mohyde, Doe Coover Agency. (May)
The fourth in
Simon’s Mr. Grey and Dulcie series, following Grey Zone (2011),
continues successfully to marry the apparently very different
subgenres of the cat mystery and the academic mystery. Finally writing
her thesis, Dulcie isn’t in the mood for dramatics, even from her
grad-school pals. All she wants is peaceful time in the library to
continue her research. But when a rare book goes missing from a locked
archive to which only she and the other English students have access,
she must emerge from her writing fog and start investigating. Usually,
she has the ghostly feline, Mr. Grey, to help out, but he seems to
have transfered his affections and communications to Dulcie’s
boyfriend, Chris. Meanwhile, the new kitten, Esmé, continues to bite
and play more than talk. After best friend Tris disappears, Dulcie is
on her own, which is too bad because it seems that Dulcie may be being
framed for the theft. Using Dulcie’s ongoing struggles with her
dissertation to frame each entry in the series provides good
continuity and keeps readers engaged. This is definitely more than
just another cat mystery.
In Beauville in the Berkshires, Police Officer Jim Creighton explains to pet behaviorist (and psychic) Pru Marlowe that the Persian is a “killer kitty”. Apparently she accidentally fired the gun that killed Donal Franklin. The feline’s prints are on the weapon as are feline fur. Pru looks the Persian in the eyes and asks if she did it; however, instead of “hearing” what the cat was thinking, the feline’s brain is silent as she hisses at the behaviorist before being removed.
Pru accompanied by Wallis her cat, turns to the other animal residents of Beauville for information as she is increasingly convinced the Persian is traumatized by what she saw and is not guilty of homicide. Creighton and his support team disagree so Pru knows she will need hard evidence, but Wallis becomes frustrated with her failure to truly listen; while her ex NYPD cop Tom Reynolds is in town allegedly working a case.
The second Pru Marlowe Pet Noir is an enjoyable whodunit that is similar in plot to its predecessor (see Dogs Don’t Lie) in that a traumatized pet is accused of a homicide and the heroine investigates by chatting with the animals. However this time the heroine is not the prime human suspect and Wallis refreshes the mystery with his mounting frustrations with Pru. .Fast-paced from the moment Pru drops her ire when she learns a kitty shooting literally meant a kitty shooting an owner rather than visa-versa, readers will relish this fun caper.
Cats Can’t Shoot by Clea Simon
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (280 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Alice
When Pru Marlowe gets the call that there’s been a cat shooting, she’s furious. Animal brutality is the one thing that this tough animal psychic won’t stand for, and in her role as a behaviorist she’s determined to care for the traumatized pet. But when Pru finds out that the cat did the shooting – accidentally setting off a rare dueling pistol – she realizes something else is going on. Could the white Persian really have killed her owner – or did the whole bloody mess have something to do with that pricey collectible? With the white cat turning a deaf ear to her questions, Pru must tune in to Beauville’s other pampered residents – from the dead man’s elite social set to their equally spoiled pets – and learn the truth before her ex, a former New York cop, gets too close. In a world where value is determined by a price tag, only Pru Marlowe and her trusty tabby Wallis can figure out if this was a case of feline felony – or if some human has set the Persian up to be the ultimate cat’s paw.
When Pru gets a phone call asking her to respond to a cat shooting, she’s prepared to deal with a traumatized cat. However, she’s not prepared to find the cop suggesting the cat was the shooter!
This author previously published Dogs Don’t Lie which was a very good mystery, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to review this Pru mystery. Ms. Simon has made her main character, Pru Marlowe, unique. She talks to animals. I don’t mean she watches and guesses what they might be trying to communicate. She can actually talk to them through mental telepathy. It’s a real asset to her job as a pet handler and trainer. Being able to hear any animal’s thoughts around her is a bit of a detriment, though.
One of the things I enjoy about Ms. Simon’s writings is she doesn’t make her characters bigger than life. Pru is not exceptionally smart, she’s dating questionable men, and her cat even gets mad at her for not knowing more. Being compared to a kitten is not a compliment. The author also made Pru very dedicated to her work and trying to solve mysteries, so she’s a good sort overall.
This story moves along fast with several characters being introduced. Since four of them are men that Pru has dated at one time or another, it quickly becomes entertaining. All Ms. Simon’s characters are a bit quirky. She gives you the very rich and the very gossipy and mixes them with the get-rich-quick and stalwart characters. With such a rich mix of characters, you can’t help but having fun reading this author’s work.
If you like animals, that’s a plus with this series. If you aren’t sure, this cozy mystery will keep you reading to see just how Pru manages to keep her nose out of trouble and if the killer is finally found. The engaging mystery was easy to finish in one night because I didn’t want to stop reading.
Why not get a copy of this book at your local bookstore and let Ms. Simon take you into the world of Pru and entertain you like she did me?
Most pet-lovers know that dogs and cats communicate regularly with their human companions. But what if they could help you solve a mystery? In her latest pet noir, "Cats Can't Shoot," author Clea Simon explores the connections between pets and their owners, weaving a complex murder mystery that appeals even if you're not a die-hard animal lover.
"In truth, I have always been a storyteller," Simon told Yahoo! Shine:. "From the earliest I can remember, I loved making up stories to amuse people. But in junior high, I was also bitten by the news bug and it quickly became apparent that there was a more clear career path in journalism."
"I'll admit, in many ways it is less scary to be a journalist than a storyteller," she says. "After all, as a journalist, you are conveying information -- finding out facts that everyone needs. But to be a storyteller requires a certain confidence -- the belief that a story that you've made up out of your own head, that has no useful value, will be valued by someone. And somewhere in my early adulthood, I'd lost the confidence in my storytelling that I'd had as a child."
Her confidence returned after her third non-fiction book, "The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats," was published in 2002. The link between women, mysteries, and cats took her to the next level, and soon her first mystery series, featuring a Boston-based music reporter named Theda Krakow. Since then, she's written three full series, all with different heroines; her ninth and tenth books come out in April. (You can find excerpts of her books online at CleaSimon.com).
Shine: You wrote three nonfiction books before publishing your first pet-related murder mystery. What made you start writing mysteries? And why populate them with pets?
Clea Simon: I'd always loved animals, and animals have always played a huge role in my life. My last nonfiction book ("The Feline Mystique") let me explore history and mythology, behavioral science, psychology, you name it - all with cats. And I had a blast. At the time this book came out (2002), I was a regular at the great Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and had come to know Kate Mattes, the proprietor. Kate had an annual holiday party at which she'd invite dozens of authors to come sign their books. I'd been to several -- the store was small and would be packed, people spilling out into the yard. It was always a blast. And Kate said to me, "Clea, why don't you come sign 'The Feline Mystique'? I'll get a bunch in." I said, "But Kate, my book isn't a mystery." And she replied, with a twinkle in her eye, "Clea, believe it or not, there's a huge overlap between women who love cats and mystery readers." So I did, and she did, and a fair amount of wine was consumed. And then towards the end of the party, when we were picking cupcake wrappers off the bookshelves, Kate turned to me and said, "Clea, you should write a mystery." And so I went home and started one that night, which became "Mew is for Murder." She gave me permission to do what I'd always wanted.
Shine: In your earlier books, the animals don't talk, but in the later ones, they do. What happened?
C.S.: In my first four mysteries, the Theda Krakow mysteries, I was very concerned with making the cats be real animals. I was still mining a lot of the research I'd done with "The Feline Mystique," and I wanted to put animal issues front and center in each book. And so "Mew is for Murder" dealt, lightly, with animal hoarding -- the neighborhood "cat lady" is murdered. Then in subsequent books I dealt with puppy/kitten mills and pet overpopulation. I wanted to -- and I think I succeeded -- in bringing these issues up without being preachy, and in the context of a fun adventure. And, of course, I obeyed the golden rule of cozy mysteries, which is that you can kill as many people as you want, but you cannot harm an animal. I also really enjoyed portraying my characters and their pets as directly as I could -- we pick up cues from our pets all the time. They don't HAVE to talk!
Then my longtime beloved cat Cyrus died, and I had a very strange encounter. I was running down the street -- late for an appointment -- and I saw a cat that was the exact double of Cyrus, sitting on a porch, watching me. I'd never seen that other cat before, and I never did again. And so I started thinking, "What if our animals came back as ghosts to watch over us?" Add in that I spent a good deal of my undergrad career studying novels of the 18th Century - and that I've become increasingly aware of some issues that have stayed the same (mainly, the ghettoization of female authors, and of books popular with female authors). Suddenly, I had a new heroine - a bookish grad student, Dulcie Schwartz, who is studying Gothic novels and thinks she's super rational. Until she sees the ghost of her late cat, telling her not to enter an apartment where a body lies dead... "Shades of Grey" was born, and that series will have its fourth book, "Grey Expectations," out this April. Mr. Grey, the ghost cat, appears erratically, and is usually quite enigmatic, never telling Dulcie anything directly. He is not only a ghost, after all, he is a cat.
I took the next step as the result of a challenge. I was at Sleuthfest, a mystery conference in Florida, when the editor of a mystery story anthology challenged me to write a story for her. I'd been reading a lot of the new female-centered noir, books like "Queenpin" by Megan Abbot, and I just loved that tough, cool voice. But when I write, somehow, there's always an animal involved. So, sitting by the pool, I came up with "Dumb Beasts," which featured an animal psychic with a real bad attitude, who solved a mystery by the clues the animals were giving her. The key, though, was that the animals responded as animals do - the dog doesn't say, "he did it!" The dog says, basically, "Let's go out! Let's go out! Why haven't we gone out?" And the cat doesn't say, "it was a gun." The cat says, "That was loud. I hate loud."
Pru has little use for people, but she grudgingly respects animals - because they are true to themselves. That short story grew into "Dogs Don't Lie," which became a three-book series and continues this spring with "Cats Can't Shoot." It is very important to me, in all these books, that I present the animals honestly. No, I know cats don't talk, but even when I have them communicate, I try to present them in ways that are true to themselves. I love animals, but what I love about them is their animal nature - the way they react, with their instincts, to the world. I think that if I can convey that honestly to the reader, then the reader will love these characters as much as I do - and more than if I tried to cutesy-poo them up. So, yes, several of my animals now talk, but I like to think their voices are true to who they are.
Shine: Your latest heroine Pru Marlowe can hear what animals are thinking. Are you a bit of a pet psychic as well?
C.S.: I wish -- or, no, I don't, because Pru often finds it maddening. Can you imagine the inanities the birds come up with each morning? But I do think that even we normal humans can use many of the same tools that Pru uses: if we observe our pets, we know what they are “saying.”
Shine: Have you ever worked with a pet psychic?
C.S.: Yes, for "The Feline Mystique." it was kind of hilarious. She did a consultation over the phone and my cat slept through most of it.
Shine: Are any of your heroines autobiographical? There's Pru, journalist Theda Krakow, and graduate student Dulcie Schwartz.
C.S.: I think they all contain elements of my personality. Theda's life most closely mirrored mine -- a onetime newspaper copy editor and music critic. I like to see myself as Pru, tough and world-weary. But at least one of my close friends thinks I'm much more the bookish, gentle Dulcie.
Shine: Tell us about your own pets.
C.S.: I am now serial monogamous with cats, and we currently cohabit with Musetta, a feisty but affectionate black and white ("tuxedo") medium-hair cat. She's a very different personality from the late, great Cyrus, in that he was courtly, allowed anyone to pet him, was very quiet and gentle. Musetta will hiss and meow at anyone - including me - and when she gets excited, she bites. But she's also extremely affectionate. I think she's like our little riot grrrl, whereas Cyrus was a philosopher. When I was younger, I had a huge menagerie. Several anoles and other lizards, including a horned toad, and various turtles and hamsters, too. For a few years, I had a lovely toad named Dyatt, who overcame his fear of me and would sit nestled in my hand, enjoying the warmth. I would catch flies for him in summer, which is a very useful skill that I have retained (though i do tend to kill them now -- Dyatt preferred his prey still kicking). The first cat in my house was a big black-and-white tom named James, brought home by my brother from college. He was followed by Thomas and Tara.
Shine: Is there a real-life pet-related issue that you're particularly passionate about?
C.S.: Most of them! I'm a huge supporter of spay and neuter programs, and also of keeping cats inside. They have longer, healthier lives indoors with a modicum of care and attention, and it is better for them and for the environment. People are about 20 years behind the times with cats then they are with dogs. Nobody, well, virtually nobody, leaves their dogs outside anymore to fend for themselves. We know that these are domestic animals and we have a pact with them - to care for them as they serve and please us. We have to catch up with our care of our cats, too.
Shine: Tell us a bit about "Cats Can't Shoot," which comes out in April.
C.S.: As "Cats Can't Shoot" opens, Pru has gotten a call from the cops, telling her that she's needed to help out with animal control, there's been a cat shooting. She's horrified, of course, but when she arrives, she finds out that the cat is unharmed - but its owner is dead. It appears that the cat, a white Persian, has accidentally set off a hair-trigger antique dueling pistol. The cops had called Pru to remove the cat, which is hiding and terrified, but, of course, Pru is curious and hopes, using her special skills, to pick up something about what really happened here. However, the cat is either too traumatized to tell her, or she's losing her special gift. Then, when the widow and her much younger "assistant" start fighting over the cat, Pru knows something is going on. Pru, by the way, has a snarky sidekick, an elderly tabby named Wallis, who has no respect for pedigreed cats like that Persian. Or anyone else for that matter.
Shine: You have another book in the works, too, don't you? Can you share a bit about it with us?
C.S.: Next month will also see the U.S. publication of "Grey Expectations," the fourth Dulcie Schwartz mystery. In this one, Dulcie finds herself under suspicion when a rare English codex goes missing - and when she discovers the dead body of the director of the library special collections, she is drawn in more deeply. Rumors have been circulating that the missing codex is haunted, but when Dulcie tries to confer with Mr Grey, he's no help at all.
Shine: Most of your pet mysteries involve cats. Why not more dogs? Are cats inherently more mysterious, do you just like them better, or is it a readership demographic issue?
C.S.: I do have a wider variety of animals in the Pru series. In fact, the first of those, last year's "Dogs Don't Lie," focused on a rescued dog who is accused of killing her owner. She's headed for euthanasia unless Pru can prove to the world what she knows - that Lily would never have killed the man who gave her a new life. There's also a recurring character, a very macho bichon frise, in that series, who acts as a kind of Greek chorus. He's the canine equivalent of Wallis. Please don't tell Wallis that, though! Dogs and other animals will probably always be secondary characters in my books, though. I don't write with reader demographics in mind. I can't; I just write what I love and at heart, I'm a cat person. There are great dog mysteries out there - I recommend Susan Conant's books highly - but I don't know them as well and so I don't write them as naturally.
Reviews by the Reference Department of the Bristol Public Library, Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2012 Grey Expectations by Clea Simon
Reviewed by Jeanne
Things finally seem to be looking up for graduate student Dulcie Schwartz. She’s settled in with her boyfriend Chris after her own apartment was destroyed and things are good between them. Her new kitten Esme is becoming dearer to her every day, even if she does like to nip. Dulcie still gets a word or two of comfort and wisdom from her dearly departed cat, Mr. Grey, although he insists on being cryptic. Best of all, she is finally making some progress on her thesis about The Ravages of Umbria, an incomplete gothic novel written in the eighteenth century by an unknown author. Dulcie is determined to try to identify her and try to discover what happened to this courageous, free-thinking woman. Dulcie’s so obsessed that she’s begun to dream about her.
A frantic phone call turns everything upside down. Dulcie’s friend and fellow student Trish calls to say the police have been by to question her and that she’s suspected of homicide. In her efforts to help, Dulcie finds people sometimes aren’t who they claim to be, that books may be haunted, and a valuable clue to her mystery author may be hiding in plain sight.
This is the fifth in the Dulcie Schwartz series and for me, it’s the most successful. Simon has found the perfect tone—voice, if you will—for Mr. Grey and Esme, and given Dulcie some much needed stability in her life. She feels more comfortable with herself. Having a ghostly guide is a problematical thing in most books; either our heroine (it’s usually a she) keeps fighting the idea or else serves as a deus ex machina to clear up plot lines. Having a ghostly guide who’s a cat may sound just too precious for words, but it’s handled very well. Mr. Grey, while offering a word or two, believes kittens, be they human or feline, need to find their own way in the world; he tends to limit his comments to general instructions, such as “Things are not always as they seem.” Mostly he is there for a bit of psychic moral support which Dulcie needs after a life of near-rootlessness and abandonment by her father. I especially like the dynamic in this book between Mr. Grey and Esme, who have brief conversations; he treats Esme much the same way he treats Dulcie.
Equally pleasurable is the parallel that runs between Dulcie’s life and that of her unknown author. Dulcie is so close to the work that she doesn’t see, leaving the reader to feel a bit like Mr. Grey, knowing that we see something Dulcie can’t. The cast of characters, especially Dulcie’s New Age mother, are likeable. English majors will identify with Dulcie’s frustrations in researching and proving her thesis, but non-academics won’t have any trouble following that aspect of the book. In fact, I’m beginning to become as curious as Dulcie as to who this author might have been!
In short, this is a good solid mystery which is fun without being silly, and which melts my cat lover’s heart whenever Esme and/ or Mr. Grey are on the scene!
At Harvard, graduate student Dulcie Schwartz has completed all her classes except for her dissertation on the anonymous British author of a two-century old gothic novel. Besides wondering who the author was, Dulcie would like to know why the unknown author stopped writing.
However, she will soon be engulfed in a real world mystery. Signs seem everywhere asking whether anyone has seen a missing former student Carrie. Dulcie saw Carrie with a man before she knew people were looking for her. After sending an email to Carrie's contact address, the woman seeking Carrie, Corkie asks Dulcie to contact her. Dulcie searches for Corkie, finds her but she runs into a building and to the stairs. Seconds later Dulcie learns Professor Fritz Herscloft just jumped out of a window to his death. Later she finds out he was murdered. Dulcie worries someone she knows might be the killer and that she may be in danger as she has a lot of so-called accidents. Making matters more complicated is that her beloved late feline Mr. Grey, whose spirit guided her, is contacting Dulcie less and less; while her impish kitten Esme is not assisting her at all. As she digs deeper, falling concrete injures Dulcie who now knows she is in danger.
The latest Dulcie Schwartz paranormal amateur sleuth (see Grey Matters and Shades of Grey) is a delightful cozy starring a young female who fears her late significant other Mr. Grey is moving on at a time she needs him though even she knows he is a crutch. Both cats are involved in trying to keep their human pet safe though it is not easy to do as the heroine has a tendency to stick her nose into dire situations. Readers will enjoy wintry Cambridge as Dulcie struggles with closure from the loss of her loved one, her dissertation, and her investigation.
Dogs Don't Lie
Pru Marlowe returned to her Berkshire hometown to escape all the animal voices running through her head. She tells her neighbors that she came back to care for her mother, but Pru knows the real reason is to obtain some quiet time.
An animal psychic, Pru makes money walking dogs and training animals. However, the animal behaviorist becomes concerned when Lily the pit bull rescued from the fighting ring dog is accused of killing her mangled owner Charles. Pru tries to listen to Lily's chatter, but the canine is confused by the tragedy and other nasty events in her life though she obviously witnessed the murder. Still Pru feels for the dog so she decides to investigate with Wallis her grouchy cat at her side insisting canines are notorious liars. Pulling a Dr. Doolittle, she listens to the animals chat and finds clues to the homicide while also learning more about the town she grew up in while also trying to help the two females in the life of the late Charles, Lily and his fiancee Delia Cochrane. However, Pru also knows if she clears the dog, she becomes the replacement prime suspect.
The first pet noir whodunit is a fun whodunit even with the animal noise level (mostly from that opinionated darn cat) greater than the Dr. Doolittle movies. The investigation is refreshing as Pru seeks clues from animals especially the traumatized eye witness, but is limited with what she can share with the cops as talk to the animals is fiction. Fast-paced with several terrific twists and spins, readers will enjoy Dogs Don't Lie.
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: GREY ZONE
Issue: 1ST MAY 2011
Simon, Clea. Grey Zone: A Dulcie Schwartz Mystery. Severn House. May 2011. c.216p. ISBN 9780727869920. $28.95.
Graduate student Dulcie Schwartz and her ghostly feline, Mr. Grey, return in a third academia-set cozy.
Dulcie, stressed with midterms and a new thesis adviser, is also having dreams about the author of Ravages of Umbria (her thesis subject) that have her convinced that the author was in someway silenced in 1794. And then she not only witnesses a suicide but thinks one of her undergraduate students may be involved. The fast-paced story is propelled by Dulcie’s frenetic investigations and harried personal life, but unlike in many cozies—in which the mystery plot is lost amid the personal detail—here the many scenes from Dulcie’s life actually support the main story, whether they are Dulcie’s phone calls with her commune-dwelling mother, Dulcie’s kitten troubles, or her worries about long-time boyfriend and fellow grad-student, Chris. A must read for series fans, the novel should also be suggested to Lauren Willig and Jennifer Lee Carrell readers.
Anyone who has ever been the human companion of an animal, particularly of a dog or a cat, knows that inter-species communication is no myth. This reviewer knows a Chihuahua who becomes ecstatic and zips into the kitchen at the words "cottage cheese." And we all have been made aware in hard times how our pets realize instinctively that we need comforting.
Which brings us to Boston-area crime novelist Clea Simon, who infuses her mysteries with human-pet interaction and whose books are models of the whodunit genre. In a somewhat rare occurrence, she has published two books simultaneously, one the continuation of a series and the other the beginning of one.
"Grey Zone," the third entry in the series featuring Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz, finds our heroine still working on her doctoral thesis, still teaching undergraduates, still missing her beloved late cat, Mr. Grey (who's known to remain communicative), and still growing accustomed to Esmé, her new kitten.
But life isn't all purrs and research. Her new faculty adviser scoffs at the direction her work seems to be going: Dulcie is now trying to prove not only the identity of the 18th-century novelist she's studying but also that the mysterious woman was murdered. Then there's the problem of the Harvard Harasser, who's making life miserable for female students.
Meanwhile, a former student of Dulcie's, Carrie Mines, goes missing, and a psychology professor, Fritz Herschoft, appears to have taken a dive out his office window. But the cops rule out suicide, and a plethora of Dulcie's pals are among the suspects.
Dulcie, of course, is too inquisitive — and she cares too much for her friends — to simply leave matters to the police. In doing so, she risks her life. But in the end, Mr. Grey and Esmé come through, and all comes right.
Simon's talent sparkles in a true puzzler, Dulcie shines with sympathy, and the story stresses the gravity of sexual harassment.
"Grey Zone" shows again that the animals in our lives are much more than our pets. It's a lesson that they know innately and prove every moment of their — and our — lives.
* * * * *
Fans of Gary Larson's "The Far Side" comic strip are likely to remember his parody of "Perry Mason," in which a cow leaps up in the back of a courtroom and says, "All right, I confess! I did it! That's right! The cow! Ha ha! And I feel great!"
In "Dogs Don't Lie," the opener in Simon's projected series featuring animal behaviorist Pru Marlowe, it's not a cow but a pit bull who's the suspect.
Pru, who's 33, has returned to her hometown in western Massachusetts after finding her New York City life a bit overwhelming. And she's not just a behaviorist; she's an animal psychic who can hear what animals are saying (and they can hear and communicate with her, too).
Far-fetched? Not really, given Simon's emphasis on strong women and animals in her books. This time, Pru has been training Lily, a pit bull rescued by computer programmer Charles "Chuck" Harris from a life of abuse. But when Pru visits Charles' house for a training session with him and Lily, she finds a horrifying scene: a dead Charles, his throat ripped out, and a distraught Lily, her muzzle covered with blood.
Pru is convinced of Lily's innocence and sets out to prove it (with some timely help from her senior tabby cat, Wallis — and, when the cops get doubly suspicious — her own). As is her wont, Simon peppers "Dogs Don't Lie" with a cast of credible culprits. Was the real killer Delia Cochrane, who claimed to be Chuck's fiancée, or Mack Danton, Chuck's business partner, or Chris Moore, Delia's previous boyfriend, or someone else entirely?
"Dogs Don't Lie" differs from "Grey Zone" — but not in ways that affect either's likability. Pru is independent, somewhat antisocial and fully smart-alecky, while Dulcie is none of the above. With that distinction driving the tone, "Dogs Don't Lie" has a more tongue-in-cheek feel.
With a clever plot, a surprising conclusion and another amiable heroine, "Dogs Don't Lie" has all the earmarks of the beginning of a successful series. It's a doggy departure from her body of work, but Simon brings her usual skills — and her great heart — to another story that animal lovers and mystery fans will lap up.
Grey Zone: A Dulcie Schwartz Mystery Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-6992-0
In Simon's spirited third
Dulcie Schwartz mystery (after 2010's Grey Matters), Harvard grad
student Dulcie continues to work on uncovering the identity of the
anonymous female author of The Ravages of Umbria, an 18th-century
gothic novel. But the death of psychology professor Fritz Herschoft,
an apparent suicide, as well as the disappearance of a former student
of Dulcie's, sophomore Carrie Mines, distract her from finishing that
darn thesis. Dulcie's evolving relationship with fellow grad student
Chris Sorenson further complicates her life. The appealingly earnest
Dulcie reveals a sweetly eccentric side through her psychic
communications with Mr. Grey, her ghost cat sidekick, and her new
telepathic kitten, Esmé Strange dreams and Mr. Grey's sporadic
assistance steer Dulcie toward a most elusive killer. Fans of Shirley
Rousseau Murphy, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Rita Mae Brown should
enjoy this feline whodunit, the best in the series so
From Library Journal
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: GREY ZONE
Publication: LIBRARY JOURNAL
Issue: 1ST APRIL 2011
Simon, Clea. Grey Zone: A Dulcie Schwartz Mystery. Severn House. May 2011. c.216p. ISBN 9780727869920. $28.95.
Dulcinea Schwartz’s life as a Harvard grad student is more complicated than most. She’s a bit psychic; has a ghost cat, Mr. Grey, for a muse; and is already known to the local police for earlier cases (Grey Matters). And then she just happens to be on the scene when a professor falls to his death from his department’s building. At the same time, her research into a 1794 feminist author’s writings has stalled, and this gives Dulcie horrible nightmares that further complicate her thinking. VERDICT For those seeking mysteries with a gothic twist, Simon offers a supernatural cozy that also weaves in real-life issues (e.g., sexual harassment of students). Readers will relate to the academic politics and might also like Emily Arsenault’s The Broken Teaglass as a similar suspense puzzle. Or for the paranormal element, consider Sue Ann Jaffarian’s “Ghost of Granny Apples” series.
By Jo Ann Vicarel
Mar 1, 2011
Dogs Don’t Lie.
Simon, Clea (author).
Apr. 2011. 256p. Poisoned Pen, hardcover, $24.95 (9781590588604); Poisoned Pen, paperback, $14.95 (9781590588628).
REVIEW. First published March 1, 2011 (Booklist).
Pru Marlowe has recently returned to her hometown in
the Berkshires, ostensibly to care for her dying mother. In reality,
she fled New York when she was weeks away from completing her degree
as an animal behaviorist, having endured a nervous breakdown caused by
her sudden ability to hear animals. Only a few months later, after
setting up shop as an animal trainer, Pru finds her best client dead,
his throat ripped out, and his newly adopted pit bull, Lily, standing
next to him, covered in blood. Spurred on by the desperate cries only
she can hear, Pru commits herself to saving Lily and solving the
murder. Simon writes a high-quality cozy mystery, well paced and
plotted, with plenty of twists, and set in a New England small town
full of intriguing characters. Pru’s struggles to deal with her
abilities make this stand out among other animal mysteries, and the
sad story of Floyd, the heart-broken Persian, will touch the heart of
cat lovers everywhere. Recommend this series to fans of Blaize Clement
and Rita May Brown (especially those who have grown weary of the
Mrs. Murphy novels). Watch this series closely. It could well sprint
to the top of the animal-cozy genre.
— Jessica Moyer
From Library Journal
By Jo Ann Vicarel
Mar 1, 2011
Simon, Clea. Dogs Don’t Lie: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir. Poisoned
Pen. Apr. 2011. c.250p. ISBN 9781590588604. $24.95; pap. ISBN
9781590588628. $14.95.M Berkshires pet psychic Pru
Marlowe finds her highest-paying client dead in his living room with
his throat torn out. The prime suspect is the victim’s
blood-covered pit bull, Lily. Trying to save Lily places Pru squarely
on the path to danger.
VERDICT Simon, author
of the Theda Krakow (Probable Claws) and Dulcie Schwartz series
(Grey Matters), launches a delightful new pet series that will
appeal to fans of Shirley Rousseau Murphy and Rita Mae Brown.
Can a book with a cat be taken seriously? (Answer: yes).
Robin Agnew (Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI)
While I often am approached by writers
wanting to send me ARCs and have me read, possibly review them, and
certainly try to sell them, it’s not often that I say “yes,” send the
ARC, and less often when I actually read and enjoy them. However,
such was the charm and erudition of author Clea Simon (who I hadn’t
heard of, despite the fact that she had nine books to her credit) that
I agreed to an ARC. When she contacted me a few months later - I’d
set it aside, because it was so far ahead of when the book came out -
that I thought, OK, I’ll give it a try. I even thought my daughter
had squirreled it away with her when she went back to college, because
it has the magical word “dog” in the title. After frantically
contacting Poisoned Pen for another copy, lo and behold, it turned up
on one of my dining room chairs, and now I felt well and truly
obligated to read it.
The title of the book
is Dogs Don't Lie, and
it will be published by Poisoned Pen Press in April. I wasn’t too
hopeful when I discovered that the premise was that the main
character, Pru Marlowe (yes, a nod to the great one) can “hear” what
animals are saying and thinking. But somehow, the premise works. I
asked Clea if she herself was psychic, as her character is, and she
answered “I wish I were psychic....I do end up getting the strong
feeling that my cat is trying to tell me something, if only I weren’t
too stupid to hear it.” The rest came about from necessity. “I
really wanted to write a bad girl heroine for a change. How did she
become a bad-girl animal psychic? I don’t know, except that I also
knew I wanted her to have a snarky cat as a sidekick and I guess I
needed a way for them to communicate.”
The detail Simon brings to her premise
is what sells it. For one thing, many of the animals she communicates
with have a name they’ve given themselves, not the same one their
human owners have given them. Pru walks a Bichon named Bitsy whose
private name is actually “Growler.” The premise that kicks off the
book is that a rescued pit bull Pru’s been helping to train is found
in a room with it’s dead owner, his throat ripped out. The cops are
pretty sure it’s an open and shut case, and impound the dog, though
naturally, this being a mystery, things are more complex than they
appear on the surface. So while the storyline is somewhat dark in
itself, it’s leavened by the interactions Pru has with various animals
throughout the book, parts of the story I began to look forward to,
especially when it came to a Ferret named Frank (Bandit to it’s
This is the kind of cozy that’s kind of
a half breed. While Pru communicates with her cat, it’s not a story
that easily vacates your brain after you close the book; it’s pretty
vivid and memorable. The pain of the pit bull who is incarcerated in
the pound is very moving, and Pru herself is undergoing a type of
midlife crisis, something I asked the author about as she’d apparently
left her job as a journalist to become a writer. She says her first
few books were autobiographical, and “It takes a while to think you
can just make up stories that anyone would want to read.” While this
book isn’t really autobiographical, Simon deftly captures the
unsettled quality of Pru’s life and the fact that she’s on a personal
journey, one that looks like it will take more than one book to
When I asked Clea about her own
personal reading tastes, they were much darker than what she writes -
Megan Abbott, Henning Mankell, Tana French. She says “I guess I go
for character as much as anything, although a good plot...can keep me
going too.” Simon’s book has the sharp kind of character detail I
think she herself appreciates. Her crisp writing and polished plot
are a pleasure from start to finish.
by Clea Simon
Severn House, March 2010
Dulcie Schwartz has more than her share of
tribulations. A PhD English student at Harvard, she is saddled with
Professor William Bullock for her dissertation director, a cranky,
demanding professor who wrote a major work twenty years ago, leading
to an endowed chair in the department; he hasn't written a word since,
but keeps promising a new book.
The subject of Dulcie's dissertation is THE RAVAGES
OF UMBRIA, a fragment of a Gothic Romance novel she has
uncovered. Unfortunately, she can't find the name of the author of the
book, nor can she unearth a complete copy. To compound Dulcie's woes,
after she leaves Professor Bullock's home, following a very
unproductive session, she stumbles over the body of Cameron Dessay, a
recent recruit to the English department from Comparative
As Dulcie tries to find the person responsible for
Cameron's death, she receives sage - if often enigmatic - advice from
the specter of her beloved and wise cat, Mr Grey. Having toiled in the
groves of academe for over thirty years, I can vouch for Simon's grasp
of that world. Plagiarism is all too frequent, as is Professor
Bullock's habit of passing off as his own the research done by a
While the plot is engrossing, the book's strength is
in the characters. Simon has crafted a very well defined cast...all of
whom are dependent on Professor Bullock for their careers. Dulcie is
charming, if often befuddled; her usually genial office mate, Lloyd,
is protecting Professor Bullock in order to keep his financial grants;
Polly, another graduate student, who is Bullock's housekeeper and
gofer, is sadly ageing without degree or prospects. Roger Gosham, the
craggy and rude bookbinder and rare book dealer lives on Bullock's
patronage. Most engaging are the two adorable cats, the wise, old Mr
Grey and the feisty kitten who has attached herself to Dulcie.
Harvard may never be the same.
Mary Elizabeth Devine taught English Literature
for 35 years, is co-author of five books about customs and manners
around the world and lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Grey Matters by Clea Simon (F SIM Main)
Reviewed by Jeanne
Since it’s well known that I am owned by multiple
cats, it’s no surprise that I’d seek out this series about a woman who
receives messages from a ghost cat. It’s also no surprise that I
enjoyed it. The surprise is that this mystery is firmly rooted in
reality, no “Ghost Whisperer” nor “Medium” otherworldly intervention
in discovering whodunit.
Dulcie Schwartz, the grad student we first met in
Shades of Grey, is up against a deadline that may determine her
future. Her advisor is pressuring her to show “significant progress”
on her doctorial thesis. If she fails to do so, she could lose the
grants which allow her to stay in school. The problem is that Dulcie
feels she HAS made progress, more than enough progress, but Professor
Bullock doesn’t seem to think so. Actually, Dulcie has serious doubts
that he’s even read her notes and he doesn’t seem to remember from
time to time what they’ve discussed.
It doesn’t help that Dulcie’s friends, including her
boyfriend, all seem to be too wrapped up in their own lives to offer
her much solace. She still misses her beloved Mr. Grey, the late
feline who was her confidant, and friend. Since his demise, Dulcie
feels that he’s also been something of an advisor, albeit a very
cryptic one—a fact she’s keeping mostly to herself. People seem to
behave very oddly when told about communications from departed pets;
and Dulcie’s reputation is already a bit tarnished by being one of
those English majors with her head lost in mists of early Gothic
She comes down to earth when she stumbles upon the
corpse of a fellow grad student littering the path to Professor
Bullock’s house. Cameron Dessay had been handsome, charming, and
apparently well-heeled, on the fast track to a degree. He had a fancy
car, fancy clothes and a playboy reputation, but could any of these
things have resulted in murder?
Not that this is any of Dulcie’s business, not
really. She just has a cat’s curiosity. Besides, Dessay’s death is
affecting her department in strange ways and there seems to be
something going on with Professor Bullock, upon whom Dulcie’s future
largely depends. As she tries to unravel these mysteries, Dulcie
becomes aware that a lot of people around her seem to be keeping
secrets. The question is, which of these are dangerous?
I found Grey Matters to be even better than the
first book. There is much to like. Dulcie herself to start, a bookish
heroine with her head as much in literature as in her own life. Now
able to deal with the loss of Mr. Grey, she’s more able to focus on
her studies but still a bit adrift in her personal life. The new
supporting characters/suspects are interesting: Polly, an adoring
student who has served as an aide for the Professor for so long that
no one is sure she is actually a student anymore; seemingly nice guy
Lloyd, who shares an office with Dulcie but who doesn’t share a lot of
information; Gosham, the rare book dealer and restorer who seems to
have more than a professional interest in Polly; and Raleigh, the
annoyingly beautiful and brainy English major who seems to be vaulting
over others on her way to the top. Lucy, Dulcie’s mother who lives on
a commune and believes herself to be psychic, is another favorite
character. The star, of course, is Mr. Grey, Dulcie’s late feline
companion. He dispenses advice in a patient but somewhat distant
manner, allowing Dulcie to figure out situations on her own, rather
like Master Po and Grasshopper. The academic setting is another plus
for me, reminding me of my student days. (We won’t discuss how very
long ago that was.)
I also liked the fact that Dulcie doesn’t set out to
solve the murder. At times I’m willing to suspend disbelief and allow
that bookstore owner/author/caterer/whatever can become involved in
one murder after another, but on occasion I do pause and wonder why on
earth the police are letting Mary Smith question felons. Dulcie’s
contacts with suspects are natural and reasonable.
Then there’s the matter of “woo woo,” the
supernatural elements of the story. In the first book, Simon tried to
leave doubt in the reader’s mind as to whether or not Dulcie really
was hearing from Mr. Grey. In this book, she drops that sort of
pretense but refrains from using the ghost cat as a deus ex machina,
solving all the mysteries. In fact, Mr. Grey probably isn’t at all
interested in anyone except Dulcie and he seems to regard her as a
kitten who needs to find her own way. The little twist at the end
utterly delighted me. Frankly, I liked the change: I don’t like it
when an author drags out the “is it real or not?” over multiple
books. I feel they need to commit, one way or the other, and decide if
there is a supernatural element or if there is not. Simon has made her
choice and I approve. Mr. Grey is a much less intrusive guide than,
say, Aunt Dimity, so people who don’t care for ghostly characters
shouldn’t find it a problem. No crimes are solved due to otherworldly
intervention. (No disrespect to Aunt Dimity is intended, by the way. I
do enjoy Nancy Atherton’s series, but some folks just don’t want to
read a mystery with ghostly interventions.)
There’s a bit of a twist at the end, nothing
earth-shattering, but it certainly has me anxious for more. The next
one will be a definite Must Read for me!
Dulcie Schwartz is having a difficult time adjusting to the new
kitten that replaced her beloved Mr. Grey. The kitten just doesn't
speak to her nor does it have the solemn manner of Mr. Grey. But,
there are other matters even more important. Dulcie's advisor,
Professor Bullock, wants to see real progress on her thesis, but the
problem is that he's also being erratic. Just when Dulcie thinks
things can't get any worse, she nearly trips over a dead body
leaving the professor's house. Who would want to murder a grad
Grey Matters is the second of the Dulcie Schwartz feline mysteries,
the first book Shades of Grey set up the characters that continue in
this installment. However, Grey Matters can definitely stand alone
as I had no difficulty having missed the first book. Dulcie is a
third-year graduate student living in Cambridge, Massachusetts
studying a Gothic novel, the Ravages of Umbria. She's found an angle
that no one else has looked at before and she needs to convince her
advisor to let her run with it. However, after a short and
frustrating meeting, she discovers a body of a fellow student on the
Thus begins a series of events that pulls Dulcie further and further
into confusion as she tries to regain her balance. It doesn't help
that Dulcie's mother, who believes herself a psychic, begins to call
and leave cryptic messages. Then there's her boyfriend working
longer hours and not available for support or comfort. It's no
wonder that Dulcie, dwelling on the murder, finds herself trying to
figure out how it happened and who did it.
Once again, Clea Simon has written a satisfying mystery with
interesting characters, none of whom can be mistaken for the other,
enough red herrings to confuse the issues, all the clues out in the
open, and a realistic tale of academic politics and snobbery in a
tight economy. The subtitle of the series is “a feline
mystery” and cats are involved. Dulcie talks to her cat and
believes it could talk back. Her mother believes that a cat is
Dulcie's spirit guide. Even with this bit of woo-woo, the mystery is
solved the old-fashioned way by gathering clues and trying to fit
the pieces together. While the cat or cats may speak to Dulcie,
they're an eccentricity more than a deus ex machine.
JAY STRAFFORD TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
February. 28, 2010
Back-stabbing, jealousy and gamesmanship. Is it
corporate America? Or could it be academia? In Grey Matters (232
pages, Severn House, $28.95), the second installment in Clea Simon's
series featuring Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz, it's definitely
This time out, Dulcie is continuing to research her
thesis, a study of an obscure Gothic novel of the 18th century whose
author is unknown -- and whose identity Dulcie is trying to
discover. But after a meeting with the professor who's her faculty
adviser, she stumbles over the body of a fellow grad student outside
the adviser's posh house.
Dulcie soon realizes that something is wrong inside
that house, and it may be connected to her adviser, or two of his
assistants, one of whom also serves as a semi-housekeeper, or a dealer
and repairer of old books. Meanwhile, Dulcie believes she's getting
hints and warnings from her late, beloved cat, Mr. Grey, and she's
having a hard time bonding with her new kitten.
With skill and style, Simon fashions a true
whodunit, a look inside the cutthroat academic world and an homage to
the pets we've lost but who remain forever in our hearts. It's a
tricky trifecta, but Simon makes the leap with catlike grace.
Title: GREY MATTERS
Issue: 1ST FEBRUARY 2010
Grey Matters,Simon, Clea (Author),
Mar 2010. 240 p. Severn, hardcover, $28.95. (9780727868404).
Simon’s second Dulcie Schwartz mystery picks up a few months after the end of
Shades of Grey (2009), with Harvard doctoral student Dulcie deep into
her fall semester, overloaded with grading papers and concerned about
getting her adviser’s approval on her thesis. Then she finds the
body of a fellow graduate student on her adviser’s front step. The
ghost of Mr. Grey, her deceased cat, returns to offer his usual
cryptic advice, and her new kitten takes a noncommittal stance toward
crime-solving, leaving Dulcie on her own to try and find the real
murderer before the killer finds her. While the cats are an important
part of the book, they are not an overwhelming presence, in fact, the
academic setting is a much stronger part of the novel’s appeal,
making this easily recommendable to readers who enjoy Lauren Willig’s
Pink Carnation series or Jennifer Lee Carrel’s literary thriller
Interred with Their Bones (2007), which also has significant scenes
set in Harvard’s Widener Library. A solid follow-up to an
JAY STRAFFORD TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Published: September 27, 2009
You're without a definitive idea for a thesis,
you've had to have your beloved cat put down, you're working
temporarily in a corporate snakepit, you've discovered your
temporary roommate's murdered body -- and you're suspected of
Grad students' lives aren't generally this
complicated, but Clea Simon makes it all work in Shades of Grey (216
pages, Severn House, $28.95), the first in her projected series
featuring Dulcie Schwartz. The author of four books featuring
Cambridge, Mass., rock journalist Theda Krakow, Simon steps boldly
onto a new path with Harvard student Dulcie.
And though this is a fine whodunit, it's not just
another mystery. Simon gives it a hint of the supernatural -- Dulcie
thinks the spirit of her late cat, Mr. Grey, is trying to warn and
protect her -- as well as subplots involving hacked computers and
Dulcie's an intriguing and sympathetic lead
character, Simon's plot is well-conceived and the feline angle
satisfies without being overplayed. And "Shades of Grey"
reminds us that our pets are never gone from our hearts. Give this
one a blue ribbon.
Simon makes her elements of the supernatural work in `Shades of Grey'
Oline H. Cogdill Sun Sentinel
PUBLISHED WEDNESDAY, AUG. 12, 2009
-"Shades of Grey," by Clea Simon; Severn House (216 pages, $28.95)
easy to get caught up in the adventures of grad student Dulcie
Schwartz in the start of this new series by Massachusetts author Clea
appealing Dulcie is at a crossroads in her life: She's looking for a
thesis topic in gothic literature; her best friend and usual roommate
is gone for the summer; and she's just had to put her beloved cat,
Mr. Grey, to sleep. To add to her woes, Tim, her housemate for the
summer, is a self-centered jock who has little patience for education
and a snobby girlfriend.
soon thinks she's in a gothic novel herself when Tim is killed. The
trauma of having someone murdered in her own home is hard to
comprehend. Now his girlfriend keeps coming by looking for something
hidden in his room.
temp work in an insurance agency takes a weird turn with computer
viruses and petty thefts. Then there is the little matter of the
ghost of her cat that she swears keeps popping up.
makes her elements of the supernatural work by keeping this aspect as
believable as possible in "Shades of Grey." Simon brought
that same sense of realism to her four cat mysteries by showing how
the felines enhanced the lives of their owners. In that series, she
never stooped to making detectives out of the cats, as have other cat
mysteries. She brings the same standards to "Shades of Grey."
also layers on the gothic ambience as she shows the joys of a library
and the terrors it can hold after dark.
is a likable, intelligent young woman who also often says the wrong
thing and worries that she doesn't always fit in. She aces the test
of realism in "Shades of Grey."
From Library Journal
Title: SHADES OF GREY
Publication: LIBRARY JOURNAL
Issue: 1ST AUGUST 2009
Shades of Grey, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (240p),
Sept 2009, ISBN 978-0-7278-6781-0
Graduate student Dulcie Schwartz is working as a
temp and renting a room to another student for the summer to make ends
meet. When her roommate is murdered, Dulcie hears her dead cat’s
voice warning her about dangers. Verdict This series launch by the
author of the Theo Krakow series (Cries and Whiskers) is for readers
who like their feline cozies mixed with a touch of the
Title: SHADES OF GREY
Issue: 1ST AUGUST 2009
Shades of Grey, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (240p), Sept 2009,
Twentysomething Dulcie Schwartz is a doctoral student at Harvard,
struggling to find a thesis topic, mourning her recently deceased cat
Mr. Grey, and working a summer temp job. Then, one afternoon, she
thinks she sees Mr. Grey and believes he warns her not to go
home. When she enters her apartment, she finds her despised subletter
dead with her knife in his chest. Mr. Grey, Dulcie’s mother informs
her, is her spirit guide; that’s fortunate because Dulcie could
certainly use extraterrestrial help, seeing as she finds herself
suspected of both murder and hacking into her computer system at
work. Well paced and tightly plotted, Shades of Grey debuts a
promising series from the author of the Theda Krakow mysteries
(Probable Claws, 2009). With scholar Dulcie as the main character, and
most of the action taking place on the Harvard campus and inside the
Widener Library, it should appeal to a wide audience, including fans
of both cat cozies and fiction that uses an academic frame story
(Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation,
We engage with the work of the authors we love on many levels. In the
case of fiction, that engagement is often about a careful blend of
passion and voice. In non-fiction, it seems to me it’s about
heart and sincere understanding of the material under study. It’s
why the authors who excel at both fiction and non are rare. Those
four things -- passion, skill, heart and research -- are unlikely to
surface in a single person. When it does crop up, more often than
not, the writer in question is a journalist.
Clea Simon is not the exception to the rule. A respected journalist whose
credits include The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Rolling
Stone, Ms. and Salon, Simon wrote three critically acclaimed works of non-fiction before penning her first novel, 2005’s Mew is for Murder, the first in a series of popular mysteries featuring Boston rock
journalist, Theda Krakow and her well loved cat, Musetta. The fourth
book in the series, Probable Claws (Poisoned Pen Press), was published in April. Despite the punny titles and the strong cat connections, Simon points out that the cats in her books don’t talk. In fact, Simon has referred to the books featuring Theda and Musetta as “kitty noir,” something she says with a smile but is only half-joking about. And she’s right:
there is a whiff of the darkness at the edges of the tales she’s chosen to tell here. Murder, mystery and music via the Boston club scene
that Simon herself knows very well. A strong core of animal rights
and welfare run through Simon’s books, though never in a
self-righteous way. Readers knowledgeable about animal protection
issues will find themselves nodding in agreement, those who aren’t
will find knowledge shared in an interesting way.
Mystery, music, nightclubs, animals in danger: on a certain level, it’s
an unlikely combination, yet, somehow, it works very well. And why?
That special blend, I think: passion, heart, understanding and voice,
voice, voice. Simon’s is as strong and clear as the passion she
brings to the stories she tells.
Well, I adore Cambridge, where I live, but I’d have to say New
Orleans. Not sure I could live there, but I need regular fixes, for
You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
Eat oysters at Acme, browse the “early novel” shelves at
Beckham’s Books (where I have found many wonderful, sentimental
turn-of-the-20th century finds), stop in at Louisiana Music Factory,
and then head out to Tipitina’s, where through some marvelous
happenstance Rebirth is opening for, oh, let’s say Dr. John. If
there’s any time left, I’d end up at Coop’s or
Clover Grill before the celestial ride home.
What food do you love?
Easier to say what I don’t... um, all seafood? Pheasant, quail, and
andouille gumbo? Spicy boiled crawfish? (Can you tell I’m
recently back from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest?)
What food have you vowed never to touch again?
The pre-cooked crawfish that a dear friend had shipped to me as a
present. Very well intentioned. Very scary.
What’s on your nightstand?
Lens cleaner, a glowing squirt frog to squirt water at the cat when she
gets rambunctious at four a.m. (the fact that it’s a glowing
squirt frog helps), the books from the pile up the side of the
nightstand that are leaning onto it for support. Clock radio set on
the local college station.
What inspires you?
Talking with friends about making art (music, painting, writing).
What are you working on now?
I have just sent the sequel to Shades of Grey
off to my agent. I’m sure she’ll suggest more revisions
before we send it to my editor, but right now, I’m catching up
on a lot of freelance and other things that had been pushed aside.
Shades of Grey
is the first in a new series, slightly paranormal, that Severn House
will publish in September, but the sequel, tentatively titled “Grey
Matters,” is due on May 31. It’s very odd to be finishing
up the sequel before having any real-world feedback on the first
book, but I’m grateful for Severn’s interest! At some
point, I want to start revising my tongue-in-cheek pet noir, find a
publisher for that...
Tell us about your process, please.
Although I try to write mornings, these days I find myself needing to get the
money work (editing, mostly) done first and the creative stuff really
kicks in mid-afternoon. I usually write to a word count (i.e., 1,000
words a day), five days a week. And although I have a basic idea of
the book’s direction and a white board with sticky notes all
over it of ideas I’ve had that often make little sense within
24 hours (such as “He has green eyes!” Or “Lloyd
shows up at Bullock’s”) I tend to need to write the book
out, then revise it to make sense.
Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
My iPod recharging, my various cat fetishes. A wilting daffodil and the
cereal bowl from my breakfast.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I always knew that’s what I wanted. It just took a few years (as
a journalist, an editor and in various other publishing jobs) before
I realized it was feasible.
If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?
Pulling my hair out? I don’t know. Probably just cooking a lot more, or
maybe studying zoology. I always wanted to be a herpetologist. But
that’s because I love frogs and toads. I hated having to
To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
This one changes. But I still have saved, on my answering machine, my
agent singing “It’s beginning to look a lot like
Christmas...” from December, when we got the Severn House
For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
The dress code. Right now, I’m wearing sweats and big fuzzy socks.
Several years ago, I gave away all the suits I had from my days
working as a magazine editor.
What’s the most difficult?
The waiting. I don’t even mind the rejections so much as the
waiting. When someone rejects something, you can revise it and send
it out again. But not knowing? The worst.
What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
Where do I get my ideas? To which I don’t have a good answer. Also,
if my heroines are me. To which I can only say, all my characters are
part of me.
What’s the question you’d like to be asked?
like to be asked about specific plot or character developments in the
book -- why did this character do that? More generally, how do your
What question would like never to be asked again?
“Why don’t you send a copy to Oprah?”
Please tell us about Probable Claws.
It’s the fourth, and I suspect maybe the last, Theda Krakow mystery. Theda
has reached a turning point in her life. Her friends’ lives
have all changed: Bill, her boyfriend, has retired from the police
and is managing a jazz club, a job that takes a lot of his time.
Bunny is about to become a mother. Violet is fully ensconced in her
own relationship and her shelter work. The newspaper business is
changing. Theda has to figure out where she stands in this new world,
and there are no easy answers. It’s funny, because my editor
thought it should be obvious that the next step for Theda is to get
married. I don’t think it’s obvious. I think that things
cannot stay the way they have, but that she has legitimate concerns
and interests pushing her various ways.
This is all set against a backdrop of a very real, and possibly
unresolvable conflict in animal welfare: the issue of euthanasia.
Nobody wants to kill healthy animals, but there are too many cats,
dogs, etc., for shelters to care for. So lots of places are trying
innovative campaigns to reduce the necessity of euthanasia -- better
matching people and pets, fostering animals, etc. -- but it’s
an asymptotic approach to the absolute of eliminating the practice.
And there is a lot of tension between shelters with different
philosophies, a tension ratcheted up by the struggle for funds. Well,
it seems perfectly reasonable to me that in this conflict, you might
have a murder. A “no kill” murder, if you will.
Because, oh yeah, there’s also a murder!
Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
I was about to type, “I’m very lazy at heart and only write
out of fear of deadline.” But a lot of people know that. So,
um, I’ll have to come up with something else. But then I’d
have to kill you.
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER, April 26, 2009
The scene is a well-tested mystery
convention: The hero (or in this case heroine) discovers a body,
picks up the murder weapon without thinking, is found in that
position and is charged with murder.
That's the situation facing rock
journalist Theda Krakow of Cambridge, Mass., in Probable Claws (264
pages, Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95), Clea Simon's fourth installment
featuring Theda and her cat, Musetta. But unlike some mysteries that
combine felines with felonies, Simon's have a hard edge. And Theda is
an all-too-human protagonist as she struggles with career, boyfriend
and other life issues.
"Probable Claws" mixes
serious reality -- pet-food contamination, euthanasia and
professional back-stabbing -- with absorbing fiction, and Simon
combines it with well-conceived characters we've come to appreciate,
a prose style that suits them and an attitude that far surpasses the
cute cat cozies that have become an overpopulated subgenre in the
mystery field. With panache and perception, Simon delivers another
Probable Claws Clea Simon. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (264p) ISBN
Music journalist Theda Krakow once again proves a
feisty and determined sleuth in Simon's lively fourth cat-themed
mystery (after 2007's Cries and Whiskers). Theda alternates between
the cat world, dominated by her pet, Musetta, and the Boston area
music scene, about which she writes for local magazines and
newspapers. When her retired policeman boyfriend, Bill, buys into a
successful club that's a cop hangout, Theda can't help feeling a
little jealous, though she admits she also has a problem with Bill's
attitude—he's too patronizing. Meanwhile, contaminated cat kibble at
the animal shelter run by her friend Violet may be the work of a
poisoner. When Theda, guided by blood on Musetta's paw, discovers
Rachel, a shelter vet, lying on the treatment-room floor with a fatal
stab wound, she gets arrested for Rachel's murder. Well-drawn
characters, a plot with many strings to unravel and plenty of
appealing cats make this another winner for Simon. (Apr.)
by Clea Simon
Review by Gayle Surrette
Poisoned Pen Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781590585641
Date: 10 April 2009 List Price $24.95
Violet calls to warn Theda that someone is
poisoning cats and that the shelter cats are all ill. Theda rushes
over to find that while she's been nursing her wounds over her
argument with Bill, she's somehow lost touch with Violet, the music
scene (that's the core of her writing), as well as with Bill. She
offers her help to Violet to learn the source of the donated
poisoned food. Before long, she's finds her reputation as a writer
is being questioned, she's accused of murder, and she and Bill have
some serious talking to do.
The Theda Krakow
mysteries just keep getting better and better. Theda is finding
that Bill's jazz club is finding its place in the music scene and
she's feeling a bit jealous since it seems like its been so easy
for him. She's worked hard to gain her column and to make the
connections among the club, players, and musicians in the Boston
music scene, and she's feeling left out. She also feels something
is going on and she can't quite put her finger on it.
Once again, Theda has to put her investigative
journalist abilities to the test; this time to keep herself out of
jail, and the best way to do that is to find the real
killer. However, it's hard to find your center when your
relationships are seeming to slip through your fingers, and it's
hard to tell a brush off from a real need to put things off until
Over the series, I've come to care for these
characters and enjoy the interactions between them. Simon gives the
reader a true feeling of being a part of a community in these
books. The characters are solidly build and have roots,
interrelationships, fears, joys, sorrows, and history. They're the
people you'd like to spend time with if you happened to live in
The plots are always plausible within the context of
the narrative and while I sometimes rage at Theda's decisions and
actions, they nonetheless logically follow from her character and
background. If you haven't tried any of the previous books, you
could just jump in with this one as they can stand alone. If you
enjoy Boston and would like to, for the duration of a book, feel
like you're in the city, give these stories a try.
While cats are a strong element in the stories, they
don't talk and they don't solve crimes. Theda owns or is owned by a
lovely cat. Her best friend runs a shelter, and most of her friends
have feline companions. Many times the plots have a element that
deal with pets, animal shelters, and responsible ownership and
Probable Claws is no exception. These are good
mysteries that will also touch your heart.
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover) ISBN-10:
1-59058-565-8 (1590585658) ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-565-8
(9781590585658) Publication Date: April 2009 List Price: $24.95
Review: Freelance music journalist Theda Krakow is
arrested for the murder of an animal shelter veterinarian in
Probable Claws, the fourth mystery in this series by Clea Simon.
Theda has a wide sphere of friends but they all have something in
common: their love of cats. One friend, Rachel, is the veterinarian
at the local animal shelter. Another friend, Violet, manages the
Helmhold House for Wayward Cats. When it becomes apparent that many
of the cats at the Helmhold House are very ill, Violet calls
Theda. They come to the conclusion that a bag of kibble bits cat
food may be contaminated. Theda takes a sample to Rachel for
testing who determines it was tainted with some kind of
alkaloid. Someone accidently or intentionally dropped cocoa or
chocolate, or some derivative thereof, into the bag of kibble
bits. There have been widespread threats against the shelters: some
to get rid of all animals that freely roam the streets, some to
stop killing animals. Even bomb threats have been received. Someone
may have made good one of those threats. When Theda returns to
Rachel’s office to pick up her special "tuxedo" cat Musetta, she
walks into the lab to find Rachel dying, stabbed with a
scalpel. While trying to understand Rachel’s last words, a vet tech
had heard Theda scream and runs in to find her holding Rachel’s
body with the bloody murder weapon in her hand. Theda is arrested,
released on bail, and loses her job all within a few days. She and
Bill, her ex-cop boyfriend, have been having problems too. Bill is
willing to help, but his work keeps him busy most days and nights
giving them not too much time for a lot of talk about what has
passed and what’s to be in the future. Bill urges her to let the
police do their job. But Theda wants to do a little snooping to
find the killer as she believes the police have not started a
search since they have her as a prime suspect. This involves Theda
looking into animal shelter politics and threats, and questioning
her friends at the city shelter. She has to juggle the time she has
between Bill, Musetta, her friends, wanting to get her job back,
and finding clues to the killer before she becomes a target
herself. The well-developed plot of Probable Claws keeps the
reader guessing. There are a surprising number of suspects to
consider, some less obvious than others. Theda is an interesting
amateur sleuth with plenty of conflict in her life, but she
balances her priorities very well. And it's hard not to enjoy the
interaction Theda has with her cats, in particular Musetta. While
cat lovers will be drawn to Probable Claws for its feline
characters, it's the overall book itself that will have mystery
readers looking forward to the next in the series.
Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of The Betz Review for
contributing her review of Probable Claws and to Poisoned Pen Press
for providing an ARC of the book for this review.