Reviewed by Jeanne
Since the apparent death of her mentor, young teen Carrie Wright—better known on the street as Care—has been living in the late detective’s office along with her cat, Blackie. She’s been trying to keep a low profile while eking out a living doing what he taught her: to do the needful, find the missing, locate the wrongdoer, retrieve what has been lost. Now the other shoe has dropped, in the form of an eviction notice, and it appears even her meager shelter will soon go.
Hope arrives in the form of a job offer: a man suspects one of his workers is skimming profits and he asks Care to investigate. When the trail leads to a decomposing body, Care finds she may have been set up. She has only herself to depend on, or so she thinks…
In reality, she has another protector, one who would guide her away from danger and keep her fed and safe: a small, aging black cat who once lived as a human.
The second Blackie and Care Feline Mystery is set in the same bleak landscape as the first, a once thriving city that is now weighed down by decay and dissolution. The story is narrated by Blackie, who struggles with the limitations of his feline form as he tries to guide his charge away from danger while Care stubbornly heads into the fray. He regards the child with a great deal of anxiety and more than a little pride. She saved his life and he would return the favor, even if it means going into danger. He worries that she is too compassionate, too naïve for this harsh world. Care eats scraps and shivers in the cold, while thuggish men lord it over the weaker denizens. Drugs, prostitution, alcohol, and despair seem to rule the streets, but Care is determined to make her own way and to rescue Tick, the boy she loves as a little brother but whom Blackie fears will cost Care her freedom—or her life.
Despite the adolescent protagonist, As Dark As My Fur isn’t a YA novel. The story is narrated by Blackie in a voice both scholarly and observant. He is wise but not human. He sees the world in much starker terms, and worries that Care’s compassion will be her downfall in a place where ruthlessness is often the key to survival. As a cat, Blackie understands this; and yet he does remember some things from his life as a man. He finds it frustrating that he can no longer comprehend the marks on the pages Care reads, and that he is unable to communicate warnings to her. At other times, his cat instincts are at the fore, as when he brings Care some of his kills knowing how hungry she is, only to see her turn away from his offerings. His love and devotion to the girl brings light and warmth to a dark place.
This is a darker series than I usually read, and has an almost post- apocalyptic feel. Or it could just be any modern city where law and social services have broken down, leaving people to fight and claw their way to the top of the garbage heap. Simon does a masterful job of creating atmosphere, using Blackie’s narration to go beyond mere visual description to evoke the dark, cold feel of the city with the smell of refuse, the biting wind, and the hungers of all types that eat at the inhabitants. I had to remind myself I was walking on a treadmill, not hungry and cold in a dilapidated apartment.
Yet there is a hope in the bleakness. Care is a brave, compassionate girl willing to take on thugs or even the system itself in order to right wrongs. She’s a fine addition to the pantheon of young, strong female characters who usually populate YA novels—Katniss Everdeen, for example—but she’s still a child in many ways. She tends to lead with her heart, which is dangerous for her but which also gives a bit of hope and light to a dark world.
Although all the reader’s senses are called into play, it’s the visual aspect that grips my imagination. I can almost see the book as one of those wonderful black and white film noirs, with grey looming buildings, dark alleys, and an enigmatic black cat trailing after a girl. Hollywood, take note.