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.