Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dogs, Cats, Murder, Detection -- Mixing It Up with Sparkle Abbey and Clea Simon

Looking for dark, intense, hard-boiled thriller reviews? Or complex political suspense laced with social commentary and poison?

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 me).

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 intrepid investigator.

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 warned.

Mr. Grey had been trying to help her.
Simon 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 these, too.


Clea Simon said...

Thanks for this, Beth! I understand that not everything I write is for everyone - so I really appreciate your taking the time to evaluate each on its merits! (And I thought I commented before, but I guess that got lost.)

Beth Kanell said...

Clea, I'll read ALL of your books -- no question! -- and I have some very specific faves. Watch soon for Parrots in review ...