Monday, March 31, 2014

"Pet Noir" Has Claws and Teeth!: PANTHERS PLAY FOR KEEPS, Clea Simon

Of the three mystery series that Clea Simon pens, my fave is the Pru Marlowe titles. Pru is an animal behaviorist and amateur sleuth with an uncomfortable ability that landed on her in the midst of dealing with a crime, a couple of titles ago: She can "hear" animals' comments in her mind. I know, it's a stretch -- yet Simon's tight plotting and the very believable conflicts that Pru gets into make it worth buying into the notion, and soon enough in the reading, it's just part of Pru's character. Which, I have to say, is that of someone I'd be honored to be friends with.

The trouble is, Pru's closest friend at this point is her sardonic cat Wallis, who rarely gives her a straight answer to anything (but clearly is a friend in spite of that). And her love interest, Detective Jim Creighton, apparently has finally taken no for an answer and is cuddling with a human shrink instead. That's especially a drawback because it reduces the chances that Creighton will support Pru as, once again, her animal-oriented career leads to discovery of a murder.

This time she's in the Berkshire (Mass.) woods, training a service dog, when the animal's reliable nose drags her to a corpse. And it's someone Pru has met: an immigrant working at the home where the service dog is destined to live, with a wealthy man who is going blind. As usual, she's way too connected to this crime. Too bad "her" detective isn't hers now.

Simon provides multiple motives and complications, and if PANTHERS PLAY FOR KEEPS isn't exactly the whisky-soaked, gun-toting, despairing sort of mystery that the term "noir" suggests, it's fast-moving, tough-minded, and full of cynical comments and questions that make total sense for a woman who has to hide her inner talent from even her closest human friends, for fear she'll get labeled insane and locked up, instead of the criminals.

Readers of the series will recognize -- and newcomers enjoy meeting -- the tough little dog whose nasty owner calls him Bitsy but who has let Pru, who exercises him, know he's actually Growler, a gruff and angry fellow who nevertheless knows all the animal gossip in the region, as well as a lot of people stuff. He advises Pru:
"We all have our leashes and collars." I nodded in silent agreement. "What you've got to ask yourself is how much would be too much. And how far ... " He was panting. "How far could jealousy push you?"

Whether Pru's love life or the crime is the point, how far has jealousy pushed the murderer? And what's with the totally unreliable evidence indicating a panther being involved in the killing? Panthers don't live in Massachusetts -- do they?

Simon plies her twin threads of investigation and the crises and tensions of an independent (but wants to be loved!) career woman, adds a generous dash of black humor, and provides a lively mystery with enjoyable pace and twists. I bought into all of it -- and the presence of an outrageously public bobcat in our neighborhood this past winter makes PANTHERS PLAY FOR KEEPS even more memorable!


Clea Simon said...

Thank you - and what a beautiful bobcat! Down here in Massachusetts, there's a brouhaha over (wait for it) a supposed panther sighting. Could it be? Where's Pru when we need her?

Beth Kanell said...

How amazing, Clea! Don't you love it when your fiction seems to encourage a new reality into place? Wow!

Clea Simon said...

In theory, although this is a little scary!