Sunday, February 22, 2015

Pub Date March 3: KITTENS CAN KILL, 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 officer.
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 testing."

"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 death.

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.

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