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by Caroline Shaw
Consortium Book Sales, March 2000
330 pages
ISBN: 1852426209

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Cat Catcher is Australian author Caroline Shaw's first novel and features a rather unique protagonist in Helena 'Lenny' Aaron. You see, Lenny is a Cat Detective. Better let me rephrase that for the more hard-boiled readers, she's not something silly like a talking cat who solves crimes, Lenny is a human detective who finds missing cats. If you think that this premise might lead to a light hearted style of book then think again. The vein of humour that runs through Cat Catcher is black comedy and the tone of the book is quite dark. Lenny used to be a Melbourne cop until she was badly injured in an investigation. She's left with scars, both physical and mental, and a case of chronic depression. Lenny's view of the world, as related in third person, is decidedly bleak.

Cat Catcher begins with Lenny being hired to find a cat for one of the richest families in Melbourne. Trouble is that the cat's owner also wants Lenny to investigate a series of threatening letters and she doesn't want to get involved. As the case develops and turns into murder Lenny is forced to confront the fears leftover from her cop days in order to solve the mystery. The plot is quite good, although I did see the final twist coming well before the end, but I encountered a few first novel problems. At nearly 400 pages, Cat Catcher is a bit long for it's content, it drags at times and could perhaps have done with some better editing and I thought the ending could have been tidied up a bit better. Also the dialogue, which is often very good, sometimes carries on a bit too long with no narrative break. Relatively minor problems in a book which shows a lot of promise.

Shaw has created plenty of interesting and quirky characters on which to build a series. There's Lenny's Japanese therapist who introduces her to Zen Buddhism and Bonsai as part of her therapy. There's her business neighbours, a sleazy adult book shop owner who fancies Lenny and a hairdresser who makes Bubbles Yablonsky look like Vidal Sassoon. The obligatory dysfunctional family raises it's ugly head too, although in Lenny's case the family is as bleak as her outlook. Finally there's Lenny herself and Shaw gives a disturbing look into a main character with no regard for the social niceties, a depression associated with an obsessive compulsion to clean things (she's welcome at my place any time) and a dependancy on over-the-counter drugs. I was glad this was third person and not first, I don't think I'd like to be inside Lenny's head for any length of time.

I need to mention the animal content as Cat Catcher quite naturally features cats and lots of them. These cats aren't the cute and cuddly critters that you find in cozies, like their human counterparts they're portrayed warts and all. Shaw doesn't pull any punches in her depiction of the animal environment either. There's no overt animal cruelty but some cat's do inevitably turn up injured and dead (that's real life folks) and some readers might be particularly disturbed by one scene set at the animal shelter at euthanasia time. These are however among the most powerful scenes in the book and well worth persevering with if you can.

Overall I rated Cat Catcher as above average. There is enough humour to lift the dark mood of the book and make this a very promising debut for a new Oz author. I plan to review Shaw's second book, Eye To Eye, soon and I'll let you know if she fulfils that promise.

Editor's Note: This review is based on the Australian edition. It is also available in the UK. Click on the cover above for US purchasing information.

Reviewed by Paul Richmond, July 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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