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by Clea Simon
Poisoned Pen Press, December 2007
240 pages
ISBN: 1590584643

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Clea Simon is turning the cat cozy on its furry little head in her wonderfully fresh series. CRIES AND WHISKERS is her third entry and, for my money, her strongest yet.

Theda Krakow is not your ordinary cat-cozy sleuth. In contrast to the stereotypically reclusive cat woman of a certain age, she a young woman who thrives in the rock and roll club scene she reviews for the Boston Morning Mail. Her roots are in punk and she knows all about emo, screamer and just about every other subcategory of rock you can name (and possibly many youíve never even heard of).

Better, she describes the music in a way that makes you throb with the reverb even as she alerts you to the nuances of the composition. Though the music writing alone is worth the price of admission, Simon treats us to a sprawling, vigorous mystery as well.

It turns out that this vibrant 30-something is also a cat lover. Her own kitty, Musetta, is an anchor in her life, providing affection and warmth even when Thedaís life is at its most bleak. Musetta is never far from Thedaís thoughts, and anyone whoís ever loved an animal will identify with her affection for her pet.

Things start to go awry when animal rights activist Gail Womynfriend, who had been caring for the feral cats sheltering in an old bottling plant, is seriously injured when sheís run over by a hit-and-run driver on an icy stretch of roadway nearby.

No one in her animal rights organization is willing to take on the task of caring for these cats because the group considers domesticated animals to be an abomination against nature. That leaves Violet, who runs a small local shelter, alone with the task. When Violet calls her pal Theda asking for her aid with a cat-trapping emergency, naturally Theda rushes to help her.

Gail soon dies on the operating table. At first it appears that the accident was the cause of her death, but soon a more sinister reason comes to light.

Meanwhile, Thedaís boyfriend Bill is holed up in his apartment with a badly broken leg. Here Simon does not deviate from the genre convention because Bill is, of course, a homicide detective. Heís used to lots of physical activity, and his current enforced life on the couch is making him cranky. To make things worse, Thedaís not your average nurturer, and Billís constant need for care and entertaining is straining their relationship.

When her boss asks her to cover a new band attempting to make a big splash on the local club scene, Theda gets to work digging into the background of these musicians sheís never heard of. As she interviews people about the band, she notices some strange drug overdose cases cropping up, which she quickly traces to a new designer drug thatís circulating through club culture. As she begins to investigate the new pharmaceutical, the plot really starts to roll.

Simonís found herself a winning combination here. Sheís given us a glimpse of a cozy urban village with a cast of quirky and compelling characters. And though she explores a thicket of diverse issues including the importance of small clubs in nurturing musical talent; the value of programs that catch, neuter and release feral cats; the problems with real estate development that seeks to gentrify beloved landscapes; and even animal rights agendas that run amok with political correctness, the plot is always front and center. Thereís a lot of suspense in this book, and thereís a climactic scene that will definitely set your pulse racing.

Itís wonderful to discover a strong, new take on the cozy, and itís even more fun to watch Simonís smart, original approach to the problems of the cat-centric story. Even if you donít usually like cat mysteries, give CRIES AND WHISKERS a try. You wonít be disappointed.

Reviewed by Carroll Johnson, August 2007

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