cat themed murder mysteries

A life in cats, real and fictional

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Guest post by Lucy Burdette

When Ingrid asked if I’d like to write a blog about cats in my life as models for the cats in my books, I couldn’t wait to get started!

As I was about to turn thirteen, awkward and shy and brimming with early teenage yearning, I wanted only two things for my birthday. One was a date with Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. Which I could never have handled even had it been possible.

My second wish was for a kitten. Unfortunately, my birthday is in January and we lived in frozen Michigan, so kittens were scarce. But my pet-loving mother searched the animal shelters within a fifty mile radius and tracked down an orange tiger kitten. He had already been returned by one family, and so came with a “no refund” receipt.

Tigger was a huge hit, Continue Reading

Book review: Grey Zone by Clea Simon

I had eagerly anticipated the release of Grey Zone, the third in Clea Simon’s Dulcie Schwartz feline mystery series.  The book’s official release date is April 1, and even though I have a pile of unread books a mile high, I just couldn’t wait that long, and ordered it on Amazon as soon as it became available. 

Harvard graduate student Dulcie Schwartz is hard at work on her thesis, which focuses on a 200-year-old Gothic mystery.  Mr. Grey, the spirit of her beloved feline, who offered wise advice and comfort to Dulcie in the past, has been increasingly silent.  Dulcie could really use his help with Esme, her mischievous and sometimes destructive kitten.  And on top of everything, her boyfriend is working all the time, and never seems to be available when Dulcie needs him.  When a student goes missing and a professor ends up dead, Dulcie finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into an increasingly complicated tangle of possible suspects, motives, and maybe even murder.

This exceptionally plotted story sweeps the reader along with Dulcie as she tries to unravel the mystery.  Will Mr. Grey help her, as he did in the past?  What about Esme?  Will the kitten play a part in solving they mystery?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book not just for the story, but also for the main characters and the setting.  Simon excels in developing her characters, and Dulcie is no exception.  Simon’s skills in writing appealing characters extend to the cats as well.  Even though Mr. Grey is a ghost cat, he feels real, and many readers will be able to relate to the feeling of connection with lost pets that extends beyond the realm of the physical.  She perfectly captures the antics of a growing kitten, and the slow process of a new kitten making her way into the heart of someone who’s lost a beloved cat.   The relationship between Dulcie and her boyfriend keeps changing and growing as well.   The story is set in Cambridge in the middle of winter, and Simon sets the scene so well that I found myself shivering at times.

All of these components make this book a wonderful read for cat lovers, mystery lovers, and lovers of a great story.  Don’t miss this one.

Clea Simon is the author of the Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow mysteries and the nonfiction The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.

Coming next week on The Conscious Cat: a review of Dogs Don’t Lie, the first in Clea Simon’s new Pet Noir series. And coming in two weeks: Clea Simon talks to The Conscious Cat about writing murder mysteries featuring cats.

You may also enjoy reading:

Book Review:  Shades of Grey by Clea Simon

Book Review:  Grey Matters by Clea Simon

Book Review:  The Theda Krakow Series by Clea Simon

Why I love cozy mysteries (with or without cats)

I love reading cozy mysteries.  They usually feature a strong, intelligent female amateur sleuth with an interesting profession.  The lead characters range from coffee shop owner to dog trainer, florist to quilter, librarian to homemaker.  They’re frequently set in small towns, and feature a cast of sometimes quirky secondary characters.   Somehow, they get involved with a murder investigation, and frequently, local law enforcement either does not take the amateur sleuth’s efforts to help solve the crime very seriously, or is looking at the wrong perpetrator.  Cozies are fun, easy reads that engage the while providing entertainment.  I particularly enjoy cozies that are part of a series, especially since for me, the setting and characters are almost more important than the actual murder mystery.  I love being able to meet the same cast of characters again and again.  It’s a little like spending time with old friends.  

Many of these cozies feature cats, and of course, they are my favorites.  I’ve reviewed a number of them by various authors here on The Conscious Cat, and I previously introduced you to Lorna Barrett, the author of the Booktown mystery series featuring Miss Marple, the (sometimes sleuthing)cat. 

When Lorraine Bartlett (Lorna’s real name) asked me to review A Crafty Killing, the first in her Victoria Square Mystery series, I jumped at the chance. Even though the two cats featured in  A Crafty Killing are not a large part of the book, one of the cats plays a crucial role when it comes to resolving the story, so I decided that that was enough to qualify it as a “cat mystery.”  And besides, I loved the book, so I wanted to share it with you. 

The book features Katie Bonner, a young widow.  When Ezra, her decesased husband’s business partner, is found murdered, Katie finds out, much to her surprise, that his will designates her as executor of his estate.  She takes on managing Artisan Alley, a collection of booths for artisans and crafters located in a renovated apple warehouse in Western New York.  When she begins to dig into the business records, she finds that Artisan Alley is in dire financial straits.  As Katie attempts to revive the failing business, she also becomes involved in investigating Ezra’s death – and begins to wonder whether perhaps her husband’s death was not an accident, as it was ruled. 

A fast moving plot, a likeable heroine, well-developed secondary characters, a wonderful sense of place, and a fascinating look into some really unique crafts make this a thoroughly enjoyable read.  And even though the two cats only make cameo appearances, they still added to my enjoyment of a delightful cozy.  I’m already looking forward to the next one in the series.

I received an ARC copy of this book from the author.

An Interview with Lorna Barrett, Author of the Booktown Mystery Series

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It is my pleasure today to introduce you Lorna Barrett.  Readers of The Conscious Cat have come to know Lorna as the author of the Booktown Mystery Series featuring Tricia Miles, owner of the Haven’t Got a Clue bookstore, and her feline sidekick, Miss Marple.

Lorna Barrett is the nom de plume of author Lorraine Bartlett.  Lorraine’s other alter ego, L.L. Bartlett, writes psychological suspense and the Jeff Resnick mystery series.  She’s done it all, from drilling holes for NASA to typing scripts in Hollywood, and lives a life of crime in western New York.  Her first sales were to the confession magazine market.

The latest in the Booktown Mystery Series, Chapter and Hearse, was released on August 3.   Read my review here.

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to ask Lorna/Lorraine some questions today.

How did you get the idea for the Booktown series?

My editor came up with the idea, but I ran with it.

Miss Marple doesn’t help solve the crimes in the series, but she’s an integral character of the books.  Is she based on a real life cat?

Yes, she’s based on one of my cats:  Cori.  She’s was a long-haired gray cat with a white blaze.  She never weighed more than eight pounds and was a gentle, loving soul who lived to be 20.  She was toothless and deaf by that time, but none of the other cats ever bothered her or tried to take her food away.  I have pictures of her on my web site, along with a drawing of her my husband did.

Tell us about your cats.

Currently we have two pairs: boys and girls.  My husband is owned by Chester (who’s all black) and I am owned by Fred, a handsome Tuxedo.  The girls (Betsy and Bonnie) are sisters—who are pretty cranky (and always have been).  My husband and I share them.  We can’t sit down without some cat coming and getting on our laps.  It’s wonderful on a cold winter night—not so wonderful on a hot summers day.

You are a prolific writer – did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? 

No.  Although I always had stories circling around in my head, it wasn’t until I learned about Star Trek fanzines that I decided to put my own stories on paper.  It hadn’t occurred to me that regular people wrote stories.  (A real “duh” moment.)  I was hooked from the very start, although they were terrible stories.  I learned an awful lot from several excellent mentors.  Some of them have gone on to be “traditionally” published authors themselves.

Why did you decide to write under several different names?

Long story.  Short version:  Cozy mysteries are very different from psychological suspense.  It was thought that having a pseudonym would be better than to “confuse” my readers.

My names are:  Lorna Barrett, author of the Booktown Mysteries.  Chapter & Hearse, released on August 3, as well as the whole series on audio as mp3 files.

Lorraine Bartlett:  Author of the Victoria Square Mysteries (A Crafty Killing will debut in February 2011.)  I also have two short romances available under this name on Kindle/Smashwords, plus a short mystery.  They are:  What I Did For Love, Only Skin Deep, and We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert.

L.L. Bartlett, author of the Jeff Resnick Mysteries.  Currently I have two Jeff novels available on Kindle and Smashwords (Nook, Sony E readers, etc.):  Murder On The Mind and Cheated by Death.  (I also have two short stories related to this series available electronically:  Cold Case and Bah Humbug.)  Murder On The Mind is also available as an audio book.

What does a typical day of writing look like for you?

Bleak.  No, seriously, I like to do most of my writing in the afternoon.  I do “office work” in the morning, which can include writing a blog post, answering email, or packaging up bookmarks and bookplates for my readers.

What do you love most about being a writer?

Not having a day job. Of course, I miss the security of the day job, but this is a fabulous job and much less stressful.  Although, I’m a harder taskmaster than most of my former supervisors.

What do you like least about being a writer?

The lack of job security.  Without readers buying my books, Im out of a job.  And it’s difficult having three names.  I was thrilled to sell my Victoria Square mysteries, but now I’m worried that most of Lorna’s readers won’t get the connection that they’re written by the same person and will never hear about the new series or be willing to give it a chance.  (I’m definitely a “see the glass half-empty type of person” – but I’m working on changing that.)

Who or what inspires you?

I have no idea.  I like to keep busy.

What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at a book signing or event?

The most memorable?  The times when very few or nobody came.  They feel like failures.  One library event stands in my mind.  It wasn’t a talk – just a gathering of authors at the library’s Arts Festival.  I asked a woman if she read mysteries, and she glared at me and said, “I only read worthwhile books.”  Whoa—that took the starch out of my sails pretty darn quick.  You try not to let rude comments like that rattle you, but they do.

What are you reading at the moment?

Organize Your Corpses by Mary Jane Maffini.  Next up on the TBR Pile:  Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Copperman.

Thank you so much for this opportunity, Lorna, and much success with Chapter and Hearse!

You can learn more about Lorna and her book on her websites http://lornabarrett.com and http://www.lorrainebartlett.com/ and on her blog,  http://lornabarrett.blogspot.com.

Book Review: Chapter and Hearse by Lorna Barrett

Even if I wasn’t already a fan of Lorna Barrett’s Booktown Mystery series, I would have picked this book up just based on the cover design.  I think it’s one of the prettiest covers I’ve seen in a while and it contains everything I love:   a cat, books, coffee, and a bright, cozy spot by a window to sit and enjoy all of them.  Can’t you just picture yourself there?   

In Chapter and Hearse, the fourth book in the series, we return to Stoneham, New Hampshire, a small town where not much remains a secret.  We find Tricia Miles, the owner of the Haven’t Got a Clue mystery book store, at the Cookery, Stoneham’s cookbook store owned by Tricia sister Angelica, who views herself as the next celebrity chef and is hosting a launch party for her newly released first book, Easy-Does-It Cooking.   The event appears to be jinxed – not only is it lacking in guests, but a nearby gas explosion injures Angelica’s boyfriend Bob Kelly, the head of the Stoneham Chamber of Commerce, and kills the owner of the town’s history bookstore. 

Tricia suspects foul play when she finds Bob being tight-lipped about the incident, and she gets drawn into investigating the murder.  As the list of suspects grows to include the victim’s mother and Angelica’s employees at her restaurant Booked for Lunch,  Tricia still seems no closer to identifying the murderer.  Then a series of strange occurrences on Angelica’s book tour have Tricia increasingly worried about her sister’s safety and raise the stakes in finding the murderer before he or she can strike again.  Filled with surprising plot twists and turns and well-developed secondary characters, including Tricia’s lovely cat Miss Marple, the story builds to a surprising ending.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it very hard to put down. 

As a bonus, the book includes Angelica’s recipes for Hacienda Tacos, Coconut Cake, Blueberry Muffins, Cinnamon Coffee Cake and Lemon Bars. 

Chapter and Hearse was released on August 3.  The first book, Murder Is Binding, was published in April 2008. The second book, Bookmarked for Death, was a February 2009 release, and the third, Bookplate Special, was released last October.  If you love books, cats and food, you will love this series! 

You can learn more about Lorna Barrett by visiting her website.  You can also find her at her delightful blog Dazed and Confused.

Look for an interview with Lorna Barrett here on The Conscious Cat next week.  Lorna will talk to us about writing, her cats, and more!

I received an ARC of this book from the author.

Purrfect Crime Fiction

Guest Post by Margot Kinberg

Thanks so much, Ingrid, for welcoming me to The Conscious Cat. As a pet lover myself, I was very excited at your invitation. For many of us, pets are an important part of our lives. They’re our companions and often our comfort and solace. So it’s not surprising at all that animal companions also play roles in crime fiction. And cats are natural matches for crime fiction novels. They have the reputation of being somewhat mysterious, and cats have a certain presence that can add a great deal to a good mystery. They also often have delightful personalities that can add humor to a mystery, too. 

Lilian Jackson Braun has had one of the most successful mystery series that features cats. Her sleuth, Jim Qwilleran, is a columnist for the Moose County Something, a paper that serves Pickax, a town “400 miles north of nowhere.” Qwilleran is aided in his cases by two extremely intelligent seal-point Siamese with interesting histories of their own. One, a big male, is named K’ao Ko-Kung, named for a 13th Century Chinese artist. K’ao Ko-Kung, usually called Koko, has been with Qwilleran since before he moved to Moose County. In fact, Koko meets Qwilleran in The Cat Who Could Read Backwards, Braun’s first Cat Who… novel. At the time of their meeting, Koko lives with George Bonifield Mountclemens III, the Daily Fluxion’s powerful and roundly-hated art critic. Qwilleran’s doing a feature for that paper on the art world, and interviews Mountclemens. Mountclemens then goes out of town, entrusting Qwilleran with Koko’s care. Not long afterwards, Qwilleran finds out that the owner of a local art gallery has been murdered and his gallery left in disarray. Then, two other murders occur, including that of Mountclemens himself after his return. As Qwilleran sorts through the clues, he’s helped by Koko, who has unique ways of communicating. In the end, Koko adopts Qwilleran, who learns to have a lot of respect for Koko’s instincts.

Qwilleran’s other cat is Yum-Yum, a small, dainty female. Qwilleran and Koko meet Yum-Yum in The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern. In that novel, Qwilleran’s assigned to edit Gracious Abodes, a weekly magazine on interior design. He’s not thrilled about the assignment, but a job is a job. He meets several of the local decorators, and even gets the chance to sublet the posh apartment of one of his new acquaintances, Harry Noyton. Qwilleran’s first assignment is to visit and profile the home of G. Verning Tait, a local “blueblood” with a fabulous jade collection. Just after the first issue of Gracious Abodes hits the news-stand, Tait’s wife, Signe, is killed, and his jade collection stolen. The next few profiles of designer homes seem just as ill-fated. Qwilleran soon realizes that the deaths and burglary are all related, and that if the magazine is to continue, he’s going to have to solve the original mystery. In the end, Koko’s habit of sniffing furniture helps Qwilleran figure out what’s behind all of the events, and he’s able to solve the mystery. He also adopts Signe Tait’s beloved Siamese, Yum-Yum. Eventually, the two cats move with Qwilleran to Moose County, where they soon rule his home. Koko, especially, is especially intelligent and often gives Qwilleran clues that help him solve his cases.

Several other cats also feature in the Cat Who… series, including Brutus and Catta, who are companions to Polly Duncan, first the librarian of Pickax, and later, owner of a local bookstore. In many of the books, she’s also Qwilleran’s love interest. Then, there’s Jet Stream, companion to Joe Bunker (AKA Weatherby Goode), meteorologist for the local radio station. Joe and Jet Stream live in a condominium community where Qwilleran has a winter home.

The Cat Who… series is by no means the only mystery series that features cats. There’s also Rita Mae Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series, which she’s written with her feline companion, Sneaky Pie. This series features Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen. As the series begins, she’s the postmistress of tiny Crozet, Virginia. Harry’s recently been divorced from the local equine veterinarian, Pharamond “Fair” Haristeen, and is starting life on her own. Harry shares her life with Mrs. Murphy, a wise tiger cat, and Tee Tucker, a Corgi. Mrs. Murphy’s quite fond of Harry, and often helps solve the mysteries Harry investigates. She worries for her human companion, because Harry is insatiably curious and has a habit of getting herself in danger. Later in the series, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker are joined by Pewter, a large gray cat who’s much more interested in her own comfort – and food – than just about anything else. What’s interesting about this series is that some of the action is told from the point of view of Harry’s animal companions, so Mrs. Murphy and Pewter play very important roles in the stories. We also get a fascinating and fun look at their different personalities.

Lorna Barrett’s Book Town series mixes bookstores, mysteries, and a delightful cat named Miss Marple – an irresistible combination, and as an Agatha Christie fan, I love the choice of name for the cat. Tricia Miles and Miss Marple own Haven’t Got a Clue, a mystery bookshop in beautiful, small-town Stoneham, New Hampshire, where one of the local leaders has been behind an effort to revitalize the town by making it a bookshop mecca. In the first installment, Murder is Binding, Tricia’s moved to Stoneham from New York City after a divorce, and set up shop. All’s well, except for Tricia’s cranky next-door-neighbor, Doris Gleason, who owns The Cookery, a cookbook store. Doris blames Tricia for their landlord’s raising the rents on their shops, and she’s not a particularly nice person to begin with, so the two don’t get off to a good start. Then one night, Tricia finds Doris stabbed to death in her shop. What’s worse, a rare and valuable cookbook is missing. Sheriff Wendy Adams suspects that Tricia may be responsible for Doris’ murder, and so do several of the other bookshop owners. So Tricia decides, as the saying goes, to take matters into her own hands and clear her name.

In Leann Sweeney’s Cat in Trouble mysteries, we meet Jilian Hart. Recently widowed, she lives in Mercy, South Carolina, where she owns a home business making specialized quilts for cats. Since the death of her husband, John, she’s been comforted by her own three cats: Syrah, the Abyssinian; Merlot, the Maine Coon and Chablis, the Himalayan. In The Cat, The Quilt and the Corpse, Jilian comes home from a business trip one day only to find that her home’s been broken into and Syrah’s been abducted. The police chief isn’t exactly open to using a lot of police resources to search for a missing cat, so Jilian begins to do some searching and asking questions on her own. Her search leads her to stories of other missing cats – and to Flake Wilkerson, a local eccentric hermit. Shortly after she traces Syrah to Flake Wilkerson’s home, Jilian finds Wilkerson stabbed to death. She also finds herself the most likely suspect, since she certainly had a motive. So Jilian decides to find out who killed Wilkerson, to keep herself from being arrested.

The series I’ve mentioned thus far are cozy mysteries. Lest you think that those are the only type of mysteries where cats play a role, though, think again. Robert Crais’ sleuth, private detective Elvis Cole, is also a cat owner. He “inherited” the cat when he bought his current house on Woodrow Wilson Drive in the Los Angeles area. In fact, his cat’s rather particular about the humans he prefers. He loves Cole himself, and really worships Cole’s partner, ex-Marine and gunshop-owner Joe Pike. Ed Lynskey’s private investigator Frank Johnson is also a cat owner, and never forgets to call the cat sitter to check up on his companion when business takes him out of town. There are several other books and series, too, that I haven’t had space to mention, where cats play roles. Sometimes, those roles are critical to solving a mystery. They also set scenes, provide welcome comic relief, and make human characters, well, more human. No matter what role they play, cats can add to a crime fiction novel. Meow!

Thanks again, Ingrid, for hosting me!

Novelist Margot Kinberg was born and raised in Pennsylvania, where she graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and later received her Master’s degree from LaSalle University. After teaching at the University of Delaware for several years and earning her Ph.D. there, Kinberg moved west. She taught at Knox College in Galesburg, IL and is currently an associate professor at National University in Carlsbad, California. Kinberg now lives in southern California with her husband, daughter and two dogs.  You can learn more about Margot on her blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.
 
 

 

Kinberg’s newest novel is B-Very Flat, a murder mystery about gifted violinist Serena Brinkman, who dies suddenly on the night of an important music competition. Serena’s partner becomes convinced that her death was no accident, and asks Dr. Joel Williams, former police officer-turned-professor, to help find out the truth.