cozy mysteries

Naming a Fictional Cat

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Guest post by Lucy Burdette

Cat lovers will understand that naming a new cat is serious business – even if the feline is fictional. One of my regular characters, Evinrude, is the handsome gray tiger who lives with food critic Hayley Snow on her houseboat. He steals the show and makes the cover every time a book comes out. In case you are wondering where he got his name, Evinrude is a brand of boat motor.

For my sixth Key West food critic mystery, Fatal Reservations, I had a new character emergeContinue Reading

Review: The Cat, the Mill and the Murder by Leann Sweeney

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Leann Sweeney’s Cats in Trouble series just keeps getting better and better. The series features cat quilter Jillian Hart and her three cats Merlot, Chablis and Chiraz, along with her human friends, who all live in the small town of Mercy, South Carolina.

In The Cat, the Mill and the Murder, the latest installment in the series, Jillian volunteers to help a local animal shelter relocate a colony of feral cats living in an abandoned textile mill. When she visits the mill, she finds a woman who is living there with her “ghost cat” Boots. Jeannie went missing from Mercy, South Carolina, a decade ago, after her daughter’s disappearance. After Jeannie is hurt in an accident and taken to the hospital, a body is found in the mill’s old fireplace. This is only the beginning of a series of long-kept, dark secrets, and Jillian finds herself drawn into yet another investigation.Continue Reading

Review: Not the Killing Type by Lorna Barrett

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Not the Killing Type is the seventh in Lorna Barrett’s bestselling Booktown mystery series featuring Tricia Miles, the owner of the Haven’t Got a Clue mystery book store and her cat, Miss Marple. And can I just say how much I love this cover?

It’s November in Stoneham, New Hampshire, and Tricia’s life has become very complicated. Her romance with police chief Baker seems on the skids, her ex-husband Christopher is back in town, she’s getting ready for the busy holiday shopping season, and her sister is campaigning to be elected Chamber of Commerce president. And just when it seems life couldn’t get any more challenging, Tricia discovers another body. And of course, she can’t help herself – she gets drawn into investigating the murder.Continue Reading

Review: Parrots Prove Deadly by Clea Simon

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It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Clea Simon’s cat-centric murder mysteries. I knew I would enjoy Parrots Prove Deadly, the third in Simon’s Pet Noir series featuring pet behaviorist and psychic Pru Marlowe – I just didn’t realize just how much I would love it.

Pru is hired to retrain the parrot of a woman who has died in a retirement home. The parrot needs a new home, but isn’t likely to find one with the vocabulary of swear words he seems to have acquired, and the dead woman’s family is hoping that Pru can help. As Pru starts working with the bird, she is wondering whether some of the parrot’s words are a replay of the woman’s death, and whether that death could have possibly been a murder. The only other possible witnesses are a blind neighbor, her seeing-eye dog, and a non-commital health care aide. Pru can’t help herself: she begins to look into the woman’s death, and she gets drawn into a tangled web of family dynamics, possible land fraud, and a potential rabies outbreak.

With the help of her cantankerous tabby Wallis, Continue Reading

Book review: How to Moon a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale

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How to Moon a Cat, the third book in Rebecca Hale’s Cats and Curios series, featuring a protagonist also named Rebecca, who has inherited her uncle’s antique shop, and her two cats, Rupert and Isabella, is not your average cat cozy.

From the publisher:

When Rupert the cat sniffs out a dusty green vase with a toy bear hidden inside, his owner has no doubt this is another of her Uncle Oscar’s infamous clues to one of his valuable hidden treasures. Eager to put together the pieces of the puzzle, she’s soon heading to Nevada City, accompanied by her two cats, having no idea that this road trip will put her life in danger.

This summary doesn’t do the book justice. I’m not even sure I would classify this book as a cozy, because it’s so much more. Continue Reading

Book review: The Cat, The Wife and The Weapon by Leann Sweeney

The cat the wife and the weapon Leann Sweeney

I’d been looking forward to The Cat, The Wife and The Weapon. I love reading cozy mystery series, especially when they feature cats. To me, reading books that are part of a series is like having a joyful reunion with old friends that you only get to see once a year.

This fourth book in Leann Sweeney’s Cats in Trouble series once again features cat quilter Jillian Hart and her three cats Merlot, Chablis and Chiraz, along with her human friends, who all live in the small town of Mercy, South Carolina.

The first thing I did, as I do with most books, was read the plot summary on the back cover:

When quilter Jillian Hart returns to her lake house in Mercy, South Carolina, she discovered her friend, Tom, is missing-and his estranged half-brother has moved into Tom’s house. Jillian doesn’t trust the guy, especially since he allowed Tom’s diabetic cat to escape. When police officers find Tom’s wrecked car with a dead stranger inside, Jillian is determined to find out what happened to Tom-before someone else turns up dead.

And then I couldn’t believe my eyes. Continue Reading

Review and giveaway: Grey Expectations by Clea Simon

Grey Expectations Clea Simon cover

I’m a huge fan of Clea Simon, and was eagerly awaiting this fourth book in the Dulcie Schwartz mystery series, featuring the Harvard graduate student, along with her new kitten Esme, and the spirit of her departed cat, Mr. Grey. When my review copy of Grey Expectations arrived, I cleared time in my schedule, because I was pretty sure that once I started, I wouldn’t be able to put it down. I was right.

In this book, we find Dulcie in a happy place. She’s settled in with her boyfriend Chris, a computer programmer, and her relationship with her new kitten, Esme, is deepening. Mr. Grey’s spirit is still around, providing his wise, if sometimes cryptic, counsel not just to Dulcie, but also to Esme, and, much to Dulcie’s delight, to Chris. Dulcie is making progress on her thesis about an incomplete gothic novel written by an unknown author in the 18th centruy, The Ravages of Umbria. Dulcie is trying to uncover the identity of this author, and, in the process of her research, at times almost finds herself identifying with the,  for her times, free-thinking and courageous woman, to the point where the mysterious author invades Dulcie’s dream.Continue Reading

Book review: The Cat Sitter’s Pajamas by Blaize Clement

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I first discovered Blaize Clement’s Dixie Hemingway series when the cover of the first book in the series, Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter, caught my eye.  Dixie Hemingway is a pet sitter who lives on one of the Florida keys – just based on those two pieces of information, I had a feeling I was going to thoroughly enjoy the series, and I wasn’t disappointed.  I’ve since read the entire series, and I was eagerly awaiting The Cat Sitter’s Pajamas.

From the publisher:

Blaize’s beloved heroine Dixie Hemingway is back for another adventure, and she has her hands full when the worlds of celebrity hijinks, counterfeit fashion, and naughty cats collide.

Dixie Hemingway, no relation to you-know-who, accepts a job taking care of famous linebacker Cupcake Trillin’s cats, Elvis and Lucy, while he’s away. But what seems like an easy job turns scary when Dixie finds a celebrity fashion model in Cupcake’s house. The woman refuses to leave AND she also claims to be Cupcake’s wife. But Dixie has met Cupcake’s wife, and this woman certainly isn’t her.Continue Reading

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.

 

Book Review: The Cat, the Professor and the Poison

In The Cat, the Professor and the Poison, the second book in Leann Sweeney’s Cats in Trouble series, we once again join Jillian Hart and her beloved three cats, Merlot, Chablis and Syrah.  Jillian, busy with her cat quilt making business, is settling into the small town of Grace, South Carolina, where she moved with her husband, looking forward to a long retirement.  Within a few months of moving there, John died from a sudden heart attack and Jillian found herself alone in a strange town.  But now, she has found a new best friend in Deputy Candace Carson, and once again, she gets involved in helping solve a murder.   It all begins with a missing milk cow from a friend’s farm, which leads to the discovery of fifty stray cats and a dead body – a victim of cold-blooded murder. 

As Jillian gets involved with helping to save the stray cats, even taking one calico mother and her kittens home with her, she also gets drawn ever deeper into the murder investigation.  And if that weren’t enough, in the middle of all of this, her husband’s daughter arrives for an unannounced, and apparently open-ended, visit.  A former journalist, she becomes intrigued with the mysteries hiding in the small town of Grace, and also begins to look into clues to the murder and possible suspects – and there are plenty of those.  Even the cats get in on the act!  From academic research to dysfuctional family dynamics to cat food, the investigation takes Jillian on a wild ride as she comes ever closer to helping solve the mystery.

This book will delight readers of amateur sleuth stories and cat lovers alike.  Interspersed with plenty of fascinating facts about cats, this book is a fun and entertaining read and is very hard to put down.    It’s the purrfect book for curling up with your favorite feline for an afternoon of suspense, cat trivia and small town charm.

The Cat, the Professor and the Poison will be released on May 4.

Leann Sweeney was born and raised in Niagara Falls and educated at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Lemoyne College in Syracuse, NY. She also has a degree from the University of Houston in behavioral science and worked for many years in psychiatry. Currently a school nurse, she began writing about fifteen years ago, fulfilling her lifelong dream. After perfecting her writing skills with classes and a small fortune in writing books, she joined MWA and Sisters in Crime. Her short fiction won many awards and several mysteries were published in small market mystery magazines. One novel and another mystery novella went straight to audio. Leann is married with two fabulous grown children, a wonderful son-in-law and a beautiful daughter-in-law. She has lived in Texas for almost thirty years and resides in Friendswood, Texas with husband Mike and her three cats.  You can learn more about Leann and her books at http://www.leannsweeney.com.

FTC full disclosure:  I received an ARC copy of this book from the author.