Shades of Grey by Clea Simon
Reviewed by Jeanne
It’s a sensation known to many who have loved and lost a pet: a glimpse out of the corner of the eye of a familiar furry shape, the scratch of claws walking down a hallway at night when there’s no one left to walk, the sudden weight of something jumping on the bed, only there’s nothing really there but memories.
That’s the situation for Dulcie Schwartz, still grieving the loss of her beloved cat, Mr. Grey. The rest of her life isn’t going any better. She’s a struggling graduate student at Harvard, trying to come up with a topic for her dissertation. She’s working as a temp at an insurance company, doing endless data entry. Her best friend and roommate Suze has taken a job out of town, so Dulcie is having to share space with Tim Worthington, a spoiled rich kid.
Things are about to get worse.
On her way home, Dulcie is startled to see a cat resembling her late pet and seems to hear a voice say, “I wouldn’t go in if I were you.” She turns, but sees no one except the cat who is now placidly washing its face.
Whatever the source, it turns out to have been good advice, because once inside she finds Tim has been murdered—with Dulcie’s mother’s second best carving knife, no less.
What follows is well-crafted mystery with numerous suspects and several intriguing (and topical) subplots that dangle in front of the reader like ribbons teasing a kitten. Readers who enjoy an academic setting will have a field day with Dulcie’s struggle to find some new reading of an early novel that might keep her grant money flowing, not to mention the wonderfully atmospheric library, nicely juxtaposed against modern computers which hold key clues.
Then there’s a hint of the paranormal with the mysterious messages from someone, offering cryptic advice. Is it the ghost of Mr. Grey, still looking out for Dulcie? Or is it only her subconscious, desperate to hold on to some part of her beloved pet? Or has the stress and strain finally gotten to Dulcie, and she’s losing her grip on reality, just like a heroine in a gothic novel?
There are some interesting secondary characters as well. My favorite is Lucy, Dulcie’s flower child mother who advises burning sage to clear out the bad vibes from the apartment and offers tarot readings but whose love is unconditional. Let me amend that: Lucy is my favorite human, because Mr. Grey, alive or deceased, is also quite the star. (Tidbit: Mr. Grey is based on Simon’s beloved Cyrus, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge some years ago.)
One observation I am compelled to make: Dulcie obviously has not been reading the BPL Bookblog. If she had, she would have read Nancy’s review of Behind Bars, Surviving Prison by Jeffrey Ian Ross and Stephen C. Richards (365.6 ROS Main) and she would have known to KEEP HER MOUTH SHUT. (Dulcie’s best friend, a law student, repeats this information but too late.)
The only real complaint I have is that the print is a bit small for my taste. A sign of my advancing age, I know. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be a large print version available as yet. Let’s hope the publisher takes the hint. However, my plus sized feline supermodel Melon wished to lodge a complaint about the lack of scenes with cats eating. I pointed out to him that Mr. Grey is deceased, but he considered that quibbling.
This is the first in a new series for Simon, who also writes the Theda Krakow mysteries, reviewed here in July (look for “A Muse Named Musetta” in the archive). She knows her setting, her English majors and music, and her cats, which gives the books an authenticity that some mysteries lack. There are a few comments about modern scholarship and the desperate quest to find something fresh about a topic that brought back memories of college papers past.
Grey Matters, the second book in the series, has been written and is due out in March 2010.