Reviewed by Jeanne
Some time back I wrote a review of How to Wash a Cat, the first book in the “Cats and Curios Series.” I said I wasn’t exactly enthralled with it. You can read the actual review here:
Several folk from the mystery list Dorothy-L agreed with my assessment, though at least one still thought I was being too kind. I don’t like to do hatchet reviews, even though one can make those vastly entertaining with all sorts of snarky remarks. (Does anyone remember the good reviews from Dorothy Parker? Nope, they remember that she wrote of Katherine Hepburn’s performance that she “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.”)
Anyway, having a streak of masochism, I will sometimes continue to read books in series that I don’t think I like in the vague hopes that perhaps the next one won’t be quite as bad. This is a difficult proposition because while I am indeed gullible, I’m not so gullible that I go into the book with a clean slate. I start reading suspiciously, waiting to be disappointed. That’s the way I started the second book in the series, Nine Lives Last Forever. The first thing I noticed was that at certain sections the point of view switched from “I” to some omniscient narrator. “And just who is telling this tale now?” sniffed I to Melon, my obese feline friend. I did have to admit, though not to Melon, that some of the description was kind of nifty. Then the point of view shifted to the perspective of—I kid you not—a frog. The frog turned its head. Can frogs turn their heads? Since they don’t have necks, I don’t think so. Another black mark, right?
Well, I had to admit to myself (if not Melon) that I still kind of liked the section about the frogs. I was starting to worry about my little amphibian friends in this story and I am not a person who is particularly attached to frogs. I began to have the sneaking suspicion that I was enjoying this book. Darn.
I also began to suspect that a lot of the things I’d been taking seriously were, in the immortal words of Foghorn Leghorn, “a joke, son, just a joke.” So I loosened up and, sure enough, it was much more fun. So much fun that I started the third book, How to Moon a Cat, and checked to see when the fourth comes out. Early on in the book, one of the cats, Rupert, is upset at a duffle bag because that bag takes his person away and he doesn’t like it. He thought they had an agreement: he let her call him Rupert and in return, she takes care of his every need.
Yes, this was a fine piece of feline logic. I tried not to get my hopes up, but pretty soon I found I was enjoying this third book.
I don’t think it a total coincidence that there was less first person narration. Part of the problem with the first book was my feeling that the “I”/Rebecca character was –well, an idiot. There are clues dropped everywhere but she didn’t bother to pick one up, much less follow through. The third person narration lets the reader in on the joke in a way the first book couldn’t. There are several delightful sequences with the cats that made me laugh out loud, and I must say I did enjoy the moon’s role. (Yes, the moon is occasionally personified. I would have—well, did, actually roll my eyes, but somehow it worked.) The characters were better defined. Isabelle, Rupert’s feline sister, takes a very dim view of her somewhat dim brother, and will probably solve the mystery long before her owner does. Human friend Monty is always sure he’s going to be the hero and star, and never lets a bruised ego (or other part of his anatomy) get in the way of another grand entrance. Monty, needless to say, is also ditsy.
The series set up is that Rebecca has inherited an antiques and curio shop from her late uncle who apparently died of a heart attack, though Rebecca made no effort to check out the funeral home, death certificate or anything else. Uncle Oscar was (or, perhaps, IS) a California history buff and, as it turns out, has left clues for Rebecca to solve, all involving California history. Uncle Oscar apparently has an arch enemy who is searching for something Oscar had, and he’s ruthless in his efforts to obtain it. Unfortunately for Rebecca, she has no idea what’s going on but she gradually realizes that she’s being stalked by someone dangerous, someone who dabbles in untraceable poisons and is a master of disguise. This is the part where you either decide to go with the flow and suspend disbelief or toss the book across the room.
I don’t know a great deal about California history, so the books could be a good learning experience. I have to say that some of the characters are very opinionated so I would occasionally check other sources to see what more objective writers had to say. In general, though, I found it all very interesting. In the third book, there was a different view of John Fremont than the one I had from the Irving Stone novel Immortal Wife; that was a bit of a surprise in a good way, prompting me to re-examine some things I thought I knew. In some cases there was more than I cared to know about California history so I just merrily skipped those parts and moved on without ill effects. (One reviewer complained about the amount of history in the book. It does get very wordy in there. As I said, I skipped.) I’m not reading these to solve the overall mystery. I just want to know what’s going on with Rupert and Isabelle, what crazy stunt Monty will pull next, and if Mark Twain will show up again. It’s that kind of a series.
In short, this isn’t a slapstick Stephanie Plum novel nor is it a realistic novel a la Margaret Maron. It’s a whimsical book, a cloak and dagger cozy, and something of an acquired taste, but I found it to be qualified fun. I'm looking forward to the fourth book, How to Tail a Cat, due out September 4.
|Melon's impression of a moon. Or a cat. We're not sure.|