Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ali Brandon's Black Cat Bookshop Mysteries

Melon approves of books with cats.

Reviewed by Jeanne

Darla Pettistone left Texas for the Big Apple after her Aunt Dee passed away, leaving Darla her apartment and her book shop.  Oh, and she also left her large black cat, Hamlet, who seems to take a dim view of Darla and some of the bookstore’s customers.   Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series by Ali Brandon feature good puzzles with a likeable (if occasionally a bit slow on the uptake) heroine and some interesting supporting characters. Police detective Reese is pretty standard issue (handsome, irritates heroine) but Darla’s friend Jacqueline “Jake” Martelli, an ex-cop turned private investigator, and some of the book store staff make up for that.  I appreciate that there’s more emphasis on mystery and less on soap opera than in some cozies. Darla would like to have a romantic relationship but there’s no whiff of desperation about her.

Most of all, there’s the enigmatic and somewhat surly Hamlet, who doesn’t talk but who has a way of getting his point across and being very smug while he does it.

In the first book in the series, Double Booked for Death, Darla is musing over her foray into the book trade.   Despite ebooks, chain stores, and internet shopping, business isn’t bad for Pettistone’s Fine Books—and it may be about to get a whole lot better, because sizzling hot teen author Valerie Baylor is coming to do a book signing for her latest vampire book and kids are starting to line up in the street.  Unfortunately, there’s a protester claiming Baylor stole her book and a bus-load of Texas “Bible thumpers” who think that books about supernatural beings are giving impressible young readers a one way ticket to Hell.  Darla’s misgivings seem to be unfounded as the event gets off to a rousing start, until the star author is killed in what appears at first to have been an accident but then starts to look more like murder.

In the second outing, A Novel Way to Die, Darla is trying to hire a clerk but finding one that meets Hamlet’s approval isn’t easy.  It’s not that she’s asking the cat’s opinion:  he merely frightens off the ones he doesn’t like, which is proving to be a lot of them.  Meanwhile, cute new neighbor Barry has stopped in a few times to flirt and keep Darla up to date on the building he and his best friend Curt are renovating. He also mentions seeing Hamlet around the building.  When Barry takes Darla over to see how things are progressing, they find Curt dead—and what looks suspiciously like bloody feline footprints around the body.

I broke one of my own rules with this series by reading the second book first, so I can say with some assurance that they don’t have to be read in order. I admit to being a bit vague on some of the other characters because there are some cast changes, but I’d rather the readers discover that themselves.  Hamlet is a delight—he’s cool, he's aloof, and he keeps his own counsel, but he doesn’t really take center stage.  The detecting part reminds me more of Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who Series, with Hamlet being a less friendly version of Koko.  A reader doesn’t have to think the cat helps solve the mystery at all; just because Darla thinks he helps doesn’t mean he does and the author makes it easy for readers to believe or not.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the name-dropping of authors throughout the books, a nice nod to old favorites.

 It’s a bit hard to judge, having read them out of order, but I think I liked A Novel Way to Die just a bit better than the first one, partly because I thought the clues were very clever. I knew whodunit fairly early, though I’m not sure how I knew; it wasn’t because of specific clue.  I also liked the addition of a new cast member.

I’ve already recommended this series to others, especially those who like a good old-fashioned mystery with books and cats.  (In fact, I wanted to go back and check some names and facts, but my copies are out on loan!)

Book three, Words with Fiends, is due out in November. I’ll be looking forward to reading it.

Nuit thinks a mystery with a black cat is an excellent idea!


  1. Thanks for the lovely review! If folks want to keep up with Hamlet's doings between books, they can check out his Facebook page:

  2. By the way, yes, Hamlet is something of an homage to Koko. :) He says he is much smarter, however. ;)

  3. Let's hope he lasts as long as The Cat Who series!