Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cats Can’t Shoot by Clea Simon

Reviewed by Jeanne
When Donal Franklin’s body is discovered, it’s apparent that he’s been shot.
The apparent weapon is an antique dueling pistol. 
The apparent shooter is a Persian cat.
It appears that an antique dueling pistol discharged and hit Donal.  The long white hairs in the trigger housing and paw prints on the gun itself seem to make it the proverbial slam-dunk.  While the police consider filing the case as accidental homicide, pet psychic Pru Marlowe has her doubts.  Pru’s ability to communicate is limited; she gets flashes of the animal’s emotions or pictures, not a conversation per se—except with Wallis, her extraordinary tabby cat.  All she gets from the Persian are waves and waves of terror. The cat is so frightened Pru has to use gloves to pick her up, which doesn’t bode well for the cat’s future.  Who will adopt a killer cat?  Especially one so traumatized that she lashes out?
The more Pru looks at the situation, the more it appears that the cat may be about to take the fall for a two-legged killer. Unfortunately, Pru’s insistence on the cat’s innocence may endanger her livelihood—and her life.
Many of the characters from Dogs Don’t Lie return in this book, including Frank the ferret with his penchant for anything shiny and the Bichon who hates being called “Bitsy” and wants to be Growler instead. The animal perspective on the animal-human relationship is one of the most intriguing aspects of the books for me.  The animals are so much more attuned to changes in the environment or to changes in routine than humans realize; and in some ways, they’re more astute observers of human nature than are humans.  The animals observe what we DO, as opposed to what we say we do: there’s an important distinction there. Lucy, a poodle, is a prime example and a delightful addition; she has shrewdly taken stock of her owner and behaves accordingly.  Pru’s attempts to question her are hampered by the fact that Lucy understands Pru’s place in the scheme of things and doesn’t feel obligated to oblige.  I also enjoy the fact that, even though we often treat pets as children, these animals are depicted as adults, not cutesy cuddly-wuddly wittle creatures onto whom we project our feelings. This is especially true of Pru’s companion, Wallis, who has a tongue as sharp as her claws. I really enjoy the disconnect between what the animals feel and perceive and what the humans believe the animals’ attitudes to be.  This book makes me stop occasionally and wonder how far off my interpretation of my cats’ actions is.  
While I’ve emphasized the animal aspects of the book, this is indeed a mystery with human suspects aplenty who had motive and perhaps opportunity. While Pru questions the humans involved, some of the most important clues come from the ever observant creatures who surround them.  Pru tries to keep her investigations low key, so as not to attract too much attention and keeps out of the way of the police investigations.  While there is some sparring between Pru and the police, I appreciate the fact that neither side is really denigrated:  they’re a bit wary of each other but not openly antagonistic.  Simon does a good job of leaving clues open to interpretation.  Simon keeps her readers on their toes by using little twists in character, things seem surprising when they happen but make perfect sense in retrospect.  Just remember that everyone has an agenda, and that includes non-humans.
Pru has done a bit of growing and changing from the first book to the second.  She hasn’t quite decided if she’s going to stay or not, but she feels more comfortable with her new abilities. You don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy the second, however.

(For folks who enjoy a good cover, I recommend taking a look at Cats Can’t Shoot. I think it’s terrific: not only does it accurately reflect the contents but it is very attractive. The sample here isn't the finished product which features an antique pistol.)

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