Monday, May 19, 2014

Panthers Play for Keeps by Clea Simon

Reviewed by Jeanne

Dog walker and secret pet psychic Pru Marlowe is taking one of her charges for his morning constitutional when they stumble across the body of a woman who appears to have been mauled to death. The police are called, and Pru once again finds herself involved in an investigation of a suspicious death.  While the medical examiner believes that the victim was killed by a large cat, there are two small problems: there haven’t been any mountain lions/cougars/panthers in the Berkshires in decades, and the small amount of blood at the scene means the body was moved.

I’ve read all the books in Clea Simon's Pru Marlowe series to date, and they just keep getting better and better.  I could tell from the first chapter that this was going to be the best one yet, because the chapter was a perfect set-up for the rest of the book.  It set the tone, created a great atmosphere, and yet was succinct. The writing was taut and vivid. It’s been a long time since a first chapter caught my attention so completely.

For the uninitiated, Pru is able to psychically hear what animals are thinking but that doesn’t mean she always understands.  Some of her non-human contacts actively try to communicate, but most are more concerned with their own lives.  It’s one of the things that I like about the series: the animals don’t see things the way that humans do.  A dead woman is a dead woman; the animals don’t feel a need to assign responsibility for the death the way that humans do.  They’re more direct and don’t wax philosophical. Well, except for Wallis, Pru’s long-time feline companion who has very little patience with some of Pru’s dithering about her life as well as her penchant for involving herself in crime investigations.

Part of that dithering involves an on-again, off-again, relationship with police detective Jim Creighton.  Pru has some issues with commitment and trust, and not just in the romantic sense. This time, however, it appears that Creighton may be ready to move on from the relationship—and Pru’s not sure she wants that, either. Regular readers will enjoy visits with Bitsy aka Growler, the opinionated Bichon, and Frank the ferret.

The mystery plot is well done, with twists and turns. The hidden agenda behind the murder is, alas, too believable.  The writing is quite good, and characters—both human and non-human— are well developed.  While Pru can be impetuous, it’s a trait born of self-reliance and the feeling that she can’t trust anyone else.  She’s been hurt too often. 

The Pru Marlowe Pet Noir series is a cut above the usual animal mystery series, and this entry is especially easy to recommend to either animal lovers or straight mystery aficionados.  I like to read a series in order, but I don’t think a new reader would have any problem with all the characters. Simon is also the author of the Dulcie Schwartz Mr. Grey mystery series, which is set on a college campus with a ghostly cat and a gothic atmosphere. And, as you can see, the book is approved by Real Felines.

Elmer likes the cover model.

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