Wednesday, June 15, 2011

This cat is a little too human

kw: book reviews, crime fiction, mysteries, animals

Ten brothers, former mobsters (mostly); five old desert rats called the Glory Hole Gang; three generations of feline PI; a former priest; a petite redhead with a penchant for sticking her nose where it doesn't belong: Mix all these with a dozen or so supporting cast and a couple of corpses, and you have a great bit of escape literature for my last several evenings. Cat in an Ultramarine Scheme by Carole Nelson Douglas is the 22nd in her Midnight Louie series.

And who is Midnight Louie? He is the Alphacat, in a series that began with an introductory book or two, then settled in to an acrostic run at B and is now up to U. While miss Temple Barr bombs around Las Vegas on purposes of her own, Louie looks out for her. This time, keeping Ms Barr from winding up the third corpse in the case requires Louie to bring in his parents, Ma Barker and Three-o-Clock Louis, and his daughter, Midnight Louise, plus a gaggle of variously distant relatives, as the Cat Pack. It takes all of them, at one juncture, to extract her from the inner sanctum of the mysterious Synth, a cabal of magician-performers, whose most recent "president" is now one of the corpses.

But what is the Synth, really? Why has a European bombshell "favored" them with a visit? What connection do they have with IRA fundraising (and weapons smuggling)? Those questions await answers as the book closes. With the letters V to Z waiting in the wings, I see that Ms Douglas is going way beyond the idea of a trilogy. Perhaps at the end of the viginte-quintilogy all the threads will be nicely tied up.

Well, a few threads do get tied up in this volume, but the story is more about the production of a Mob museum and associated eateries (and drinkeries), an amnesic magician seeking his memories in the locales of his past exploits, and the ongoing question: Who is Temple Barr really going to marry? In these novels, it really is all about her.

I sometimes wonder what a cat is thinking. In the Midnight Louie books, about every third or fourth chapter is in Louie's voice, and he sounds a lot like Sam Spade (Yes, Ms Douglas, I know it is on purpose). I suspect if we could get into a real cat's mind, the thoughts would be rather one- and two-word snippets: Hungry. Chase bird! Out? But it is kind of fun to imagine cats having richer mental lives than their usually stoic faces might let on.

For most mysteries, it is de rigeur to have everything all tied up and brought together, usually in the last chapter. We know life is more iffy than that, and this writer, at least, takes her cue from that. Somehow, the crimes that are solved are satisfying enough. This was a fine read for the rainy nights we've been having.

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