Friday, December 16, 2011

The cat and the cutie

kw: book reviews, mysteries, animal fiction

The prospect of a quarter million dollars' worth of vintage Barbie dolls going up in flames is rather daunting. It makes for a fitting climax to the current adventures of Temple Barr, PR maven and part-time (usually amateur) private investigator, and Midnight Louie, her black tomcat. The twenty-third Midnight Louie book is Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta by Carole Nelson Douglas. In this one, Ms Barr is actually hired as a PI, and clearing up one mystery unlocks a couple of others.

The mean streets of Las Vegas are no fitting environment when you are a petite five-foot-nothing, but in addition to Louie, Ms Barr has a current and a former fiancé (Matt and Max, respectively), and the six-foot policewoman C. R. Molina looking out for her. In spite of all that backup, she winds up facing a serial killer called BDK, for Barbie Doll Killer, alone.

The series is noted for complex plots and driving narrative. The books are hard to read in the day-to-day way to which I am accustomed; they demand to be read at a sitting. Well, one does what one must.

I found myself comparing this series with my other favorite cat-mystery series, the Cat Who series by Lillian Jackson Braun (who passed away in June at the age of 97 and eleven months). Ms Braun's feline protagonist is Koko, a Siamese.
  • Louie narrates about every fourth chapter. Koko maintains catly dignified silence.
  • Louie knows what he is doing. Koko is an enigma; is he psychic as his owner sometimes thinks, or is he just doing ordinary catly things that are interpreted in all-too-human ways?
  • Ms Barr is clearly and explicitly active sexually, though she is serially monogamous. Koko's owner, James Qwilleran, has a romance going on in some of the novels, but its extent is kept mysterious.
  • Though in the crisis of each novel, Ms Barr is usually on her own, at least for critical moments, she is usually very social. Mr. Qwilleran tends to operate solo much more of the time.
  • The Louie novels have more sub-plots going on than the Cat Who novels.
As much as I enjoyed reading the book, it is too easy to give it all away (I already committed one partial spoiler). I'll content myself with reporting that the writing is solid, particularly the characterization and scene-setting.

A side element of the book is the issue of elderly persons with pets, who want to provide for them after their own demise. This is harder than you might imagine, and a closing epilog by the author gives good information on how to go about it.

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