Cats on the Prowl, by Nancy C. Davis – book reviews by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Cats on the Prowl, Book One, by Nancy C. Davis
Melbourne, Victoria, Collins Collective, August 2015, paperback $7.89 (iii + 176 pages), Kindle $2.99.
Cats on the Prowl, Book Two, by Nancy C. Davis
Melbourne, Victoria, Collins Collective, October 2015, paperback $7.98 (iii + 174 pages), Kindle $2.99.
Cats on the Prowl, Book Three, by Nancy C. Davis
Melbourne, Victoria, Collins Collective, November 2015, paperback $7.98 (iii + 170 pages), Kindle $2.99.
All three novels have the subtitle “A Cat Detective Cozy Mystery Series”. They are set in very large type. Make that:
They are set in very large type.
They would probably be less than 100 pages each in normal-sized type. Nevertheless, like most cat cozies, they are presented as adult novels, although they are more suitable for Young Adults.
It also depends upon how you define “cat cozy mysteries”. They are usually light mystery novels with a human young woman amateur detective, who is helped or at least followed in her investigations by her pet cats. The three Cats on the Prowl novels are unusual in having anthropomorphized cat detectives doing all the crime-solving.
The main characters are Willow, a fluffy white Persian, and Nat, a big tabby tom. They are the cats of the Nelson Police Station, and of Sgt. Carl Ridout and Detective Naya Wesley of the Homicide Department in particular. The two humans are the official investigators, but it’s Willow and Nat who solve the mysteries – always murders, since Willow and Nat are the cats of the police station’s Homicide Department.
In Book One Willow, a newcomer to the department, is mentored by the experienced Nat:
“‘Were you here back then?’ Willow asked.
‘I was here,’ he rumbled. ‘I’ve seen dozens of recruits come and go in my seven years. Naya has only been here three years, and Carl has been here five years. You watch them together. Naya comes up with the clues, but it’s Carl who pushes the case to its conclusion. She’s the brains and he’s the brawn. They’re a perfect team.” (p. 5)
Of course, this being an official “cat cozy mystery”, Naya doesn’t come up with the clues as much as she finds the clues that Willow and Nat set out for her:
“Nat stood up tall and straight. The moonlight streaming through the police station window stretched his shadow across the carpet. ‘That, my dear, is the great secret of the cat race. We find a way to draw Naya’s attention to the evidence, but we must be discreet. We can’t let her know we found out the crucial piece of the puzzle to solve the case. We must do it in a way that preserves the illusion that Naya solved the case herself.” (pgs. 12-13)
Book One involves the arson of the Morningside Bakery, in which bakery owner Roy Avino was burned to death. Bakery employee Jason Dempsey is the obvious suspect, but the evidence is all circumstantial. If he did it, why did he do it? For himself, or for the owner’s widow, Josephine Avino? Or is he being framed by someone else? Dempsey claims that he wasn’t at the bakery when the fire broke out; he had barely clocked in when the boss’ wife told him to drop everything and follow her to several blocks away. She claims that she was never there that morning. Who is lying, and why? There are also Roy’s paramour, and Jason’s girlfriend; four suspects. Nat and Willow investigate with the help of Chester and Bella, two alley cats. It is Willow’s first time outside the police station “into the field”, into the rougher parts of the city – alleys and dumpsters, and jumping over fences – following Nat’s lead.
“This time, she didn’t give herself a chance to hesitate. If Nat could jump from that height without hurting himself, she could, too. He wouldn’t expect her to do it if she couldn’t do it safely. She took another deep breath and jumped.
She hit the ground on all four paws, and the shock woke up some part of her cat soul she never knew she had. So this was how the other half lived. The cats who didn’t have owners and police detectives putting food out for them and turning on the heater on winter days had to jump and climb and hunt for their living.” (pgs. 70-71)
In Cats on the Prowl, Book Two, the murder victim is Reginald Barkley, the elderly owner of the Rapid Design Print Studio who is found crushed by boxes of wedding invitations in a pool of blue ink, with his safe robbed. The opening of the safe without breaking it open implies that the killer knew the combination. There are three suspects: John McManus, the print shop foreman who would have the combination; Barkley’s adult son, Steuben, who might’ve had the combination but who owns his own successful business and has no apparent motive; and Beatrice Orndale, Barkley’s former partner who quit and started a rival print shop but who might’ve learned the safe combination before she left, assuming Barkley hadn’t changed it.
Willow and Nat go to ask Chester and Bella to help them again, but find that Chester has been seriously wounded in alley cat gang warfare between the Stevenson Alley and Thorndale Alley mobs. Willow meets cats Boxer, Trina, Jax, Abby, and others, and her and Nat’s investigation of the murder puts them right between the two alley cat gangs when a deadly fight breaks out. At the beginning Willow is still Nat’s student; by the end, she is his full partner.
In Cats on the Prowl, Book Three, Bill Everson, the owner of an exclusive Cat Hotel, is murdered with no clues. He charged $500 a day to board pet cats in luxury. There are no suspects. Carl and Naya investigate the owners of the three cats that were brought to the Cat Hotel that day: Thomas Farley, an interior decorator, and Pepper; Phyllis Dickerson, a real estate agent, and Garfunkel; and Victoria Chadwick, a haughty heiress, and Sunshine Chadwick.
“Sunshine?’ Naya inquired. ‘That’s a cute name.’
Victoria turned to her with a cold stare. ‘It’s Sunshine Chadwick. Not Sunshine.’ Victoria corrected her. ‘If you’re going to talk about her at all, call her by her full name.” (p. 22)
Carl and Naya investigate the owners, and Willow and Nat interrogate their cats. Both the owners and their cats are equally cooperative or uncooperative. Both lie and have secrets. The owners’ expensive apartments are near the Stevenson and Thorndale Alleys, so Nat and Willow ask the alley cats for help. Willow compares the alley cats to the pampered cats, and is tempted to leave the police station for a more luxurious life:
“Willow bristled. ‘We are not alley cats. We’re police cats. We have more important things to do than lie around on velvet quilts in some salon.”
‘You’re only saying that because you’ve never experienced the treatment at a place like the Cat Hotel,’ Garfunkel told her. ‘Go on and tell me the truth. You’ve never had your toenails trimmed by a professional cat groomer. You’ve never had a perfumed bath. You’ve never had a massage from a professional pet massage therapist. If you had, you would never say you had more important things to do.’” (p. 69)
All three novels are reasonably clever in setting up and revealing the mystery, but too reliant on improbable “coincidences” that the police cats engineer to call Carl’s and Naya’s attention to crucial clues. All three are very formulaic, with approximately the same number of pages, having three suspects to investigate, and having neophyte Willow learn from veteran Nat. Read Book One; then, unless you’re a real fan of this kind of “cat cozy”, you won’t need to read Books Two and Three.