Cat Crimebusters and Other P.I.’s on Paws – Book Review By Fred Patten
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
I have written lots of reviews of French talking-animal comic books. It’s time to also cover talking-animals in text in the mystery/detective novel field. Here is a profile of one of the oldest series of all; the Midnight Louie novels by Carole Nelson Douglas. Future articles will present other cat crimebusters, dog detectives (mostly the Chet and Bernie series by Spencer Quinn), and a whole slew of German animal sleuths from Akif Pirinçci’s brutal Felidae novels to Moritz Matthies’ “ultra-cool” novels about meerkat detectives who sneak out of the Berlin Zoo to investigate animal murders.
This is a sort-of milestone in the annals of the cat crimebusters. By that, I mean the feline murder mysteries that have been so popular among mystery fans for the past three decades. And I don’t mean all the “cat cozies” in which an unanthropomorphized pet cat tags along with the human amateur detective while she solves the crime. I mean those in which the cat is the real detective – and usually the narrator – finding the clues, and surreptitiously batting them out for the human amateur detective or the police to find.
The milestone is the almost-conclusion after two and a half decades of Carole Nelson Douglas’ Midnight Louie alphabet series. She has been writing one or two a year in alphabetical order for over twenty-six years. This year, in 2015, she has reached the end of the alphabet with Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit, published on August 24. Temple Barr is a young publicist in colorful Las Vegas living in a rundown but exotic apartment house. She is “adopted” by Midnight Louie, a stray slightly-overweight black cat (about 20 pounds) who moves in. While Louie detects for the animals, the main crimes are human that Temple has to solve. Louie surreptitiously helps. There are Temple Barr, the Las Vegas publicity agent who is Louie’s apparent owner and unsuspecting cover for his detecting – Max Kinsella and Matt Devine, Temple’s two lovers – Carmen Molina, the hard-as-nails Las Vegas female police detective who gives Temple and Louie a hard time – Electra Lark, Temple’s elderly Circle Ritz apartment-house manager, and Van von Rhine, owner of Vegas’ high-end Crystal Phoenix hotel, Temple’s main client – Louie’s Midnight Investigations, Inc., later expanded into his Vegas Cat Pack assistants including Midnight Louise, his (probable) daughter, and Ma Barker, his mother – and too many to list here. Next year the 28th novel in the series, Cat in an Alphabet Endgame, will wrap it all up. (Though Douglas has promised that Louie will go on to new adventures.)
Midnight Louie originated as a supporting character in Douglas’ paperback romance-mystery series, Crystal Days (Bantam, May 1990) and Crystal Nights (Bantam, June 1990). The editor cut Louie out of the books except as a background pet. Douglas killed the series (she got the rights back and published the uncut version as the four Cat and a Playing Card novels by Five Star in 1999-2000) and began her Midnight Louie series in 1992 with Catnap for Tor/Forge. She followed it up with Pussyfoot the next year, and then started the alphabetical titles with Cat on a Blue Monday in 1994. Midnight Louie and Temple Barr were in the first; the increasing supporting characters have been gradually added to the series.
The full list is:
Catnap. March 1992. Retitled Cat in an Alphabet Soup, October 2013.
Cat on a Blue Monday. June 1994.
Cat in a Crimson Haze. May 1995.
Cat in a Diamond Dazzle. May 1996.
Cat with an Emerald Eye. October 1996.
Cat in a Flamingo Fedora. April 1997.
Cat in a Golden Garland. October 1997.
Cat on a Hyacinth Hunt. July 1998.
Cat in an Indigo Mood. March 1999.
Cat in a Jeweled Jumpsuit. November 1999.
Cat in a Kiwi Con. May 2000.
Cat in a Leopard Spot. April 2001.
Cat in a Midnight Choir. May 2002.
Cat in a Neon Nightmare. May 2003.
Cat in an Orange Twist. August 2004.
Cat in a Hot Pink Pursuit. April 2005.
Cat in a Quicksilver Caper. June 2006.
Cat in a Red Hot Rage. April 2007.
Cat in a Sapphire Slipper. September 2008.
Cat in a Topaz Tango. August 2009.
Cat in an Ultramarine Scheme. August 2010.
Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta. August 2011.
Cat in a White Tie and Tails. August 2012.
Cat in an Alien X-Ray. August 2013.
Cat in a Yellow Spotlight. August 2014.
Cat in a Zebra Zoot Suit. August 2015.
There have also been about a dozen Midnight Louie short stories since 1992 in anthologies of cat crime fiction from other editors, including one presented by Louie himself (edited by Douglas), Midnight Louie’s Pet Detectives (Tor/Forge, October 1998), with one new Louie story, “A Baker Street Irregular”, and sixteen mostly too-cute stories by other authors featuring detecting dogs, hamsters, etc.
I personally consider the whole series overly cute. The animals (including dogs) talk in tough-guy style to each other, and they imitate human customs (such as Midnight Louie’s private investigations for animals), but they never try to communicate with humans. Further, they sometimes detect, but usually just tag along with Temple Barr on the main mystery and wait for her to discover whodunit; so “cat detectives” is too often a copout. But, the Midnight Louie books are certainly popular. Try one and decide for yourself whether you like it.