James, the Connoisseur Cat and James, Fabulous Feline – Book reviews by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
James, the Connoisseur Cat, by Harriet Hahn.
NYC, St. Martin’s Press, October 1991, hardcover $13.95 (169 pages).
James, Fabulous Feline: Further Adventures of a Connoisseur Cat, by Harriet Hahn.
NYC, St. Martin’s Press, June 1993, hardcover $14.95 (199 pages).
This two-book set presents a whimsical set of adventures of a very British cat, more aristocratic than James-Bondian.
“I spend a lot of my time in England,” begins the nameless narrator, a traveling art expert. “My apartment in Baron’s Chambers, on Ryder Street, is my headquarters.”
“I felt wonderfully at home, and then I noticed something new. Sitting on the small table where one usually finds messages and brochures describing current exhibits and events sat what appeared at first glance to be a big, gray, short-haired cat. It was motionless and its eyes were closed, but even so, I felt the power of a rare personality.” (p. 1)
James never does talk, but he makes his feelings plain through pantomime, especially to the narrator.
“I finished unpacking by carrying a bottle of Laphroaig single-malt whiskey into the kitchen. I put the bottle on the counter, and was amazed to see James on the counter, wrapping himself around the bottle. His golden eyes were gleaming.
‘You like Laphroiag?’ I asked.
James bobbed himself up and down to indicate his enthusiastic acquiescence.
James shook his head.” (pages 3-4)
In the first book, James eats caviar, exposes a burglary, slims down so he can go traveling, foils a pickpocket on the Underground, poses for a portrait for a gallery exhibition and enters a painting himself, proves an even more effective art marketer, gets rid of a human friend’s unwanted relative, appears in a production of “Puss in Boots”, plays matchmaker, and more; at one point even appearing as an Egyptian god. (Was Bastet female? Perhaps she had a husband.)
But these individual events are within an overall story revolving around James, the narrator, and a widening circle including Lord Henry Haverstock, his girlfriend Helena, their friend Peter Hightower who works at an upper-class auction house, Lord Henry’s disagreeable sister Etheria, and others. James is not perfect. At one point he makes a fool of himself and is humiliated, and in general he is too easily swayed by vanity. But from discouraging unwelcome guests at an exclusive London apartment house, to helping out Scotland Yard to discovering a lost treasure at Lord Henry’s ancient manor house, he can always be counted upon to come through for his friends.
“I looked at James. He winked and put a paw to his mouth.
I said nothing.” (p. 52)
In James, Fabulous Feline; Further Adventures of a Connoisseur Cat (the cover says ‘the Connoisseur Cat’), the art-expert narrator returns to London and to his friend Peter’s auction house.
“I knocked at Peter’s door and opened it to be assaulted by a flying grey bomb. I held out my arms and was embraced by a big, silver-grey, short-haired cat with golden eyes, who settled into my arms, grinning and purring.” (p. 2)
In this sequel, James coaches a croquet team (as the cover shows), helps direct a sequel to the hit production Cats, participates in the narrator’s art-hunt for 18th-century terra-cotta models that may not exist (this includes smuggling James into and out of Argentina), becomes a psychiatrist, saves another friend from a golddigger, foils a more serious theft, and joins with his human friends in devising a legal ploy to get his testimony accepted in court. He makes a serious mistake which it takes him some time to make amends for.
In a sense, both novels present a rather mundane story about a group of people that includes one sentient cat who speaks through pantomime. The people, once convinced of his intelligence, accept James as an equal in their social affairs. Both James and they are good at using his feline traits to solve problems. Furry fandom has lots of stories of half-human animals that are obviously sentient. If you met a cat, dog, or other animal who was obviously intelligent but that did not have any other human abilities, how would you treat it? As a wonder, or as just another human who happens to be physically an animal? In their own way, these two novels are highly unusual, if not unique. They deserve to be read by all furry fans. Besides, they’re both good fun.
These books are over twenty years old now. Fortunately, they are back in print in Kindle editions. All that they are missing is the original delightful covers by Robert Goldstrom. Get them.
– by Fred Patten