Cat Crimebusters and Other P.I.s on Paws, Part 4 – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Cat Crimebusters and Other P.I.s on Paws, Part 4
Three series that are not “cat cozies” (and one which is), that do feature cat P.I.s who really investigate, are the Manx McCatty Adventures by Christopher Reed, the Sam the Cat Detective novels by Linda Stewart, the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Capers by Cindy Vincent, and the Cats on the Prowl books by Nancy C. Davis. These are fantasies where the cats do all the detecting, mostly in feline societies. The first two are hard-boiled P.I. pastiches set almost entirely in the feline world.
A Manx McCatty Adventure: The Big Scratch. November 1988.
Manx McCatty, a streetwise San Francisco feline P.I., is hired by “respectable cream-lickers” to break up Gato Nostro crimelord Tabby Tonelli’s racket of snatching gentle, comely female housecats to sell into prostitution abroad.
Reed apparently considered this as the first in a series, but the Ballantine original paperback didn’t sell. A sequel was written, but wasn’t published until October 1996, and then only in Germany as Der Fluch der Weißen Katze: Ein kerniger Katzenkrimi. Translation: The Curse of the White Cat: A Polynuclear Cat Crime. The Big Scratch was translated as Die Katzen-Gang the previous year; both by Bastei Lübbe Verlag.
Sam the Cat: Detective. February 1993.
The Big Catnap. August 2000.
The Maltese Kitten. December 2002.
The Great Catsby. September 2013.
The first of these is a broad satire of the whole Chandleresque hard-boiled P.I. genre. Sam is the Russian blue resident cat of a mystery-theme bookshop. When three flats in a luxury New York apartment house are robbed, sultry penthouse housecat Sugary hires Sam to find the real human burglar to keep Max, the custodian (and friend to all the apartment house’s cats) from being framed. Sam the Cat: Detective was a Scholastic, Inc. Young Adult paperback original, but it became an MWA Edgar Award nominee. It is reprinted as a Chelsea House Books all-ages title.
Stewart’s next two novels, original Chelsea House paperbacks, were The Big Catnap and The Maltese Kitten; specific parodies of Raymond Chandler’s 1939 The Big Sleep with P.I. Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s 1929 The Maltese Falcon with Sam Spade.
In the first, Sandy, a star of TV catfood commercials, disappears. There are two human suspects. One demands a ransom, while the other wants to replace Sandy with his own cat actor. Sam must find which is the actual kidnapper, and enlist the help of the neighborhood cats to rescue Sandy before the villain can dispose of him.
In the second, sexy, slinky Miss Wonderful asks Sam to retrieve her beloved kitten whom her human companion gave away for adoption. Sam guesses the truth is more complex when the trail leads to burglarized houses, unconscious humans lying next to empty cat carriers, and a tough cat gang orders Sam to drop the case. It definitely helps to have read The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon before reading The Big Catnap and The Maltese Kitten.
Stewart seemed to have run out of hard-boiled P.I. mysteries to parody, but after more than ten years she came out with The Great Catsby, a parody of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 The Great Gatsby. That is not a hard-boiled P.I. novel, but Stewart made do. When the proprietor of Sam’s mystery bookshop goes on a vacation to ritzy East Ham (instead of West Egg) on Long Island, he takes Sam along. Sam visits the neighboring estate to see his cousin Pansy, the housecat of mystery author Rex Trout. Pansy fears that she may be murdered by a human gangster as a warning to Trout. Pansy, a languid female playgirl, is a friend of Georgia, a housecat of mysterious millionaire J. J. Smythington who also owns Catsby, an old acquaintance of Pansy who is also mysteriously wealthy, with unlimited catnip and fluffy balls. Sam attends rich parties at Smythington’s mansion where he treats his human guests lavishly and Catsby does the same to his feline guests. When Trout’s mansion is shot up and he disappears, Sam investigates seven human suspects who each have dirty secrets that their cats know. As with the others, it helps to be familiar with The Great Gatsby to get all the literary references. One wonders which literary work Stewart will tackle next.
The Case of the Cat Show Princess. November 2011.
The Case of the Crafty Christmas Crooks. October 2013.
The Case of the Jewel Covered Cat Statues. September 2014.
The Case of the Clever Secret Code. October 2015.
Most of the other cat-detective series are for adult readers, or for “all ages”. The Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Capers are for juveniles; officially 8- to 12-year-olds, although I would put the age rating as for 6- to-10. Since they are for young children, this is the only cat-detective series that does not feature solving murders; nothing stronger than robberies and hidden treasures. Buckley and Bogey are two black cats belonging to cat-loving Abigail and Mike Abernathy and their 12-year-old daughter Gracie. Bogey is named after Humphrey Bogart as P.I. Sam Spade in the Warner Bros. movie of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, while the larger but younger Buckley is his hero-worshipping acolyte. Together they have started the BBCDA to solve cat-related crimes, using their human Mom and Dad’s home computer when the humans aren’t looking to impersonate humans in phony e-mails. As in other novels in this sub-genre, all the cats understand human language but they aren’t revealing it.
But the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Capers are excessively simplistic. The cats don’t just understand English; they speak it except when any human is within earshot. Then they meow in their secret cat language of feline. Bogey knows the difference between English, French, and Spanish. All the novels contain blatant clues that tell young readers that something is wrong; the cats realize this immediately, while the humans supposedly never do.
In the first novel, international cat shows are entered by an arrogant Austrian Count and Countess with a pampered white cat-girl with a diamond necklace upon a silk pillow. Only the cats know that the Count and Countess brutalize their show cat regularly. (And isn’t a “Count and Countess” from a country that’s been a republic since World War I a clue that something is fishy?)
In the second novel, somebody is burglarizing the homes in the Abernathy’s town at Christmastime and stealing all the presents. The police are clueless while Buckley and Bogey solve whodunit, and lay a trap to make the robbers reveal themselves to the other humans.
The third novel presents hugger-mugger in the dinosaur exhibit at the local museum, and a parade of suspicious characters after a long-missing treasure.
The fourth novel features a famous Hollywood mega-star who comes to the Abernathys’ small home town in a limousine with his entourage of secretaries, writers, stunt men, makeup artists, etc., and announces that he has decided to make a blockbuster hit movie there – with no mention of any studio or other actors. All of the other townsfolk including the police are star-struck; only the Abernathys sense that something feels wrong, while their cats know that this isn’t the way that movies are made. Summary: the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Capers are not recommended even for children, despite some glowing reviews from cat-lovers who think that they’re too, too cute.
The one that is a “cat cozy” is Cats on the Prowl by Nancy C. Davis, each marketed as an “Exciting New Cat Cozy Mystery told from a Cat’s perspective”. This is unusual as being presented as different volumes of the same title.
Cats on the Prowl, Book 1. August 2015.
Cats on the Prowl, Book 2. October 2015.
Cats on the Prowl, Book 3. November 2015.
Willow, a fluffy white Persian cat, comes to live at the Nelson Police Station. She is quickly taken under paw by Nat, the station’s tabby tom veteran police cat. Nat, Willow, and the town’s alley cats do their own sleuthing.
In Book 2, Nat and Willow attempt to investigate a new human murder, but they are sidetracked by gang warfare between the Thorndale and Stevenson alley cats.
In Book 3, the two police-station cats investigate the murder of the owner of a luxurious Cat Hotel for pampered pussies. One suspects that the very short time between these three novels means that the publisher (Collins Collective) stockpiled them before publishing any. Books 1 through 3 were published between August and November 2015, then nothing. Will there ever be a Book 4?
Cats on the Prowl, Books 4 and 5 came out in March and August 2016. The series seems to have ended.