by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Great Catsby, by Linda Stewart
NYC, Cheshire House Books, September 2013, trade paperback $10.95 (143 [+ 1] pages).
This is the fourth novel in Stewart’s Sam the Cat series, officially children’s fantasies but often Edgar and Agatha Award mystery-fiction nominees. Stewart’s first, Sam the Cat: Detective (February 1993), was a generic hard-boiled mystery fantasy-parody, with Sam, one of a mystery-bookshop’s cats (the other is Sue, Sam’s sassy secretary), hired by an apartment building’s housecat to find their real human burglar and keep the apartment’s custodian from being framed. The next two novels, The Big Catnap (August 2000) and The Maltese Kitten (December 2002), were specific pastiches of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939) and The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929), with Sam standing in for Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, who practically defined the crime-noir private eye genre. Not exactly kids’ stuff. The Maltese Kitten also won the Cat Writers’ Association’s 2003 Muse Award in the Best Juvenile Fiction category.
Stewart seemed to run out of famous crime-noir mysteries to parody after 2002. But, eleven years later, here is The Great Catsby. Presumably you know what this is a pastiche of, even if you haven’t read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic. Not exactly a hard-boiled mystery, and still not exactly kids’ stuff; but it does get the series moving again.
“The first time I saw Catsby he was sitting atop a diving board and staring across a swimming pool at a lantern hung from a tree. It was one of those green paper Japanese lanterns and it flashed, in the local distance, like the light of an alien star. Of course I didn’t know he was Catsby then, or anything else about him. By his looks, he was nothing special – just a pleasantly yellow fellow with a curve at the tip of his tail. What impressed me had been his gaze – an almost laser-like concentration – and the stillness that seemed to surround him the way a halo surrounds a saint.” (p. 1)