Review: Cat Telling Tales by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Review: Cat Telling Tales by Shirley Rousseau MurphyCat Telling Tales (Joe Grey #17) by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Joe Grey #17
Pages: 373
Published by William Morrow on November 22nd 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's Website

Even the bright seaside village of Molena Point has been hit hard by the economic downturn, bringing a rash of foreclosures in which many residents are abandoning their family pets. While feline P. I. Joe Grey's human friends join together to care for the starving cats, a fire leaves a twelve-year-old boy homeless. The body of his alcoholic guardian is discovered in the smoldering ruins, causing Joe to wonder if escape was really impossible for the elderly woman or if something more sinisteroccurred.
Meanwhile, Debbie Kraft descends uninvited on the Damens' home with her two children, claiming that her ex-husband has left her with no money and nowhere else to go. But when Joe learns that the victim of the fire was Debbie's estranged mother and that Debbie is not broke at all but carrying plenty of cash, his fur is on end with suspicion.
As Debbie's abandoned tomcat follows her all the way down the coast from Oregon with his own clues to add to the mix, Joe learns that Debbie's Realtor ex-husband may be involved in a number of intricate real estate scams. Furthermore, his sales partner may be missing, and while Joe and his pals prowl through the dead woman's house, they discover that her reclusive neighbor has disappeared as well.
But it's not until Debbie's tomcat arrives that Joe and his feline detective pals find the biggest clue of all: a grave that the cops have missed. And as the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, tortoiseshell Kit sees her own dreams coming true in the handsome new cat with whom she might share her life's adventures.

My Review:

catswold portal by shirley rousseau murphyOnce upon a time (1992) there was an epic fantasy titled The Catswold Portal, written by Shirley Rousseau Murphy. I remember it as being a lovely little story, all the better for the possibility that some cats could switch between human form and feline form, and that some cats could have human speech and human intelligence.

While there is no direct link, at least so far, it is pretty clear that at least some of the ideas from The Catswold Portal found their way into the author’s Joe Grey mystery series. Because Joe Grey and his feline friends Dulcie, Kit and now Misto and Pan, all have human-level intelligence. Old Misto also tells fabulous tales of times long ago, and may possibly link back to Portal at some point.

But in the meantime we have a marvelous small-town mystery series where the best detectives in the town of Molena Point are Joe Grey and Dulcie. Joe Grey lives with Clyde Damen and his new wife Ryan Flannery, and Dulcie lives with Wilda, former parole officer and current librarian. Kit lives with a slightly fey older couple, the Greenlaws. Misto has found a home with the town vet, John Firetti. All of their humans know that the cats are much more than they appear. Joe Grey’s very first adventure, where he discovers his newfound talents, is in the marvelous Cat on the Edge.

When Joe Grey started ordering deliveries from the local deli and charging them to his housemate, the truth was bound to come out.

But Joe Grey, along with the rest of the increasing number of hyper-intelligent felines, have found a way to put their innate and insatiable curiosity to good use. They help the local police department solve crimes. The cats phone in reports to 911, providing information that they have gathered. Sometimes they get their info by sitting under a table and looking like they are sleeping, and other times they have to break and enter, or even dig for a vital clue.

In this 17th entry in the series, we find the feline private investigators attempting to unknot what at first seems like a series of unrelated incidents. A fire kills an alcoholic old woman. The old woman’s daughter returns to Molena Point, supposedly destitute, with two children and a suspicious story about her ex-husband. Said ex-husband’s business partner seems to be missing, as does the best friend of an older woman down on her luck and living in her car.

And nearly everyone in this strange chain of events is missing a cat, or has abandoned a cat, or both. And it’s the cats who figure out how all these missing persons and their crimes tie together, from discovering that the destitute woman is carrying wads of cash to finding the two missing women buried under a decrepit house. Even though they are all afraid that they are leaving too many clues behind about their collective identity as the police department’s two best and most mysterious snitches, their curiosity won’t let them rest until justice is finally done.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up after attempting to read a book so bad that I still want brain bleach days later. I knew that Joe Grey and his pals would be an antidote for the reading that ailed me, and they certainly were.

The Joe Grey series combines the joys of a small town mystery series with the unique aspect that the private detectives are really cats. This is not like the late Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who series, where Qwill believes that Koko and occasionally Yum Yum are pointing out clues to him. Whatever Qwill thinks Koko is telling him, it is always Qwill who solves the crime.

Joe Grey, along with his friends Dulcie, Kit, Misto and Misto’s son Pan, are the detectives. One of the fun things about this series is that while the cats have human intelligence and speech, they still seem like cats. Joe Grey in particular speaks the things that we think our cats are thinking. His attitude’s feel like a cat’s attitudes – he loves his comfort and his crab salad, and thinks that humans talk too much around the things they are really thinking, and don’t say the things they really should say. Joe Grey also has the occasional existential crisis, he can’t help but use the gift he’s been given, and yet he worries about the way it has changed him and his friends.

Dulcie has learned how to use computers from her librarian housemate, and has taken up writing poetry. She loves who she is and doesn’t worry about who she used to be.

But they all worry about getting caught. Seeing a cat talking on the telephone would blow most human’s minds, and would certainly blow the cats’ collective cover. Their need to figure out a way to tell the police what is really going on and explain how the key evidence was found, especially when it is in a place that no human could find it, often takes up some of the mental powers.

Like all small town mystery series, part of the fun is in seeing how all of our friends are doing over the books. When we first met Joe Grey and his human housemate Clyde, Clyde was a bachelor who occasionally got himself involved with the wrong woman. In this book, Clyde and Ryan are celebrating their first wedding anniversary, if Joe Grey can ever manage to tie up the string of crimes that keep sending the town into crisis after crisis.

While the cats do solve the crimes and the mysteries, this particular story, set in the midst of the recent recession, has a lot to say about the human costs of the real estate crash, not just the criminal scam that is the center of the case, but also the way that so many families, when they lost everything, either abandoned or were forced to leave behind their pets, especially cats, as they moved into shelters or apartments that would not take pets. Those stories are heartbreaking, but the little town of Molena Point is doing the best it can for all its residents, including their stray cats.

Who knows? One of them might be the next Joe Grey!

2 thoughts on “Review: Cat Telling Tales by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

  1. I can’t remember where I first heard about these books, but I went on a mini-glom and read about half the series one right after the other. Then had to take a break. This review makes me think I need to get back in the swing, but maybe a tad less obsessively this time around. 🙂

    I think when I first started on the series I was anticipating more of a cozy vibe, but I think they can be quite dark. Things can get quite tense and nerve-wracking, and I may or may not have cried a bit at times.

Comments are closed.