Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Series: Joe Grey #18
Published by Avon on August 27th 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
In this latest entry in Shirley Rousseau Murphy's award-winning series, feline P.I. Joe Grey and his four-legged cohorts are plunged into a nightmarish mystery.
On the way home from visiting their friend Kate Osborne, tortoiseshell Kit and her elderly housemates, Lucinda and Pedric Greenlaw, are hurt in a terrible car crash. The accident is terrifying enough, but then two dangerous men steal the Greenlaws' Town Car, making off with a secret hoard of jewels and gold—a gift bestowed from Kate's newfound treasure. A badly shaken Kit hides from hungry coyotes in the forested hills above the highway, waiting for Joe, Pan, and their human companions, Ryan and Clyde Damen, to rescue her.
Back home in Molena Point, yellow tomcat Misto, discovering a faded photograph of a child living fifty years ago, becomes lost in his memories of that past century—while Joe Grey and his tabby lady prowl an abandoned stone cottage where they've discovered two men hiding. The cats smell mildewed money and soon smell human blood, too. Though the cats know more than the thieves about the unique items stolen, their investigation is still in trouble as they claw their way to justice.
Usually I would say that anyone who likes feline sleuths will not just love Joe Grey, but could start anywhere in his series. Although the whole thing is so much fun that starting with Cat on the Edge makes for a lovely bunch of binge reading.
However, while I definitely enjoyed this entry in the series, I don’t think it is a good place to start. Too much of the action in this one is dependent on events in the past, and on people who have been introduced in previous books. Also, unusually for the series, the focus is very much on the humans in this one. The cats take a back seat (sometimes literally) as crisis after crisis strikes their human families, and everyone rallies round to protect the most vulnerable and find the guilty parties.
Many of the events in Cat Bearing Gifts were set up in Cat Telling Tales (reviewed here). An acquaintance of Ryan’s from art school barges into Molena Point demanding free room and board for herself and her two daughters based on a short and not all that friendly relationship from several years back. Ryan packs Debbie and her two girls off to one of the houses that she and Clyde are rehabbing. While Ryan knows that Debbie won’t lift a finger for upkeep on the rent-free house, everyone involved feels sorry for Debbie’s younger daughter Tessa, who is bullied by her sister and her mother nearly to the point of abuse. Tessa is being watched out for by Pan, one of the intelligent, talking cats, and everyone is trying to find a better solution for her than either her mother or Child Protective Services.
Debbie’s mother Sammie was found murdered underneath her own house in Cat Telling Tales, but Sammie left her little bungalow to her friend Emmylou. Emmylou and Sammie were two of a kind, tough older women who lived alone and independently and took care of themselves and kept themselves mostly to themselves.
But Sammie’s brother Byerly wanders back to Molena Point several months after Sammie’s death. Byerly calls himself a hobo. He’s a wandering vagrant who has always touched base with his sister but never returned home to live. He’s also easily influenced and manipulated, and he returns to Molena Point with his ex-con friend Vic. With Sammie dead, Byerly and Vic break into a neglected cabin on the property and begin a mini-crime spree.
Vic also fences the stolen goods that Debbie shoplifts.
But the mini-crime spree turns maxi when Vic and Byerly cause a hit and run accident on the road from San Francisco back to Molena Point. They wreck their old truck, total a semi, and drive Pedric and Lucinda Greenlaw off the road. Vic beats up Pedric and Lucinda, and steals their car.
And that’s where the case really begins. Because little Kit is a witness to the original crime, and wants to make sure Vic gets his just desserts the minute she is rescued. And because the Greenlaws’ car is concealing all the mysterious, magical and valuable treasures that their friend Kate brought back from the dying world on the other side of The Catswold Portal.
A lot happens in this story, and at first it seems almost all bad. While Vic and Byerly thankfully don’t have the tools to discover the treasures concealed in the doors of the Greenlaws’ Lincoln Town Car, Vic has more than enough ambition (although not much sense) to take his possession of the big car and its keys and turn them into an invasion of the Greenlaws’ home as well as license to commit even more crimes as he hides the car all over Molena Point and tries to plot his way out of the town and his life as a hobo.
But the first thing he has to do is get rid of his injured partner Byerly. And the second thing he has to do is get one last score out of the disgusting Debbie. And last but certainly not least, Vic has to find a way to dodge the pursuit of all of the cats who are suddenly following him everywhere in town.
In the end, no one ever manages to get the better of Joe Grey, Dulcie, Misto, Pan and especially, Kit.
Escape Rating B+: Cat Bearing Gifts is quite a bit darker than many of the stories in this series. It is sad and scary to see the Greenlaws, who are fit and feisty but definitely in their 80s, brought down, even temporarily, by a nasty piece of work like Vic. There’s a certain amount of fear on the reader’s part, and definitely on Kit’s, that some of the damage may not be recoverable, or may cause lasting infirmities.
Kit is certainly forced to acknowledge that her chosen humans are elderly and that she will lose them someday in the foreseeable future, even if that day is not today. Kit discovers that one of the flaws of having human intelligence is that it means a little cat is able to see the awful stuff that’s coming. She is not happy about it, and neither are we.
Because Pedric and Lucinda are in the hospital recovering for a lot of this book, the humans are rightly taken up with that crisis. Everyone rallies round, but everyone is also too busy to pay attention to what the cats are doing. And the cats themselves are naturally distracted. They all care for the Greenlaws, and are worried. There’s also a certain amount of necessary deception on the part of both the cats and the humans to sneak Kit into the Greenlaws’ hospital beds, very much against medical orders.
So everyone is distracted and no one has the time or the energy to get together and compare notes about the strange doings the cats witness surrounding Vic, Byerly, Emmylou’s house and Debbie’s shoplifting. Everyone knows a piece of the puzzle, but there is no opportunity to put the pieces together.
While this was an interesting way for the plot to take care of what sometimes seems like feline omniscience, all the events that they watch are very sad and go on quite a while. The reader will want Debbie to get her comeuppance long before it finally does. And as is often the case where the detectives are very scattered, more than a few bad deeds occur because the puzzle pieces just don’t come together in time.
As a long-time reader of this series, I was glad to see the pieces finally connected between The Catswold Portal and Joe Grey. As someone who is fascinated by the relationship among the cats, it was really interesting to see the argument between Kit and Pan. While it is obvious that they are mates, they feel both in the human and the cat sense. Their argument about goals and purposes and futures was very human, but the motivation behind it was very cat. As was the resolution.
I’m looking forward to a happier story in this series in the next book, Cat Shout for Joy. Joe Grey and Dulcie are having kittens!