Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #12
Published by Berkley Books on January 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
When librarian Charlie Harris' daughter is falsely accused of murder, he and his faithful feline Diesel must leap forward to crack the case in this all-new installment in the New York Times bestselling series.
Charlie Harris has sworn off investigating murder and mayhem after a recent close call. Instead, he's delighted to cheer on his daughter, Laura, who's starring in a production of Careless Whispers. The theater department at Athena College is debuting the play written by a fledgling playwright with local connections and Charlie's son-in-law, Frank Salisbury, will be calling the directorial shots.
Laura is upset to learn that Luke Lombardi, an overbearing actor she knew from her time in Hollywood will also be taking part in the production as a guest artist. Lombardi arrives with an entourage in tow and promptly proceeds to annoy everyone involved with the production. When he collapses and dies on stage, after drinking from a glass Laura handed him, she becomes the chief suspect in his murder.
Charlie knows his daughter is innocent, and he's not going to let anyone railroad his little girl. So, despite his intentions to put his amateur sleuthing days behind him, Charlie has to take center stage, and with Diesel's help, shine a spotlight on the real killer.
I’ve generally enjoyed the whole Cat in the Stacks series, starting with Murder Past Due. And I’ve always felt that the amateur detective around whom this series is based, Charlie Harris, is very much, “one of us” librarians. Which seems totally right, because his creator is also a real-life librarian.
So it seemed particularly appropriate to pick up Careless Whiskers while I was attending the recent American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia, as I’ve also always said that Charlie is someone I’d love to catch a drink or a cup of coffee with at a conference.
I also picked this book because of Charlie’s “large and in charge” sidekick, his 35-pound Maine Coon cat named Diesel. I always miss our kitties when we are away, so I felt the urge to settle in with a feline book baby as my own were too far away too snuggle.
There are plenty of hints dropped at the end of the previous book in this series, The Pawful Truth, to let the reader know that this story would be focused on Charlie’s daughter Laura and son-in-law Frank and the next production of the college’s theater department.
And so it proves, with Frank directing and Laura co-starring in Careless Whispers by Finnegan Zwake. This particular production is a big part of the department’s annual fundraiser, an event where they get a relatively big name star to come to tiny Athena Mississippi for a couple of weeks to star in a play in the usually correct assumption that the big name star will draw big donor fans.
This year is not going to be their best year. Possibly their most dramatic, but even though some of that drama does occur onstage it is not of the type that contributes to a long run of any play.
Not that either Frank or Laura is all that eager to see once-upon-a-time Tony nominee Luke Lombardi “grace” their stage or their town. Laura has worked with the overacting thespian before and has no real desire to deal with him again – ever.
But as much as she can’t wait to see the back of him – she doesn’t want to see him dead. For real. On stage. On opening night.
Especially not when it looks like she’s either the prime suspect – or the next victim.
Escape Rating B-: I really, really, really wanted to get into this and love it because this series is such a comfort read for me. I adore Diesel, especially because he’s so himself and so cat at the same time – and he’s just a sweet boy and a smart cat at the cat level of smart. Not that I don’t love Joe Grey in his series, but Joe is human-smart and sometimes human-confused and human-conflicted and it’s a different experience.
Diesel is just big and perfectly cat. He’s not ordinary, but he’s not extraordinary in any way that is outside his species norms. And he’s adorable with it.
And, as I said at the top, Charlie just seems like “one of us” librarians in ways that writers don’t always get right. So when I settled in to read I thought I’d be all in – and I just wasn’t.
This entry in the series fell a bit flat for me. As I look back I’m not quite sure why, either, but it just didn’t zing or gel or any of the things that usually happen when I visit Athena.
I think that a lot of that was the theater setting. If I wanted a murder mystery crossed with Noises Off, I’d have found one. I wanted Athena and got locked in a playhouse instead. Another way I keep looking at it is that there was too much show business and not enough murder business. Or it went too far over the top in more than one direction.
First there was the business with Lombardi’s dresser and his mistress, who happened to be married to each other. And were both French and seemed more like characters from one of Moliere’s farces than even half-real people.
Especially when combined with the two men pretending to be the playwright Finnegan Zwake – accompanied by the equally farcical goings-on surrounding that red herring. Their rivalry, at least, made more sense than the French farce, but it added more comic relief than this particular story needed.
Although, now that I think about it, the real reason this didn’t work for me was its lack of dramatic tension. The blurb lures you in, as I did above, with the idea that Charlie’s daughter Laura is going to be the prime suspect in the murder. But she never really is. Even the police detective admits that she doesn’t actually suspect Laura – just that she has to investigate her enough to cross her off her list. And, while Charlie torments himself with the possibility that Laura could have been the next victim, by the time his brain starts going down that path the possibility is already over.
So color me disappointed with this entry in the series. But I’ll still be back for Diesel’s next adventure, Cat Me if You Can. I just hope that 13 turns out to be a luckier number for the series!