Review: Cat Me if You Can by Miranda James

Review: Cat Me if You Can by Miranda JamesCat Me If You Can (Cat in the Stacks Mystery #13) by Miranda James
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Cat in the Stacks #13
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on August 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Charlie Harris and his feline companion Diesel take a bookish vacation but discover that murder never takes a holiday, in this all-new installment of the New York Times bestselling series. Charlie and Diesel along with Charlie's fiance, Helen Louise Brady, are heading to Asheville, North Carolina to spend a week at a boutique hotel and participate in a gathering of a mystery reader's club composed of patrons of the Athena Public Library. In addition to seeing the local sights, the members will take turns giving talks on their favorite authors.
The always spry Ducote sisters, friends of the hotel's owners, are helping underwrite the expenses, and they've insisted that Charlie, Helen, and Diesel join them. Anxious to get Helen Louise away from her bistro for a vacation, Charlie readily agrees. While Charlie is looking forward to relaxing with Helen Louise and Diesel, other members of the group have ulterior motives including a long-standing score to settle.
When an intrusive, uninvited guest turns up dead, only one mystery club member with a connection to the deceased appears to have a motive to kill. But could the answer really be that simple? Charlie and Diesel, along with the detecting Ducote sisters, know that every murder plot has an unexpected twist.

My Review:

This is my second cozy mystery this month where a significant part of the plot wraps itself around a literary genre and runs away with it. Earlier this month, Peachy Scream was set at a Shakespeare festival, involved a troupe of actors, and used Shakespearean plot devices in both the crime and especially its solution.

Cat Me If You Can is set at an extra-special meeting of the Athena Mystery Book Club, one where the Ducote sisters, Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce, take the entire club on a trip from Athena Mississippi to Asheville North Carolina, to a historic Bed and Breakfast near the famous Biltmore Estate, to get to know each other better, discuss their favorite Golden Age mystery writers, and get an insider tour of Biltmore.

But in the middle of this private little mystery convention, murder breaks out. When the ex-lover of not one but two members of the mystery club is murdered in the B&B, followed by the murder of one of the B&B’s staff, the mystery lovers are confined to the city by the local police.

It feels like they have found themselves in the middle of one of those Golden Age mysteries, and they’re all a bit worried that it might turn out to be Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Not a comfortable prospect for any mystery fan – or possibly any guest of the inn.

But Charlie Harris, professional librarian and very amateur sleuth, is in the midst of the action – as usual. And on the case, also as usual. But in this city far away from his usual haunts, it takes the assistance of both the formidable Miss An’gel and the surprise appearance of Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry straight from the Athens PD to keep Charlie out of the official soup and on the track of the killer.

Escape Rating B+: This series is a comfort read for me, and I was VERY comfortable reading this book. The cat on my lap was even apropos to the story!

But seriously, this is a series to read because you want to find out what’s up with the cast of characters – especially Diesel – and want to see what they’re up to since last you met. That was certainly true for me with Cat Me If You Can as it brought me up to date with all of the recent goings on in Athena. (If the sound of the series appeals, start with Murder Past Due. You don’t have to read them all to get into this one, but you do need to have read some in order to care enough about the characters for this latest entry to truly appeal.)

It also, at least temporarily, dealt with one of the major issues in ongoing, small town cozy mystery series. No one in their right mind would move to Athena, as the homicide rate must be well above the national average. In a small town like this one, that would have to be noticed.

I loved the shout-out to Cabot Cove and another series of small town mysteries that stretched this particular point of credulity. Charlie Harris and Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote would have a lot to talk about – including any possible stratagems for keeping their fellow townsfolk alive!

It was good to see Charlie – and the Ducote sisters, who also solve mysteries in the author’s Southern Ladies series – get away from their usual haunts while still bringing murder along for the ride.

It was also great fun to see the way that the group’s increasing confinement to their hotel began to resemble one of those cozy, small town Golden Age mysteries that they had come to discuss. A case of art imitating life imitating art – or something like that.

And while it was lovely to see Charlie and Helen Louise finally talking about getting married – I was a bit surprised that they didn’t just elope while in Asheville – it did strain credulity a bit that Charlie brought Diesel to Asheville.

Admittedly, I love the series FOR Diesel, but the logistics of dealing with a cat, even one as well-behaved as Diesel, often seemed intrusive. Although it was even more of a stretch when Athena’s Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry showed up. The point of getting the protagonist detective, whether amateur or professional, away from home in most stories is to take them out of their setting and away from their usual support group.

That the small, understaffed Athena Police Department was willing to second their only homicide detective to Asheville – a bigger city with more resources – was either a testament to the power of Miss An’gel Ducote, a bit too much of a stretch for the long arm of coincidence, or more than a bit of both.

The best part of this one wasn’t the mystery or its solution, but the book discussions that managed to take place between bodies, interviews, gossip and speculation. That part of the story was both a mystery reader’s and a librarian’s dream. I was particularly gratified to see a shout-out to two of my old favorites, Josephine Tey’s marvelous The Daughter of Time and it’s slightly more recent (1974 vs 1951) counterpoint, Elizabeth Peters’ The Murders of Richard III.

This is a book where I came for the comfort read. Conversely, I found the story even cozier than usual because they were able to travel where real life is still in the situation where it is just not advisable. I’m always happy to see how Diesel is doing, even if he was uncomfortable during a lot of this story and probably shouldn’t have been along for this ride. I wish there had been more of the book discussions, but that might not be most readers’ cup of tea.

And I’ll be looking forward, as always, to my next visit with Diesel and his human, in What the Cat Dragged In, just in time for my 10th Blogoversary next April!

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