Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cats on fire

For some readers, sleuthing felines are the cat's whiskers. There's Midnight Louis, Koko and Yum Yum, Mrs. Murphy and Joe Gray and Duclie -- and those are just the tip of hairball when it comes to detective cats.

If you don't believe that cats can solve a mystery, then you probably read works that feature a cuddly (or not) kitty companion like Sweetums, or Boy Cat Zukas, or Macavity or any of Marian Babson's feline friends from Errol and Esmond to Pandora and Monty.

If, like me, you live with a cat but give it little hope of ever solving a more weighty problem than becoming disentangled from a piece of string, then cat tales leave you cold as yesterday's cod.

Editor and publisher Otto Penzler is often misquoted as saying that he would never publish a book that featured recipes or cats, unless it was recipes for cats. He never said or wrote that. However, in his forward to Hardcore Hardboiled, Penzler said of its content: "You do not expect stories about vicars, rose gardens, tea, clothes shopping, recipes or cats (unless maybe the recipe's essential ingredient is a cat)."

But I digress.

Cats are a big deal in the mystery world and I had yet to warm to fictional fur until now. Nick Smith's Milk Treading is the story of a journalist cat named Julius Kyle, reporter for the Scratching Post, the main daily for the city of Bast, which just happens to be populated by cats.

Julius, a curious cat indeed, encounters gangs of teen cats scratching for territory, political intrigue and the love of a good feline. Julius is also the author of The Kitty Killer Cult, a mystery featuring the character Tiger Straight, and soon his real life begins to parallel his fictional one as a lone cat just trying to keep itself clean and beat a milk addiction.

Told with an edge as hard as Hammett slightly softened by the whimsy of a fairytale, this 2003 book, published in paperback by Luath Press out of Scotland, is a fun, freaky read. Next on my list: The Kitty Killer Cult by Julius Kyle (also from Luath).

Cats writing about cats. What a world.