But I Got Cat Class and I Got Cat Style*

zenasstedaureliocolumn1Ciao, my Bellas!

I am Aurelio Zen, Assistant Editor at It’s a Crime! (Or a Mystery…). Now, before I go any further, let me encourage you to pay a visit to my home blog, where She Who (thinks she) is in Charge and I always provide top-quality crime fiction information and reviews.

I’m here today on special assignment because Margot Kinberg is not intelligent enough to be worthy of being owned by a cat. Therefore there was no choice but to have me come in to discuss the vital role that cats play in crime fiction. You don’t believe me? You must certainly have been listening to a dog lately then. Let me put you right on how very important cats are in the genre.

Let’s start with Agatha Christie’s The Clocks. British Intelligence operative Colin Lamb happens to be in the town of Crowdean on his own business one afternoon when he’s quite literally run into by Sheila Webb. She’s a secretary who was sent to a house in the same neighbourhood for what she thought was a typing job. What she’s found instead is the body of an unknown man. Lamb summons the police in the form of Inspector Richard Hardcastle, and the hunt for the killer is on. There are some odd aspects of this murder, so Lamb thinks the case may be of interest to his father’s friend Hercule Poirot. It turns out he’s right and Poirot guides the investigation. Next door to the house where the body was found lives Mrs. Hemming, a widow who is servant to a houseful of cats. She is, quite naturally, far more interested in her masters’ well-being than she is in a murder, but she says something that proves to be very useful to the investigation.

Robert Crais’ PI sleuth Elvis Cole is owned by a cat. The cat, of course, chooses to remain more or less feral, but Cole sees that it’s fed and cared for and he is, in his own way, comforted by the cat’s presence. Interestingly enough, the only human who seems intelligent enough to interact properly with Cole’s cat is his partner Joe Pike. Pike is a tough guy with an interest in weapons and a background that includes military duty. He’s really not intimidated by anyone. But he also knows the proper way to relate to us feline rulers. So Cole’s cat gets along with him.

Åsa Larsson’s series includes police detective Sven-Erik Stålnacke, who is owned for a time by a cat he calls Manne. That relationship doesn’t last, but in The Black Path, he meets a widow named Airi Bylund who is very much a cat person. In that novel, Stålnacke and his partner Anna-Maria Mella are investigating the murder of Inna Wattrang, Head of Information for Kellis Mining. The trail leads to some very nasty business at the top of the corporate ladder, to say nothing of some international intrigue. But none of that matters. What does matter is that Stålnacke and Bylund are able to bond because of – that’s right – cats. Before cats, Stålnacke lives by himself, lonelier than he cares to admit. After cats? Of course – a relationship. That’s feline power.

Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman is owned by three cats. One, Horatio, shares her home and later, does his share of monopolising her lover Daniel Cohen. Chapman knows the real truth about cats: if they approve of a person, that person is probably worthy. Chapman also keeps two Rodent Control Officers Heckle and Jekyll. They ensure that mice and rats pose no threat to Chapman’s bakery and despite concerns from Health Department officials, the fact is, the Mouse Police are a much safer and more environmentally-friendly deterrent to such vermin than are traps or poison. And the Mouse Police do their jobs well. When their shift ends early in the morning, Chapman feeds them and then lets them out to get dessert from the nearby restaurant. It all works very well for them.

Fans of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series will know that she is owned by Flint. Now, Flint doesn’t stoop so low as to actually act like a human and solve mysteries. But Flint provides good company for Galloway and her daughter Kate. And to be honest, Galloway prefers Flint to most humans. As she herself puts it at the end of A Dying Fall,

 

‘My life is just me and Kate and Flint.’

 

Wise woman.

One of the most interesting crime-fictional cats is without a doubt Snowball, who runs Commissaire Adamsberg’s office in Fred Vargas’ series. Snowball’s favourite human among those on Adamsberg’s team is Violette Retancourt, and that makes sense. Retancourt is gifted with animals and she and Snowball have an understanding. In This Night’s Foul Work, the team is faced with some odd cases that could be connected. Two drug dealers have been found with their throats cut, and it looks like it could be the work of serial killer Claire Langevin, who’s recently escaped from custody. These murders could also be related to the bizarre killings of some Normandy stags. In the midst of all of this, Retancourt goes missing. At first, only Snowball seems aware of her absence (humans!!). But gradually some of the other members of the team notice that she’s gone. Finally, when she doesn’t return, the decision is taken to let Snowball track her. It turns out to be the right decision, as Snowball is able to lead the team to Retancourt. We also find out why she disappeared and how that is related to the other plot threads in the novel. Snowball soon puts paid to all of the nasty remarks made about cats’ lack of intelligence. I mean, really!

There are also several series such as Lorna Barrett’s Booktown series and Lilian Jackson Braun’s Cat Who… series where the human sleuths are accompanied by feline partners. In the Booktown series, which takes place in Stoneham, Massachusetts, Tricia Miles owns Haven’t Got a Clue, a bookshop specialising in crime fiction and mystery. In turn, Miles is owned by her feline overseer Miss Marple. That’s almost as good a name for a cat as mine. And fans of the Cat Who… series will know that in those novels, journalist Jim ‘Qwill’ Qwilleran is owned by Koko and Yum Yum, two elegant seal-point Siamese.  And of course there’s Carol Nelson Douglas’ Midnight Louie series. Fans of those novels will know that Midnight Louie owns PR freelancer Temple Barr.

There are other series and novels too of course that feature fearless felines. How could they not? Which ones do you like best?

Now, then, time for me to return to She Who (thinks she) is in Charge. What would she do without me? Ciao!

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Stray Cats’ Stray Cat Strut.

37 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Åsa Larsson, Carole Nelson Douglas, Elly Griffiths, Fred Vargas, Kerry Greenwood, Lilian Jackson Braun, Lorna Barrett, Robert Crais

37 responses to “But I Got Cat Class and I Got Cat Style*

  1. Love that song! Never tried any of the “feline” books, but maybe I’ll give one a go…

  2. Many thanks for the safe return of Aurelio! And we both thank you for the mention. Take care!

  3. Hello, Aurelio Zen! So glad you’ve popped in to restore the balance after that shamelessly self-indulgent post from Indy the other day. Dogs, eh? Always trying to be the centre of attention, when everyone knows that’s a place reserved for our superior species!

    Our favourite crime-busting cat is Whitey, owner of Reginald Hill’s Joe Sixsmith. Admittedly Whitey doesn’t do much re crime-busting, leaving all the dogsbody work to Joe (which is as it should be). But we think it’s cool that Whitey takes Joe out in the car and even sometimes to the pub. (Though we’d hate for servants to think they should always be so well treated.)

    Love your specs, by the way – very cool!
    Best wishes from Tommy & Tuppence, and our servant FF.

    • Hello Gorgeous! She let me out. A bit. ;)

    • Hello, Tommy and Tuppence. Yes, one does wonder how dogs have managed to survive this long. And that’s to say nothing of humans. Of course we do need some species to wait on us.
       
      Now about Whitey, I have to agree he’s a fine feline, if a bit too coddling of his servant. But there, Sixsmith is at least a decent human. Thanks for filling in that gap.
       
      And thanks for the kind words about the specs. They do bring out my suave side I think.

  4. Hey Aurelio Zen, did you know British crime writer Michael Dibdin named his Venetian police detective character after you?

  5. Hello, I am Lucy Locket, owner of Caron, and I applaud you, AZ, for finally taking over this blog, as all good cats should. I wanted to remind you of one of the great cats in crime fiction, a sleek black hedonist named Ember, who owns the detective Phryne Fisher. It is a little known fact that it is actually Ember who solves the crimes—Miss Fisher just relays the information, of course.

    • A pleasure to meet you, Lucy. And you are so right about Ember. What an excellent specimen of feline greatness. Erm – but did you have to announce who really solves the mysteries? We don’t want the lesser species to know… ;-)

      • AZ, dogs can’t read. Oh, I see, you meant humans, who are in there somewhere just above dogs. Well, as you know, humans are a species of limited intelligence, so it is unlikely they will believe that Ember is the real detective. So the new title for that series should be Ember’s Miss Fisher Mysteries. Or just Ember’s Murder Mysteries.

        • Caron – Well, it’s true enough about dogs. You’re right too that humans would never have the perceptiveness to understand just how valuable we cats are. So yes, I suppose Ember’s secret is safe. And you know, I do like your ideas for titles. After all, Rita Mae Brown’s owner Sneaky Pie has written a series of murder mysteries called the Mrs. Murphy mysteries. They are named, as is proper, for the cat who solves them.

  6. I have a very nice cat, who doesn’t let me sleep enough, but the only cats in mysteries I have noticed are from The Cat Who … series. I know that Marion Babson wrote several books featuring cats, but I have not read any of them.

    • Tracy – You are most fortunate to be owned by a cat. You should be grateful instead of wishing you could sleep more. And thanks for the reminder of Marion Babson’s work. She actually wrote some very fine novels, and I often think she doesn’t get enough recognition.

      • My husband reminds me that Kinky Friedman has a cat in the mystery series (and in real life). Not sure it had a name, but he loved that cat.

        • He is spot-on, Tracy! Another excellent example of how important we cats are in the genre. And that’s a series I ought to spotlight at some point.

  7. Aurelio: A short time ago I had to remind Indy that there are flaws in canine characters. Dogs, by their size and extreme displays of emotion, have created more impact in crime fiction upon me than cats. Indy was able to acknowledge there are dog deficiencies.

    I think feline reserve has left cats more often subsidiary to dogs as characters. Cats project aloofness. Dogs are great extroverts. Cat personalities have doomed them in crime fiction to be the character sleeping in the corner.

    I know you will be dismissive but I ask you to be reflective on how many times cats have lost opportunities for major roles in crime fiction because of their feline haughtiness and tart tongues.

    • Bill – It’s certainly true that cats are not always the extroverts that dogs are; we’ve better things to do than show interest in humans. But cats are inquisitive. And we can fit into all sorts of interesting places, so we can see what goes on. That helps us greatly in finding clues. As I’ve mentioned here, there are plenty of series where we do play critical roles. We just don’t go about it in as obvious a way as dogs do.
       
      Oh, and I must agree completely with you: dogs have deficiencies. Glad we see eye to eye on that.

  8. Col

    More of a dog person than a cat, so I won’t be seeking them out in any books TBH.

  9. Lovely to see you, Aurelio Zen, on Margot’s blog as well. You are an uber-cool cat. I am Zoe, the cat who owns Marina, and I’ve taken to climbing on her lap to dictate the (very) necessary revisions of her novel. But I suppose Marina will claim she wrote it all herself, simply because I joined her only last week.

    • Well, hello, Zoe. My, that’s a very pretty name. I’m sure you’re a lovely cat. Wise of you to help Marina with her novel. Humans are hopeless at that kind of thing if you leave them to heir own devices. Well, I’m sure you’ll soon have her properly trained to serve you. You’ve only been there a short time and training a human is not always easy. But you’ll get there and who knows? She may even prove intelligent enough to credit you as author.

  10. Love the post Margot and I was not aware that there were so many cats involved in crime fiction .

  11. I always enjoy meeting a cat in a novel. Lieutenant Luis Mendoza in the police procedurals by Dell Shannon (Elizabeth Linington) has several cats, including one that drinks bourbon. A cat plays an important part in one of them – can’t remember which one. In my own Cassandra James’s novels, the only character drawn from life is her cat, Bill Bailey, who is asleep on the chair next to me as I write this.

    • Chrissie – I’m so glad you mentioned the Mendoza series. Series like Evan Hunter/Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series often get more ‘press’ than the Mendoza series does, but that one’s got a solid ensemble cast. Including Mendoza’s cats. I’d forgotten about the bourbon thing until you mentioned it, so I’m glad that you did. And I think it’s great that your Cassandra James is owned by a cat. That’s only right. Little wonder you’re a talented writer. :-)

  12. kathy d.

    I love cats and dogs, and enjoy whenever either species is involved in a caper or investigation — or are just enjoyed by their humans. The Mouse Police are favorites. I think they could actually solve a case as they’re so dedicated and smart.
    And I do like Snowball and whatever cats appear in mysteries.
    Now what about a bird post? The pigeon in The Ghost Riders of Ordebec has a role, and when he begins to venture outside, the case is cracked.
    Life would be so empty without the existence of dogs, cats, all other animals.

    • Kathy – I really love the Mouse Police too. Aren’t they terrific characters? And yet, Greenwood doesn’t imbue them with human characteristics. They act like cats. The same is true of other well-written novels where cats and dogs appear. The animals matter, but they act like animals. The real world and the world of crime fiction are better because animals are in it.
       
      Maybe at some point I’ll do a bird post. there’s a lot in crime fiction having to do with birds. But first I need to clean up all the dog and cat hair on my office chair! ;-)

  13. Oddly enough, when Katie Cat came into our household, cats suddenly started showing up in my manuscripts. I guess cat people can’t help it.

  14. kathy d.

    Remember this Portuguese proverb: A house without a dog or cat is the house of a scoundrel! How appropriate for crime fiction. Maybe everyone without a dog or cat could be considered a suspect! Yikes, that could be me, but I had cats and I’m a friend to neighboring dogs and a cat.

    • Kathy – I hadn’t heard of that proverb but I like it. And yes, I think you’re in the clear since you’ve been owned by cats. And I’m sure that you’re a good friend to the dogs and cats living in your building.

  15. kathy d.

    Yes, I have pets in my life, my neighbor’s nearly 14-year-old wonderdog dachshund, whom I’ve occasionally take care of — and who has outsmarted me and done some cute, eccentric things. And her roommate, the 20-year-old cat who is moody, but who considers me in his pack.

    • Kathy – Of course the cat is moody. That is a cat’s natural right. You’re fortunate you are considered acceptable. And as to the dachshund, well, I won’t tell if you won’t. ;-)

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