Thursday, May 24, 2018

Cats and Cozy Mysteries Go Together Like Scones and Clotted Cream

~ We are delighted to welcome Pat Smith as the newest contributor to The Blood-Red Pencil ~

When I think of cats and mystery novels, my mind always swings to fond memories of reading Lilian Jackson Braun's delightful 29-book series, "The Cat Who...," launched in 1966 by E. P. Dutton with the publication of "The Cat Who Could Read Backwards." Starring the intrepid feline sleuths, Koko and Yum Yum, the series clearly favors the cats as they use their abilities to solve murders with only a bit of help from their human, a newspaper reporter named Jim Qwilleran. Koko, in particular, seems to have an almost psychic ability to point out overlooked clues and evidence so Qwill can solve the crimes and see justice done. But Qwill always gives credit to his beloved cats for their assistance and shows his gratitude by spoiling them shamelessly.

While Braun was not the first and certainly will not be the last to feature a feline in her mystery novels, as both a cat lover and avid reader of mysteries, I often find myself wondering how cats came to play such an essential role in so many mystery series. They seem to be particular stars in the cozy genre, where almost every amateur sleuth has a feline companion or two.

Considering what good listeners most cats are (or pretend to be) it seems only natural that mystery writers, many of whom have real cats curled on their laps or near their keyboards as they write, should include a puss or two in their novels. With their comic antics and uncanny ability to suss out all their human's quirks, cats make the perfect foil for an amateur sleuth. And readers can't seem to get enough of the combo. According to research I conducted for this post, many cozy mystery writers who feature cats in their novels end up selling millions of books, even if they only have six or seven titles in their series.

A cat's involvement in a mystery can range from mere window dressing, such as Moishe in Joanne Fluke's Hannah Swenson mysteries, to taking the lead in solving the crime, such as Midnight Louie in Carole Nelson Douglas's Midnight Louie series.

If all Moishe does is loudly badger Hannah for more shrimp treats and listen to her talk when they're alone at home, then Midnight Louie is his polar opposite. Critics have called Midnight Louie the feline equivalent of Sam Spade. He is so dominant a feline mystery stalwart that in many of the 28 Midnight Louie books his human doesn't even appear.

In other series, such as Leann Sweeney's best-selling Cats in Trouble books, Syrah, Merlot and Chablis don't do any active sleuthing, but the three cats play an active role nonetheless. They are so critical to the emotional life of the widowed protagonist, quilt maker Jillian Hart, that the books wouldn't work half as well without them.

What's your favorite mystery series featuring cats and why does that particular series appeal to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Ms. Smith is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

13 comments :

  1. Interesting. Due to a very severe (aka dangerous) allergy to anything feline, I have never given much thought to cats in stories. However, I may just take a peek at some of the books you mention. I'm sure my allergy won't get in the way of my reading. Welcome aboard, Patricia. I look forward to more of your posts. :-)

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  2. Thank you, Linda. I am very happy to be here. So sorry about your allergy. I know cat allergies can be really fierce. :-(

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  3. Welcome to the blog, Pat! I'm a fan of Clea Simon's felines - I would call them intellectual mysteries with very smart cats!

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  4. Great to have you join us, Pat :-)

    We've just added a kitten to our household and I have to say there is a lot of material there for numerous stories, from all the research I've had to do on plants being poisonous to cats, to the fact that we keep having to shift various items onto higher and higher surfaces as she tries to jump and climb onto everything. I can easily imagine a cat causing havoc that is attributed to a burglar, and could make for a comedy of errors.

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    1. Oh, and I'm a huge fan of Koko and Yum Yum, too.

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    2. True, Elle. I always said cats are almost as much work as babies, and just as enjoyable, too. We had cats all through my children's lives, and they kept us pretty entertained.

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  5. I love cozy mysteries and I love cats, so it is double the love when they are combined.

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  6. Welcome to the group, Pat.

    If only I knew when I began my writing career to put cats in my novels, who knows where I might be today. Maybe even a bestseller.

    Janet Cantrell, aka, Kaye George, writes the Fat Cat Mystery series. There are three, and yes, they are cozies.

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  7. That's a good assessment of Clea Simon's books, Dani. She has certainly used cats to good effect in all her series.

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  8. I feel the same way, Diana. Cats and mysteries just seem to go together, probably because they are such mysterious creatures to begin with.

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  9. Polly, I'm in total agreement with that idea. I was flabbergasted when I read how many millions of books some of these authors of cozy series featuring cats have in print. Ah, my misspent youth! Instead of playing with cats, I should have been writing about them.

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  10. Pat Smith edited my book River Mourn and Sharon Woods Hopkins' book Killerwatt. Both won (in different years of course) best book of the year by the Missouri Writers Guild. Cats? We are the homeless cat center of the area. We can't bring them inside because we're allergic. We're down to one cat who kills moles. We may use her in a mystery one of these days!

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  11. Thanks, Bill. I loved working with you and Sharon on your books. You are both wonderful mystery writers.

    For those who don't know, Bill Hopkins writes an intriguing mystery series set in and around the Cape Girardeau area of Missouri, close to his stomping grounds. It stars the irascible (and entirely lovable) retired Judge Rosswell Carew, who is constitionally incapable of staying out of trouble, and his long-suffering sidekick, Ollie, a Mensa-qualified genius who cannot figure out how to stop annoying the Judge. Bill, a retired judge himself, knows whereof he speaks, and the entire series is shot through with his inimical humor. Half the time I couldn't even see the page to edit because I was laughing so hard at one antic or another that my eyes were full of tears.

    His lovely wife, Sharon writes the equally entertaining Rhetta McCarter mystery series. Much like Sharon herself, Rhetta is a classic car enthusiast and the proud owner of a fully restored '79 Camaro she fondly calls Cami. Rhetta is impulsive and given to acting first and dealing with the consequences later, which makes for a thoroughly entertaining read.

    They call themselves The Deadly Duo, and they really did win back-to-back Best Book of the Year awards from the Missouri Writers Guild. Sharon won in 2013 for the second book in her Rhetta McCarter series, KillerFind. Unbeknownst to Bill, she entered River Mourn, the second book in his Judge Rosswell Carew series the next year and it won, too. And the judging was totally blind, so wow! Visit them at: http://www.deadlyduo.net/

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.