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Do you like thrillers? Do you like cats? If your answer is 'yes' and 'yes', then the cat thrillers written by the human Rita Mae Brown and her feline co-author, tiger cat Sneaky Pie Brown, may be something for you. The series started in 1990, over the years I've read two or three books but can't remember which as the titles aren't very distinctive and I mix them up easily. Recently when browsing on Amazon I came across a cover with a cat on it, I felt nostalgic and wanted to find out if the series was still going strong, so I ordered the last paperback, No 15 (No 16 is already out as Hardcover).
The series is set in the small town of Cozet in Virginia, but in Puss 'n Cahoots Mary Minor Haristeen, aka Harry, the main human character, and Pharamond Haristeen, aka Fair, an equine vet, are on their second honeymoon which they spend in Shelbyville, Kentucky where they visit friends and attend the Saddlebred Horse Show. Although this town is a seven-hour-drive away, they take their pets with them, Mrs Murphy (a tabby cat), Pewter (a fat kitty) and Tucker (a corgi).
Soon after their arrival Harry's friend discovers that her precious heirloom pin has been stolen, the expensive (we're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars here) three-gaited mare of a beautiful film star and talented rider disappears, a Mexican groom is murdered, INS officials show up looking for illegal aliens and last but not least one of the contestants in the most difficult comp dies sitting on his horse while performing. Harry who's got a reputation for solving crimes asks herself if these incidents are connected, well, some are, some are not; the plot is well knit and can't be blamed.
Enter the pets, they aren't only clever but also well-informed about the goings-on in the world, they watch TV and Mrs Murphy also reads the newspaper together with Harry sitting on her shoulder. They can talk with each other and with all other animal species and understand humans, sadly, this is not reciprocal. So how can they make their 'Mother' become active when they've noticed something fishy going on? They've learnt some tricks to arouse her attention and lead her to wherever she's needed, it can be said that without the help of the four-legged detectives Harry wouldn't be able to find the decisive clues.
The dialogues of the animals are italicised, there isn't too much of this in the book but, of course, should you find anthropomorphised animals utterly silly, then the series is not for you. For me this is an enjoyable quirk, and I read the books because of it, not despite it. The only problem I've got with the animals is that Pewter has been a kitty for longer than some cats live at all, by now it should have grown into an elderly cat lady.
So the setting of Puss 'n Cahoots is the Saddlebred Horse Show in Shelbyville, Kentucky. What do I know? Is this a fictitious place or a real one? I googled the name and learnt that "Shelby County was the Saddlebred Horse Capital of the World". Aha. While I was at it, I also googled the author's name, why was I not surprised to find a photo showing her in riding attire sitting on a horse? She's described as an avid horsewoman and animals' rights advocate.
A story must be set somewhere and there's nothing to be said against setting it in Shelbyville, Kentucky, but there's everything to be said when nobody reins in the author (to stay in the picture) and forbids her to run wild and use a thriller to lecture her readers on horse breeding and training. Page after page we're informed with terms only the initiated can understand about pedigrees, where to find the best saddles and harnesses, the angle the tail grows out of the back of the different breeds (I *had* to know this before I die!), etc. etc. etc.
This is an absolute no-no, the author has fallen out of her role as narrator and stepped into the story as her real self. Dear Ms Brown, we're NOT interested in your knowledge of horses, if we were, we'd read a manual. Other unnerving opinions have crept in as well, for example, when mentioning the drive to the horse show and the huge car, we read that "industry pollutes more than cars", that there are no bus stops in the country and that large cars are fun. What makes these lectures even worse is that they aren't integrated into the story.
Hands off this book if you're not into the breeding of American Saddlebreds, and if you are, you won't need any advice by Ms Brown, in fact, you may even know her in person. If you enjoy a well constructed plot, though, and can find thinking and talking animals who help their humans to solve a murder case or two appealing, do give the early books of the series a go, I can recommend them.
Two and a half stars, for old times sake, let's make it three.