Cat Breaking Free, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

Hey, so, remember how I’m all prejudiced about books? And how I’m trying to read books I’ve avoided reading? Well, I can now say I have read a cat detective novel, and that I am slightly less prejudiced toward this particular brand of story. But only slightly.

I actually found this book through an online readers advisory service (an activity for one of my library science classes), using The Eyre Affair as a starting point. I’m not really clear how this book is related to that one at all, but I’m not entirely dissatisfied with the result.

In case you’ve never heard of this particular mystery genre, and I surely hadn’t, when I say “cat detective novel” I mean “novel in which the detective is a cat.” A talking cat. Who can use the phone and stuff. No, really. Really. For real.

I have to admit that were it not for the Critical Monkey Challenge, I would have given up on this book after, oh, the first sentence, which is as follows: “‘We don’t need that bimbo living next door,’ the tomcat hissed.” But in the spirit of reading outside my comfort zone, I continued. At the fifty-page cutoff, I still had no idea what on earth the mystery of the book was, but I continued. At the end of the book, I really wasn’t sure what the point of the book was, but it wasn’t the most horrible thing I’ve ever read so we’ll call that a good thing.

The bimbo from the first sentence is a character called Chichi Barbi (no, really), who has apparently been previously involved with the tomcat’s owner, Clyde. The tomcat, Joe, dislikes her immensely (as you probably figured out), and thinks that the fact that she’s moved in next door means she’s up to no good. So Joe spies on Chichi and, conveniently, she’s up to no good. The no good is related to the burglary of a jewelry store, though Joe’s not clear how Chichi’s involved, but it’s also related to some feral cats, who can also talk and who apparently used to hang out with another of the main talking cats, Kit. So another part of the story is about Kit and how she deals with the return of these cats. And then it turns out that the first jewelry heist is just a practice run for a huge burglary spectacular, so the main talking cats go wandering about the village collecting information and calling the police with it. And then the crime is stopped. (Oops, spoiler?)

Maybe it’s because the book is in the middle of a series, but I was really apathetic about the characters. Especially Clyde. He was maybe interesting, but his personality grated on me, and his weirdness with Chichi just made absolutely no sense. And the cats seemed completely unnecessary; almost all of their detective work could have been done by a human, and some of it is done by humans even in the book! The conceit of the talking cat did not do anything for me.

But after slogging through the first two-thirds or so of the book, wondering why I was putting myself through this, I did find that I cared about the story ā€” I wanted to know more about these feral cats and I wanted to see how the mystery played out. And the ending scenes with the police sting and the rounding up of the criminals were moderately interesting. But the book is certainly no Eyre Affair and I do not plan on reading another cat detective book again (unless you’ve read one that’s really really good that you’d like to recommend).

Rating: 4/10
(Critical Monkey Challenge, Countdown Challenge: 2005, A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
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Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

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