What is more mysterious than a cat? A mystery that features cats, of course. Cozy mystery authors have found that a furry friend for their main characters can be useful in solving crime. As in real life, the level of help cats provide will vary.
Carole Nelson Douglas found her famous Midnight Louie’s inspiration in the classifieds. The ad offered a big, black tomcat, “as at home on your best couch as in your neighbor’s garbage can.” At a motel, he snacked on $1,000 koi in the water feature.
Using that description, Carole fictionalized his attitude to be the perfect foil for Temple Barr, her Las Vegas human character through 34 books. “An irresistible combination of Sam Spade and Damon Runyon,” Louie doesn’t speak “human” but narrates chapters to explain how he solved the case.
“A fan of Louie and high-fashion, shoe designer Stuart Weitzman commissioned a pair of rhinestone pumps with Louie’s cover image and gifted me with a pair,” Carole says. “Louie? He prefers wearing sharp retractable ‘shivs’ to shoes.”
Author Mollie Hunt has experience with cats in need of a new home. “Like my character, Lynley Cannon, I’m a 60-something cat shelter volunteer. Unlike Lynley, I don’t run into dead bodies wherever I turn. Scenes involving the shelter, fostering, therapy cats, and feral cats, are written from my experience.
“Each chapter of my seven Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery books shares a cat tip or fact,” Mollie says. “I love it when someone says they learned something new.”
Darlene Ryan has a split personality when it comes to writing. As Sofie Ryan, author of nine books, she has a cat character named Elvis. He adopted Sarah Grayson, owner of a secondhand upcycle shop. When she’s clearing out overstuffed homes, Elvis is in charge of mouse patrol.
As Sofie Kelly, she has written thirteen magical-cats mysteries featuring Owen and Hercules, cats who can walk through walls or become invisible at will, often helpful, always disconcerting.
“Cats become characters in a book in the same way they become part of our families in real life—they just work their way in,” she says. “Almost everything a cat has done in my books is something I’ve seen a real cat do—except for Elvis’s ability to tell when someone is lying! I like their quirky, independent personalities. I’m not going to run out of cat stories any time soon.”
Patricia Fry’s story cat, Rags, is the Klepto Cat, often finding clues to help his person, Savannah Jordan, solve the crime. “Readers worry, but he has to go where the clues are,” she says. “Putting story cats in jeopardy is difficult. I promise myself he’ll survive and won’t ever suffer. I make sure cats get the upper paw.”
Her other feline character, Olivia, developed a following on Facebook when Fry adopted her. When she was introduced in the Klepto Cat Mysteries, readers asked for more. “Each cat has a distinct personality,” Fry says.
Olivia is now the star of two Calico Cat Mysteries. “It’s a challenge to come up with stories, antics, and ‘cattitude’ for one series, let alone two, especially as there are 52 Klepto Cat books. I document Olivia’s demands, the way she screeches like a banshee and attacks the hall walls almost every morning or relaxes, paws crossed. A ritual? Olivia’s quirks help resolve a mystery or simply entertain.”
Children’s books reap the benefits of cat characters, too. Marci Kladnik wrote two books about Maggie, her Scottish terrier, who became a feral kitten’s heroine. “Barney never left Maggie’s side, wouldn’t eat without her. They were constant companions, sleeping and playing together,” Marci says. “Cats rule, as the old saying goes. I’ve had two dogs who adored kittens, a great help when I foster and socialize ferals. Maggie even attempted to teach one litter of kittens how to fetch!”
As in real life, both authors and fictional characters find cats to be loving companions, sympathetic listeners, silliness personified—until the moment they knock over a coffee cup into the keyboard.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Sandra Murphy lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with Ozzie, a Westie-ish dog and Louie, a tuxedo cat. Both are ridiculously spoiled. She is a freelance writer about all animals, eco-friendly topics, and oddball notions. She’s edited two fiction anthologies, A Murder of Crows, crime stories involving animals, and Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Stories Inspired by the Music of the ‘60s. From Hay to Eternity: Ten Devilish Tales of Crime and Deception is a collection of her own stories.
Published October 25, 2021