Cattery RowBy Clea Simon
Poisoned Pen, 238 pp., $24.95
Let's be upfront about something: This is a mystery about cats. There's a big picture of a cat on the jacket, the story's protagonist is a cat lover, and a series of catnappings features prominently in the plot.
Books like this tend to get a bad rap, and sometimes that reputation is justified. But Clea Simon, a Globe contributor, is doing her part to turn that around, with another fun and well-crafted mystery that is entertaining enough to appeal even to readers for whom cats hold little charm.
Series character Theda Krakow, who made her first appearance in last year's ``Mew Is for Murder," is a struggling freelance writer trying to make a living in Cambridge and barely scraping by. She's got good connections in the local music scene and a sharp eye for spotting the latest trends, but she's burned so many bridges that it's difficult for her to find work.
When an offer to write a cheesy profile of several ``women of the new millennium" comes along, Krakow holds her nose and takes the job. At least the article features a couple of her old friends, including a local musician who's made it big, and a cat breeder who's well known on the show circuit. Krakow is in the middle of her story when one of the women is murdered. Naturally, she is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Books like this are, by necessity, built around fantastic premises. Do freelance journalists investigate murders? Of course not. Even so, Simon does a deft job of making Krakow's sleuthing plausible, if not quite realistic. Also worth noting, and this is to the author's credit, it is the journalist and not the cats who actually solves the crime .
The plot of ``Cattery Row" unfolds rather simply, but that doesn't stop it from being fun to read. The cat scenes do tend to get old quickly. How much purring, cuddling, and petting does a murder mystery really need? Of course, that is the hook of the series, and Simon sticks to it. But the real heart of the book is in the music.
It is when the author takes the story into the nightclubs and starts to describe the rhythms and artistry of the performances that the book really comes alive. It's clear that Simon has a real love for, and understanding of, contemporary music, and that knowledge adds a unique flavor to her books that makes them stand out from the rest of the clowder of cat mysteries.
A well done example of the traditional (or ``cozy") mystery, ``Cattery Row" is a pleasant and diverting book. Simon clearly has talent, and it will be interesting to watch how her writing develops, hopefully as she expands into new areas. While feline crime novels are fine, the restrictions of the subgenre are too limiting for an author of her abilities.
David J. Montgomery is the editor of Mystery Ink (www.mysteryinkonline.com ). Clea Simon will read from ``Cattery Row" Sept. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Harvard Book Store, 1256 Mass. Ave., Cambridge.