Cat Lady Mysteries #1
By Linda Reilly
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
Here, killer, killer, killer . . .
For the first time in sixteen years, Lara Caphart has returned to her hometown of Whisker Jog, New Hampshire. She wants to reconnect with her estranged Aunt Fran, who’s having some difficulty looking after herself—and her eleven cats. Taking care of a clowder of kitties is easy, but keeping Fran from being harassed by local bully Theo Barnes is hard. The wealthy builder has his sights set on Fran’s property, and is determined to make her an offer she doesn’t dare refuse.
Then Lara spots a blue-eyed ragdoll cat that she swears is the reincarnation of her beloved Blue, her childhood pet. Pursuing the feline to the edge of Fran’s yard, she stumbles upon the body of Theo Barnes, clearly a victim of foul play. To get her and Fran off the suspect list, Lara finds herself following the cat’s clues in search of a killer. Is Blue’s ghost really trying to help her solve a murder, or has Lara inhaled too much catnip? (from Goodreads)
This delightful new series is off to a great start with two cat-loving ladies, Lara and her Aunt Fran! Okay, I admit to being a cat lady myself, even if I don’t have the eleven fur babies that Fran cares for. That’s part of the appeal of this cozy mystery. The primary appeal includes the characters, the author’s excellent writing, and of course, the cats. Family ties, snappy dialog, and behaviors breathe life into the novel, making it a compelling read.
Lara has not seen her father’s sister, Fran, in more than 16 years. When she hears that her aunt needs help, Lara leaves her part time job in a bakery and her paintings in Boston and arrives to a scene that hurts her heart. Lara’s parents moved to Sudbury from Whisker Jog, New Hampshire, and never returned to even visit Fran. Lara sent letters to Fran but never heard back from her, so she moved on with her life and activities.
Fran is understandably very hesitant to warm up to Lara, pointedly adding into conversations about how she hasn’t called or visited, even as an adult. Whether their relationship can be restored will only be seen over time. In the meantime, Lara wants to help the woman who some of the townspeople call a crazy cat lady, who is being tormented by the local bully businessman. Were it not for Lara’s best friend since 1st grade, Sherry Bowker, calling her, she would not have come to visit. And Lara is stunned at what she finds.
Aunt Fran is as intelligent and wise as Lara remembers, but has little of her old spunk, and is quickly losing mobility due to a rapidly destructive osteoarthritis. Her doctor has advised having both knees replaced, but she has nobody to watch over the cats while she is in the hospital or rehab, or help her through the initial days of her return home. Aunt Fran is also being hounded by Theo Barnes, the town bully who owns the land where Sherry and her mother, Daisy, have their coffeeshop and nearby property. He wants to purchase a strip of land Fran owns behind her home to combine with the other plots and build condos. When that isn’t stressful enough, he claims that he really owns part of that plot already. On Lara’s first night there at Aunt Fran’s, she hears a loud cry, then later hearing raised voices but seeing only Aunt Fran standing near the back shed. The next morning, Lara is outdoors, following a cat who looks like the Ragdoll cat, Blue, that she remembered from her childhood. When she loses sight of Blue, Lara finds the dead body of Theo, the bully.
It is clear that the police see Fran as a person of interest in the murder, which Lara refuses to believe. She is going to stay as long as necessary to find out who the killer in their midst is, and finds so much more even while trying to find solutions for her aunt to get the help she needs. Lara becomes adept at scooping the dozen litter boxes and feeding the cats every day. She becomes familiar with the two children that come to Fran’s after school each day, the classics book club that the inquisitive adolescent belongs to, and other townsfolk. But finding the elusive killer is also a priority so Lara can return to Boston. Leaving her beloved aunt behind. And Gideon, who she had a crush on years ago, who is now a handsome young attorney.
The characters are what drew me into Escape Claws from the first chapter. Fran and Lara are engaging, accomplished, delightful women. Sherry and her mother, Daisy, are also personable and fun. The townspeople are an eclectic mixture with the usual assortment of distinctive traits. I enjoyed meeting them and trying to determine who the bad guy/ gal might be.
And was I ever surprised! Plot twists and turns were sufficiently confusing, This well-written mystery provided entertainment even while leading me down the path to the wrong bad guy/ gal. Who the real killer is, was a complete surprise to me! While my pet suspect was indeed not the best person to have as a friend (or enemy), the killer easily had the whole town deceived. I was exceptionally satisfied with the end, and am looking forward to the next in series. Who knows, maybe the mysterious Blue will come back to visit again, too…I highly recommend Escape Claws to every cat lady who likes well-written cozy mysteries and, of course, cats!