A Whisker of a Doubt
Cat Café Mystery
By Cate Conte
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Jeanie
It’s promising to be a picture-purrfect Christmas at New England’s favorite cat cafe . . . but instead of jolly old St. Nick, residents are being visited by murder. The fourth in a mystery series from author Cate Conte, A Whisker of a Doubt is filled with felines and crime.
The holiday season on Daybreak Island is a mixed bag for Maddie James. On the one hand, her Christmas spirit is in the doghouse after a break-up. On the other, she’s busy enough that she doesn’t have to pretend to be merry. Business at her cat café is booming, and Maddie’s care-taking of a feral cat colony in one of the area’s wealthiest communities only helps her bottom line.
But tensions between the homeowners and animal activists are escalating to catastrophic levels. . .and before long a body is found dead in a snowbank. To prove that her accused friend is innocent of the crime, Maddie will have to prowl the island for clues to the real killer before everyone on the island goes completely hiss-terical—and more than nine lives are lost. (from Goodreads)
What a great time of year to be on Daybreak Island off the New England coast! The setting and snow sound gorgeous, I was happy to be back with Maddie, her family and friends, and the mystery kept me guessing. It was definitely one of the very last bad guys I would have guessed.
Maddie has been back on Daybreak Island for less than a year and is in her happy place when it comes to spending Christmas there. After ten years in California, the only sadness for Maddie is that her grandma isn’t there anymore and the guy she started dating went off island for a few days last month and never returned. Her cat café and shelter, JJ’s House of Purrs, is successful enough that they are remodeling Grandpa Leo’s home to further accommodate its growth.
JJ is a handsome orange cat who adopted Maddie on the day of her grandma’s funeral. He followed her home and has been the inspiration for the shelter and café. Active in the pet rescue community, Maddie is, on paper, in charge of a feral cat colonies where they make sure food and water are available and cats are trapped for neutering and vaccines, then returned. A few evenings before Christmas, Maddie went to the exclusive neighborhood behind which the cats live.
When Maddie drove in, she saw her friend Katrina’s car careening out of the neighborhood. Katrina, an animal control officer and pet rescuer, was not supposed to be there by order of the police chief, as she had threatened animal cruelty charges to someone living there due to threats about the feral colony. As Maddie went back through the yard of a resident who allowed access, she noted that the next-door neighbors’ extensive Christmas lights were out, then saw something lying in the snow of the back yard. She went to see if it was one of the feral cats. Worse than a cat, it was the body of Virgil, one of the homeowners of that property, whose wife was very vocal about her dislike of cats. It looked as if he had been bashed on the back of the head.
On Christmas Eve, Katrina was arrested for Virgil’s murder, as someone saw that her car at the couple’s home that night. Grandpa Leo, who always saw Katrina as family as well as co-worker when he was police chief, hired one of the best attorneys available. Bail was posted a few days later by another old friend.
Maddie has helped solve a couple murders since moving back to the island and was not going to let one of her oldest, closest friends go on trial for murder. She and Grandpa Leo began to learn what they could about the neighborhood. Virgil and his wife June had made a few enemies in their little community, and Maddie ferreted out information from people she knew. Her mom was also ready to help in whatever way she could, and they even attended Virgil’s private funeral. What she began to learn about Virgil and some of the other residents of the neighborhood were stranger than fiction.
Each of the characters is defined so well! They are engaging, and there is just enough backstory on Maddie and her family to provide an excellent picture of them even as we continue to learn more about them. I enjoyed some of the focus on the quirkiest island character, Leopard Man, a delightful character and one of the best friends one could have. The victim was a man of many secrets, but in a good way that most didn’t know.
I like how pet rescue and feral cat colonies are a central theme of the series, as well as shelters and cat cafes for cats to find fur-ever homes. These situations are a great source of gently showing the reader about the needs of cats while providing backdrops for great mysteries. This one was a true challenge; the killer was someone I did not expect. There are several suspects who became red herrings, and my favorite one clearly wasn’t it. I was a bit uncomfortable with how the day of the murder was split into several chapters, interspersed with events taking place for the days prior to it. At times it became a little hard for me to follow. Overall, the mystery and setting are excellent, and I highly recommend it!