Of the many subgenres of cozy mysteries, the only one that has not appealed to me is cat detective books, so Miranda James surprised me with the fun of the Cat in the Stacks series.
Narrated by archive librarian Charlie Harris, each book covers a mystery that is connected to the world of books, libraries, and archive collections. Charlie is accompanied everywhere he goes, from the Athena College library to the local French cafe and the homes of prominent local citizens by Diesel, his 36-pound Maine coon cat, the “gentle giant” who walks on a leash and greets his adoring public with affection and empathy. The books do not anthropomorphize Diesel like other cat detective books, but the cat plays significant roles throughout each book, and Charlie seems unable to write more than a few paragraphs without mentioning the reactions of Diesel to every action. The books contain great characters who entertain, especially as the series advances.
The first book, Murder Past Due, gives a fun start to the series, which only gains momentum as it continues, and I particularly enjoy the literary elements in the mysteries, which come across as intelligent without being too erudite. Two examples come from Classified as Murder, the second book in the series, and Arsenic and Old Books, the sixth.
In Classified as Murder, a rare book collector hires Charlie to discover whether one of his family members has been stealing some of his expensive books and gets murdered with peanuts, to which he is deathly allergic. Charlie and his son rush to try to catalogue all the books in the extensive library and track down the thief while trying to confirm whether the theft is the motive for the murder.
Arsenic and Old Books involves the recent discovery of the Civil War-era diaries of an ancestor of Athena’s mayor, records that she hopes will shine such a great light on her family that they will boost her son’s own political campaign. Immediately two separate women demand access to the diaries before Charlie can process them for use by the public. When he denies these women, the diaries get stolen, leaving both women the chief suspects. In Arsenic and Old Books, the investigation of this case takes place in the past through these books.
One thing intriguing about this series is the way it fights against stereotypes, beginning with the author. In the 19th century, the woman Mary Ann Evans assumed the male name of George Eliot to publish; in the 21st century the man Dean James assumes the female name of Miranda James to publish this series. In most books, the cat fanatics are women known as “cat ladies,” while this book features a man besotted with his cat. Furthermore, the cat does not narrate or show abnormal abilities in detection, and Diesel acts more like a dog than a cat in many ways, walking on a leash; comforting those who express pain or sorrow; and weighing a whopping 36 pounds, five times the amount of the poodle in the series. In one scene, the doctor is a woman, while the nurse is a burly man. Furthermore, the chemistry professor who boards with Charlie is a delightful, flamboyantly gay man, opposed to following the image of the nerdy scientist.
The choice of narrator in the audio version available through Audible.com follows the pattern of contrasts by having a woman perform this book that is written in the voice of a male narrator. Despite my initial skepticism about such a choice, Erin Bennett does a good job of reading the series and convincing the listener to forget that a woman is reading the words spoken by a man.
The series contains seven books, with six available in audio, the seventh offered on Audible for pre-order for a May 24 release. I give the whole series five stars for a really fun and intelligent read!
All seven books are available on Amazon. Follow the links in the title to order or pre-order.