Tuesday, April 02, 2013
Kingdom Books is a specialty mystery
bookshop in northeastern Vermont. Beth Kanell, co-owner with her
husband Dave, writes New England mysteries, adventure travel, and
poetry, and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Dave
Kanell's sleuthing record among mystery books takes first place,
whether classic or cutting edge.
Clea Simon, PARROTS PROVE DEADLY: Pet Noir #3
Clea Simon's companion feline
is named Musetta -- and there's a photo on Simon's blog of this canny
cat, staring into the computer screen. Whether Musetta can guide Simon
in plotting, who knows? But the years of companionship show up
wonderfully in Simon's newest mystery, PARROTS PROVE
Cat mysteries have a long and honorable tradition, with the most
recognizable being the series by Lilian Jackson Braun: the "Cat
Who" books center around the life of former newspaper reporter
James Qwilleran, and his two Siamese cats KoKo and Yum-Yum. But
Braun's series was relatively light-hearted, and Simon's is ... well,
you've got the message about "pet noir," right? And
"deadly"? There are dangers and risks for animal behaviorist
Pru Marlowe, and most of them come from the owners, not their
More than dark and deadly, the Marlowe mysteries wrestle with what
humans believe about other species, and why they could be dead
wrong. For instance, the African grey parrot that's causing an
emergency call from the local senior complex keeps repeating a
frightening sequence of sounds. Is it a replay of the death of the
parrot's "person," aging and infirm Polly Larkin? An
accident being voiced over and over, due to the bird's own trauma? Or
could there be a hint from the parrot that murder took place right in
front of the bird?
Pru Marlowe isn't sure -- and that's one of the most enjoyable
aspects of this hard-working and determined sleuth: Pru questions just
about everything. She has to. Her very bright cat Wallis turns out to
be able to "speak" to Pru through a sort of interspecies
telepathy, and Wallis has scornfully made it clear to Pru that all
creatures do something of the same. But not as well as Wallis can! A
lot of cats are fluffy-minded, dogs are obsessed by their noses
announce, the ferret that Pru sometimes consults is more bite than
bright, and don't start on what squirrels and pigeons have in mind.
If she's not going to consider herself crazy, then Pru's got to pay
close attention to grasp this strange world of messages around
The thing is, parrots live a long, long time -- but they're not
bright the way Pru's tabby is. So ... what exactly did the bird
witness, and what does it mean about operations at the LiveWell
complex, and between Polly Larkin's rather unusual grown children?
Also worrying is the relative silence of guide dog that's been living
next door to the deceased -- and who seems traumatized. Pru's
worrying about it all while taking time for one of her regular
assignments, walking a tough little dog whose self-chosen name is
He lifted his leg and then with a sigh that carried a wave of
resignation, he plowed ahead toward his inhospitable
home. "Women." That I got, loud and
clear. "Don't see what's right in front of
Growler?" I stopped, and since I held the other end of the
leash, he had to, as well. He turned and eyed me, his button eyes
"The guide dog -- the one you call 'Buster'?" he broke his silence. "She's more concerned with her person than with anyone else -- and with good reason. People die there. She smells it, and I can smell it on her."
I nodded, grateful for that damp black nose. ... It was an old
folks' home, no matter what anyone called it. Death's waiting
room. Did he -- or did Buster -- mean there were suspicious deaths?
Deaths that shouldn't have happened -- what the coroner would call
misadventure? Or even murder?
"Watch what happens to that bird," Growler said,
barking once as we came up to his door. "Nobody likes a
Nobody likes a snoop, either, but that's what Pru becomes, unable
to let the circumstances rest until she knows the truth. In Simon's
quick-paced narrative, there's plenty of suspense and a very real
sense of struggle to translate what's important in the
"speech" of companion animals into something Pru can make
I enjoyed the first two of Simon's pet noir series, Cat's Can't
Shoot and Dogs Don't Lie; this one is at least as good, and
a great diversion from the gritty urban thrillers I've also been
considering this month. You don't need to have read the others
in order to enjoy PARROTS PROVE DEADLY, although they build nicely in
terms of Pru's discovery of her ability to receive animal voices and
the stresses and fractures in her life. Great series -- thanks, Clea
Simon, for this third title!
PS -- Okay, if you've read your mystery classics, you already see
the coincidence of Pru's surname in a book of noir: Marlowe, right?
Now, can you place Wallis? Hint: Don't let the spelling trap you. And
think about a noted Boston writer, one who shared the Bay State with
Clea Simon until his passing, just a couple of years back. Come on,
you can do it!
From The Conscious Cat - conscious living, health and happiness for cats and their humans
March 29, 2013
Parrots Prove Deadly by Clea Simon
Posted by Ingrid
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Clea Simon’s cat-centric
murder mysteries. I knew I would enjoy Parrots
Prove Deadly, the third in Simon’s Pet Noir series featuring pet
behaviorist and psychic Pru Marlowe – I just didn’t realize just how
much I would love it.
Pru is hired to retrain the parrot of a woman who has died in a
retirement home. The parrot needs a new home, but isn’t likely to find
one with the vocabulary of swear words he seems to have acquired, and
the dead woman’s family is hoping that Pru can help. As Pru starts
working with the bird, she is wondering whether some of the parrot’s
words are a replay of the woman’s death, and whether that death could
have possibly been a murder. The only other possible witnesses are a
blind neighbor, her seeing-eye dog, and a non-commital health care
aide. Pru can’t help herself: she begins to look into the woman’s
death, and she gets drawn into a tangled web of family dynamics,
possible land fraud, and a potential rabies outbreak.
With the help of her cantankerous tabby Wallis, a service dog
names Buster, a gay bichon named Bitsy who insists that his real name
is Growler, a ferret named Frank, and even a wild raccoon, Pru
investigates the murder.
This book has a little bit for everyone. Animal lovers will enjoy
Pru’s communications with the various animals. Mystery lovers will
enjoy the wild ride Simon takes the reader on. The pace of this story
never lets up, and I highly recommend that you don’t even start this
book unless you have a good chunk of uninterrupted time ahead of you,
because you’ll find it almost impossible to put down. Romance lovers
will enjoy the developing on again, off again relationship between Pru
and her detective boyfriend, who finds it exasperating that Pru
turns up in the middle of a murder investigation yet
The thing I love best about reading series mysteries is the
character development, and Simon is one of the masters at creating
characters with depth and substance. She does not just do this for her
human characters, this talent also extends to her animal
characters. I’ve come to love Wallis in the first two books in the
series, and I was happy that she’s even more involved in helping
Pru solve the mystery in this book. I knew next to nothing about
birds, and thoroughly enjoyed learning more about them through Simon’s
portrayal of Randolph, the African Grey central to the story. With
each book, I come to like Pru a little bit more as we get more insight
into her life.
If you’re not familiar with Simon’s fiction, this book could be a
great introduction. You can definitely read it as a stand alone,
but why not treat yourself to all three books in the series. As
with all series novels, part of the fun is not just in the story
itself, but in revisiting the characters.
Clea Simon is the author of 12 mysteries and three
non-fiction books, including The
Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their
Women as well as several other nonfiction books. For more
information about Clea, please visit
her website or
I received an advance reading copy of this book from
the publisher. Receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my
Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof
Issue: April 1, 2013
Parrots Prove Deadly.
Simon, Clea (Author)
Apr 2013. 278 p. Poisoned Pen, hardcover, $24.95. (9781464201028 ).
Poisoned Pen, paperback, $14.95. (9781464201042).
Pru Marlowe, hired to retrain a parrot after its owner’s death,
becomes intrigued when the bird keeps repeating statements suggesting
that the owner did not die a natural death. The owner’s children place
no credence in the bird’s utterances and seem more concerned with the
distribution of their father’s money. Interviews with a caretaker and
an eccentric neighbor across the hall sharpen Pru’s feeling that
something is wrong. When the neighbor is attacked, Pru uses her
ability to communicate with animals to learn more about what the
humans are up to. Meanwhile, while trying to save other endangered
animals, she runs afoul of a shady land development company. Simon’s
use of Pru’s animal whispering will be an entertaining twist to some
readers, but others may find that it muddies the plot. A good choice
for fans of Susan Wittig Albert’s Beatrix Potter series.
— Amy Alessio
From Yahoo! Voices
Clea Simon Proves Intriguing with 'Parrots Prove Deadly'
Pru Marlowe, Animal Psychic, is Back. She's Ruffling Feathers as She
Tries to Save a Miscreant Parrot
Mary Beth Magee, Yahoo! Contributor Network
Jan 23, 2013
Clea Simon relates to animals; that's clear when one reads
"Parrots Prove Deadly." As a result, her protagonist Pru
Marlowe relates to them as well. Actually, Marlowe does more than
relate to them. She hears them psychically and can, on occasion, carry
on quite detailed if somewhat erratic silent conversations with
Marlowe's skill can lead to complicated situations, such as when an
old woman's African gray parrot starts squawking some deadly sounding
statements after the woman dies. The poor bird needs a new home, but
he isn;t likely to get one with his current vocabulary. Marlowe, an
animal behaviorist, gets the call to rehabilitate the bird and finds
herself in the middle of a possible conspiracy.
Murder, rabies and apparent land fraud keep Marlowe on the run in
this high-powered mystery. Her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Detective
John Creighton, isn't thrilled with the way she keeps turning up in
the middle of police matters. Her opinionated tabby cat Wallis helps
her translate information from the bird as well as a blind neighbor's
service dog. Now all she has to do is translate it from feline!
Simon's third Pru Marlowe Pet Noir novel delivers a twisting
mystery and heart-pounding moments of sheer terrifying threats. Her
easy-to-stick with style may keep you up at night as you look for one
more clue before you close the book. The various characters are
endearing, infuriating or inexplicable.
Any animal lover will enjoy the interaction between Marlowe and her
animal informants. Mystery enthusiasts will appreciate the well
crafted plot. And the relationship between Marlowe and Creighton, with
its witty dialogue and undercurrents, will satisfy romance lovers.
If you haven't crossed paths with Clea Simon's work in the past,
it's time you did. Jump into the beauty of the Berkshires and the taut
mystery of "Parrots Prove Deadly." You may find yourself
falling under the spell of an unlikely but excellent female detective
and her friends.
"Parrots Prove Deadly" by Clea Simon
Published by Poisoned Pen Press
Scheduled release date: April 2, 2013
Bookblog of the Bristol Library
Reviews by the Reference Department of the Bristol Public Library, Bristol, Virginia
TUESDAY, MARCH 12, 2013
Parrots Prove Deadly by Clea Simon
Reviewed by Jeanne
Pru Marlowe has worked with a lot of dogs and cats in her time, but a parrot is something new. Pru is called after owner Polly Larkin has passed away in a nursing home, and the owner’s daughter isn’t eager to take on a foul-mouthed bird with the almost uncanny ability to use the most insulting phrases possible at the worst possible time. Pru is hoping her psychic link to animals will help her get Randolph in shape for a new home, but communication with the bird is proving difficult. He seems agitated, repeating certain phrases and sounds. Soon Pru begins to wonder about the “accident” that killed his owner, and to ponder if Randolph is a witness to a murder.
If it was a murder, there are any number of suspects: a down-trodden daughter who might relish no longer having her life dominated by her mother, a son who seems no more interested in his mother dead as he was when she was living, a nosy nursing home neighbor who seems to know quite a lot about Polly’s business, an aide who seems to know more than she’s saying, and a supercilious doctor who likes to pop up unannounced but be unavailable when needed. Jim Creighton, her police detective friend who would like to be a bit more than a friend, is preoccupied with another situation and doesn’t seem inclined to investigate a seemingly routine death of an elderly person at a nursing home.
Meanwhile, Pru is also dealing with a young raccoon who has gotten himself in deep trouble at a housing development with a bit of breaking and entering of his own.
All our favorite characters have returned for this third book in the series. Bitsy the Bichon, aka Growler, is still a mighty dog in a tiny body, who tolerates his insensitive owner because he has no other choice. Frank the ferret is still after his shiny objects, and Wallis the cat is still making her pungent observations. Pru has grown up a bit, become more comfortable in her own skin, and while still wary of her ability has accepted it and tries to make use of it. She’s even thawed just a bit toward Creighton, though her skittishness at relationships means there’s still distance between them. On the other hand, she still has a streak of recklessness that indicates she needs to work on her sense of self-preservation.
As I read Parrots Prove Deadly, it occurred to me that in some ways this is a New Age version of the classic puzzle mystery. Instead of having a word written in blood or a conveniently torn scrap of paper, Pru receives rather cryptic messages from creatures. Well, cryptic to humans; to the animals they make perfect sense, and they are sometimes as frustrated as Pru that the message isn’t understood. That’s one of the things I like about this series: the animals understand things in their own way, devoid of the layers of trappings that humans tend to add. They also tend NOT to meddle in or spend a lot of time commenting on human behavior.
Another part I enjoy is that Simon does her research so that she knows a bit about the behavior of parrots, raccoons, etc. Not all authors do, and sometimes I find myself questioning as assumption the character makes; it takes me right out of the story. I don’t have that problem with Simon’s work. She’s also even-handed in her treatment of some sticky issues in animal welfare, giving each side a say. Finally, I admire Simon’s restraint. It would be so easy to make the non-human characters dependent and adorable rather than adult creatures. It would be easy to ratchet up the supernatural element and jump on the mystic bandwagon. Instead, she works to make her story fit a realistic setting. The result is a classic mystery with some modern trappings, but one which will also appeal to animal lovers.
From Publishers Weekly
Parrots Prove Deadly: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir
Clea Simon. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (278p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0104-2
A parrot proves a key murder witness in Simon’s clever third mystery
featuring Pru Marlowe, a latter-day Doctor Dolittle, who practices in
the Berkshire town of Beauville (after 2012’s Cats Can’t Shoot). When
84-year-old Polly Larkin, who lives in a room with her parrot,
Randolph Jones, in a retirement complex, dies abruptly, Pru
investigates. Pru determines that someone attempted to poison Randolph
Jones, presumably to cover his or her tracks. Suspects include Polly’s
two grown children; resident gerontologist Dr. Wachtell; Polly’s
blind friend, Rose Danziger; and Rose’s aide, Genie. Pru meticulously
pieces the clues together with psychic advice from a fuzzy crew of
confidantes: her tabby, Wallis; Rose’s seeing-eye dog, Buster; Frank
the ferret; and the neighbor’s bichon, Growler. Det. Jim Creighton,
her on-again, off-again boyfriend, lends human assistance. Simon’s
pithy dialogue and distinctive characterizations more than compensate
for the predictable plot. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/25/2013
From Publishers Weekly
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: TRUE GREY
Publication: PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Issue: 22ND OCTOBER 2012
True Grey: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8215-8
An academic rival poses a threat to Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz in Simon’s intriguing fifth paranormal cat cozy (after 2012’s Grey Expectations). Melinda Sloane Harquist, a visiting scholar, is preparing to publish a biography of the anonymous 18th-century author of The Ravages of Umbria, the same author Dulcie has been researching for her doctoral thesis. If Melinda is able to publish first, Dulcie’s thesis will be ruined. When Dulcie decides to pay a friendly call on Melinda at Melinda’s university lodgings, she’s dismayed to find that someone has brained Melinda with a marble bust. To prove she wasn’t the killer, Dulcie turns for help to her usual supporters—her spectral cat, Mr. Grey; her telepathic feline, Esmé, now past the kitten stage; and her boyfriend, Chris Sorenson. Simon, who attended Harvard herself, provides an authentic and appealing view of campus life
From: Kingdom Books, Mysteries -- Classic to Cutting Edge
Kingdom Books is a specialty mystery bookshop in northeastern
Vermont. Beth Kanell, co-owner with her husband Dave, writes New
England mysteries, adventure travel, and poetry, and is a member of
the National Book Critics Circle.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Dogs, Cats, Murder, Detection -- Mixing It Up with Sparkle Abbey and Clea
Looking for dark, intense, hard-boiled thriller reviews?
Or complex political suspense laced with social commentary and
This is not your pair of reviews. Click on a different post (see
the search box at the top left of this page? type in Olen Steinhauer
or Taylor Stevens or Lee Child or even S.J. Rozan, who skirts the
darkest areas while laying out a complicated detection plot in New
York's Chinatown and ... wait a minute, you're distracting
Let's talk pets and plots.
In an unusual
twist, Sparkle Abbey (pen name
for two authors and their rescued pets), bringing out a fourth
mystery in the Pampered Pets Mystery Series, sent a review copy of
Book 1 here recently. DESPERATE HOUSEDOGS scared me off at first
-- what if the dark parts involved dead dogs or cats? This could be a
heartbreak (and gross). Well, I was wrong to wait so long. The
entirely normal dogs in this first Sparkle Abbey murder mystery do not
get stalked or wounded. On the other hand, when pet therapist Caro
Lamont pays a call on one of her California clients in posh Laguna
Beach, the two German shepherds on hand are majorly acting out. It's
actually the second day they've spent barking nonstop at the patio
doors, even though there's nobody out in the yard, and Kevin, their
owner, is understandably upset. Caro's intervention, showing Kevin how
to increase his dogs' silent times through carefully timed rewards,
lowers the volume some.
But when Kevin is murdered soon after, it takes Caro a long time to
realize the dogs' behavior might have been an understandable response
to a threat.
Admittedly, there are distractions, like Detective Judd Malone, on
the case. Let Caro fill you in: "He hadn't offered a badge or an
ID and though I truly didn't think serial killers looked like Brad
Pitt's brother and stalked pet therapists, you can't be too
careful." Then there's wealthy Sam, who's offering the kind of
dating experience that will get Caro's nagging mother off her back for
a good long time. But none of that prevents Caro from nosing around
the scene of the crime ... and getting herself into trouble with the
already mentioned "hot" Judd Malone.
Caro's persistent nosing around eventually tips the case wide
open, and DESPERATE HOUSEDOGS is a brisk, lively read, full of
socially climbing merriment, suspicious characters, and unexpected
discoveries. I enjoyed it; the sequels are GET FLUFFY; KITTY KITTY
BANG BANG; and coming this summer, YIP/TUCK (dare I guess it features
plastic surgery?). If you're already a fan of Southern California
mysteries, social entanglements, and gutsy but cute women, put the
Sparkle Abbey Pampered Pet Series on your shelf.
Now we segue into a mystery that really couldn't be more different:
TRUE GREY by Clea Simon, fifth in
Simon's Dulcie Schwartz series (after Shades
of Grey, Grey Matters, Grey Zone,
and Grey Expectations). Here's a
spooky and often danger-filled exploration of the murderously manic
jealousies among scholars seeking their reputations at a college
campus. The book opens with a nightmare: a murder of a scholar who's
trespassing on Dulcie's terrain, where new discoveries around an early
Gothic novel are about to make Dulcie's academic reputation, not to
mention her first published book.
Except that the mysterious arrival of Melinda Sloane Harquist
turns everything upside down. This new scholar on campus has some
unexplained power over the Dean that actually cuts Dulcie off from her
own research material, and more. So when Dulcie dreams Harquist has
been brutally murdered, it's a nightmare that's far too real. And she
soon discovers that the dream is only a taste of what's really
happened. Here's a murder that looks like it could easily hang the
Fortunately for Dulcie, she's got backup. (If you haven't indulged
in paranormal mysteries, here's your chance to slide into one, from
the pet side ...) Her cat Esmé is being coached by the ghost of
Dulcie's earlier pet, Mr. Grey. And the two felines will do everything
they can, from telling Dulcie to run, to encouraging her in her
investigations. But first she's got to pay attention:
Dulcie gasped, unable to breathe. The pounding in her head
threatened to take over, the noise of the fly a deafening roar as
Dulcie released the statue and it crashed, once again, to the carpet
with a deep, dull thud. Dulcie didn't hear it, though. Didn't register
the voices below her either. The last words she'd heard echoed through
her mind -- warned, she'd
heard. Three times
Mr.Grey had been trying to help her.
is currently offering three series of mysteries, and I'm definitely a
fan of her pet noir books involving animal psychic Pru Marlowe (and
looking forward to the upcoming third in that series, Parrots Prove Deadly) -- Pru wrestles
with the discomfort of realizing that the animals she helps take care
of have actual voices (some of them not at all sensible, and all of
them distinctively geared to animal hungers and instincts) and I can
identify. Simon paces her action tautly, and her protagonists are
feisty, intelligent, and skeptical. I like them!
That said, I'm more resistant to buying into the voice of a ghost cat,
talking to another cat, talking to a person ... but if anybody can
get me into this form of "pet paranormal," it's Clea Simon,
and I'll keep on reading her books. If you've always suspected your
cat really knew more than she or he was letting on, you'll savor
Posted by Beth Kanell
From Bristol Public Library book blog
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2012
True Grey by Clea Simon
Melon ponders whodunit in True Grey.
Reviewed by Jeanne
Dulcie Schwartz is just starting to see some daylight at the end of her long academic tunnel. She has a hot lead on the anonymous author she’s been researching for her thesis, and she thinks she may be ready to start writing. Then the incredible happens: a visiting scholar shows up who claims to have already found the missing novel and is about to publish her paper on the topic. Dulcie is devastated. Years wasted! In hopes of finding out if maybe there’s still something left from which to carve out a thesis, Dulcie tries to contact this Melinda Sloan Harquist despite several warnings that she shouldn’t. There is a meeting at last, but Melinda is dead and Dulcie has blood on her hands—literally.
True Grey is the fifth in Clea Simon's Dulcie Schwartz series and I think the best so far. Dulcie is a bit more settled in her life. After several false starts, she’s finally making some real headway with her paper. She and boyfriend Chris have settled into a steady relationship. Esme, the willful little kitten who captured her heart after the death of her beloved feline Mr. Grey, seems to be growing up a bit. Did I mention that Esme can talk? And that Mr. Grey is also still looking out for Dulcie? Both offer help after their own fashion, but advice from felines can sometimes be a bit obscure. Like the Oracle at Delphi, one has to attach one’s own meanings to some of their pronouncements.
I especially enjoyed these little interludes with the cats, but the whole book is fun—especially if you are or ever have been a member of the Professional Organization of English Majors. Actually, anyone who’s been involved in academia will recognize how passionate people can be over things the general public would think to be totally inconsequential. Think of the TV show Big Bang Theory, only with less slapstick and Engligh majors instead of physists. People carve out their own areas of expertise and are focused on that to the exclusion of almost everything else, so that someone studying the Gothic tradition sniffs at someone studying the Victorian era and vice versa. Simon catches the atmosphere perfectly, even having Dulcie accept being a murder suspect with relative equanimity but being shattered to learn that she’s suspected of –GASP!—plagiarism!
Another aspect I particularly appreciate is the way Simon has the story mirror some of the material Dulcie studies, with its portents and foreshadowings which the headstrong heroine ignores. Dulcie has a good number of these both from her cats (alive and otherwise) and from her New Age mother, who calls to inform Dulcie when the signs are unfavorable. Dulcie, so intent and earnest in her evaluations of fictional situations and so heedless when it comes to real life, makes me smile in recognition. I also like Dulcie’s thoughts on the anonymous author of The Ravages of Umbria and comments on the early feminist movement as she tries to reconstruct the author’s life.
The subplot with the anonymous author remains one of my favorite aspects of the books and I’m interested in seeing how it plays out. That said, I think these books can be read as standalone mystery novels. As with most series, it’s a bit better to read in order to see the character growth but it’s not mandatory.
Full disclosure: I was given a copy of the book-- or rather, Melon was given a copy of the book-- but it did not influence my review.
From the Kingdom Books book blog, May 3, 2012
Clea Simon, CATS CAN'T SHOOT: Dark and Delightful
I dare you to read Clea Simon's CATS CAN'T SHOOT -- because it's the only way you'll be convinced how good this mystery author can be, if you've already sworn to reject any book that might involve a talking animal, or a cat that picks out criminals from a line-up. Oh, I understand: Dave and I get touchy about animal mysteries, too ... But Simon's Pru Marlowe "pet noir" series doesn't purr or meow. It scrapes against bone, dark and sharp, asking hard questions about people and the malicious things they often do. The things that can involve their pets.
When Marlowe gets a call to assist the police in a "cat shooting," the animal expert is understandably furious. Who's been shooting cats? She knows people can be cruel. But it turns out that the white Persian cowering in the corner is literally a killer kitty: Evidence indicates her paw pulled the trigger on a valuable firearm that's caused the death of her owner, Donal Franklin.
Marlowe's more than just good with animals -- she picks up their thoughts from time to time. It's a mixed blessing. After all, what does a dog waiting to go outside think about? (Hint: He's gotta go. Fast.) And how much do you really want to know about a hunter's feelings toward prey -- that is, a cat toward food? Or a cat toward a weakness in its "owner"? Pru Marlowe has had reason to regret her relatively new ability to overhear animal commentary (and their insults of her), especially since she can't explain it to even her closest friends without risking being locked up, herself.
Simon's sharp, quick plotting, sturdily mixed motivations, and decisive characters move this crime fiction along briskly. And if the idea of a pet psychic is a bit outside normal beliefs, it's the only notion the reader will have to swallow against the grain; this title, like its predecessor Dogs Don't Lie, is a thoroughly enjoyable traditional mystery with a likable twist.
And actually, now you mention it ... didn't you say your cat knows which sweater is your favorite, and always chooses to curl up and shed on that one?
Simon's created a worthy shelf companion to the great early titles by Lilian Jackson Braun, with shades of Agatha Christie in the character analysis that eventually solves the crimes. I'm looking forward to more in this series. – Beth Kanell
From Richmond Times-Dispatch
Fiction review: Mysteries
By: JAY STRAFFORD | Special correspondent
Published: April 29, 2012
Numerous mystery authors write more than one series, but it's a rare occurrence for one writer to publish entries from two of them simultaneously. But that's what the versatile Clea Simon has done for the second year in a row, releasing installments from her Dulcie Schwartz and Pru Marlowe novels this month.
In "Grey Expectations" (215 pages, Severn House, $27.95), Harvard grad student Dulcie is continuing work on her thesis about an obscure, incomplete 17th-century gothic novel when she finds herself embroiled in multifaceted trouble. Two of her colleagues — Roland Galveston and Trista Dunlop — have gone missing, and so has the Dunster Codex, a valuable book dating to 11th-century England and the prize possession of Harvard's special collections. And Dulcie soon realizes that someone is trying to set her up for a big fall.
Meanwhile, she is receiving fewer messages from the ghost of her late cat, Mr. Grey, and not picking up on those from her new kitten, Esmé. But Dulcie's determination — seldom dormant — kicks in to help her unravel the disappearances.
The feline in "Cats Don't Shoot" (276 pages, Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95 hardcover, $14.95 softcover) is alive but endangered, accused of accidentally — and fatally — shooting her owner.
Enter animal behaviorist Pru, whose abilities include that of "hearing" what her charges are saying. When wealthy Donal Franklin is found dead, and his white Persian's fur and paw prints are found on the antique dueling pistol, the authorities rule the case an accident. But Pru, who has fled New York City for her hometown in western Massachusetts, isn't convinced. And her investigation propels her into a case of guns, greed and multiple murders. When the cat, who has refused to communicate with Pru, vanishes from a local animal shelter, Pru must find the real killer in a litter of suspects in this true whodunit.
Simon, a self-described "recovering journalist" who lives in the Boston area, brings talent and passion to her novels. Ailurophiles, naturally, will ind them a tasty treat — but so will readers who enjoy the author's creativity and characters who inspire great affection.
Jay Strafford is a retired writer and editor for The Times-Dispatch.
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: CATS CAN’T SHOOT
Issue: 15 TH APRIL 2012
Cats Can’t Shoot, Simon, Clea (Author), Apr 2012. 250 p. Poisoned Pen, paper, $14.95 (9781590588697).
The second Pru Marlowe mystery has the soon-to-be-licensed animal behaviorist defending a Persian cat that may have shot its owner with an antique pistol. Pru is convinced that cats can’t shoot, but the cops sure think this one did. Normally, Pru would use her psychic abilities and ask the Persian what happened, but the cat ain’t talking, leaving Pru on her own. Her first instinct is always for the animals, something the rest of humanity doesn’t always understand. In fact, Pru’s animals-first philosophy, combined with her nosy investigating, is giving her quite a reputation as an eccentric, but she doesn’t care as long as she keeps her charges safe. Pru’s strongest and clearest communication has always been with her own grumpy feline, Wallis, but she’s expanding her range to actual conversations, which turn out to be a great boon for an investigation, as animals often have evidence no one else could gather. Between the vengeful widow and a strangely similar-looking mistress, Pru is dealing with some tough women. And when a Russian mobster arrives in town looking for one of Pru’s sometime boyfriends, the tension escalates still further. Simon excels in creating unique and believable animal characters as well as diverse and memorable humans, and this sequel is just as good as Dogs Don’t Lie (2011). A perfect read-alike for fans of Rita Mae Brown and Shirley Rousseau Murphy.
From Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly, March 12, 2012
A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery
Clea Simon. Severn, $27.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8134-2
Simon’s enchanting fourth Dulcie Schwartz mystery (after 2011’s Grey Zone) finds Harvard grad student Dulcie still at work on her doctoral thesis on late 18th-century gothic fiction and still trying to identify the anonymous author of “her long-time favorite adventure,” The Ravages of Umbria. Esmé, Dulcie’s telepathic tuxedo kitten, provides distraction. When an 11th-century manuscript, the Dunster Codex, goes missing from the rare book collection in the Widener Annex, suspicion falls on Dulcie’s brash Victorian studies friend, Trista, whom the police already suspect of having something to do with the disappearance of visiting scholar Roland Galveston. Dulcie, aided by her ghostly cat, Mr. Grey, and her live-in boyfriend, Chris Sorenson, seeks to solve the puzzle, which soon takes a murderous turn. Fans of academic paranormal cat cozies will be in heaven. Agent: Colleen Mohyde, Doe Coover Agency. (May)
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: GREY EXPECTATIONS
Issue: 15 TH MARCH 2012
Grey Expectations, Simon, Clea (Author), Apr 2012. 208 p. Severn, hardcover, $27.95. (9780727881342).
The fourth in
Simon’s Mr. Grey and Dulcie series, following Grey Zone (2011),
continues successfully to marry the apparently very different
subgenres of the cat mystery and the academic mystery. Finally writing
her thesis, Dulcie isn’t in the mood for dramatics, even from her
grad-school pals. All she wants is peaceful time in the library to
continue her research. But when a rare book goes missing from a locked
archive to which only she and the other English students have access,
she must emerge from her writing fog and start investigating. Usually,
she has the ghostly feline, Mr. Grey, to help out, but he seems to
have transfered his affections and communications to Dulcie’s
boyfriend, Chris. Meanwhile, the new kitten, Esmé, continues to bite
and play more than talk. After best friend Tris disappears, Dulcie is
on her own, which is too bad because it seems that Dulcie may be being
framed for the theft. Using Dulcie’s ongoing struggles with her
dissertation to frame each entry in the series provides good
continuity and keeps readers engaged. This is definitely more than
just another cat mystery.
From The Mystery Gazette
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2012
Cats Can’t Shoot-Clea Simon
Cats Can’t Shoot
Poisoned Pen, Apr 3 2012 $24.95
In Beauville in the Berkshires, Police Officer Jim Creighton explains to pet behaviorist (and psychic) Pru Marlowe that the Persian is a “killer kitty”. Apparently she accidentally fired the gun that killed Donal Franklin. The feline’s prints are on the weapon as are feline fur. Pru looks the Persian in the eyes and asks if she did it; however, instead of “hearing” what the cat was thinking, the feline’s brain is silent as she hisses at the behaviorist before being removed.
Pru accompanied by Wallis her cat, turns to the other animal residents of Beauville for information as she is increasingly convinced the Persian is traumatized by what she saw and is not guilty of homicide. Creighton and his support team disagree so Pru knows she will need hard evidence, but Wallis becomes frustrated with her failure to truly listen; while her ex NYPD cop Tom Reynolds is in town allegedly working a case.
The second Pru Marlowe Pet Noir is an enjoyable whodunit that is similar in plot to its predecessor (see Dogs Don’t Lie) in that a traumatized pet is accused of a homicide and the heroine investigates by chatting with the animals. However this time the heroine is not the prime human suspect and Wallis refreshes the mystery with his mounting frustrations with Pru. .Fast-paced from the moment Pru drops her ire when she learns a kitty shooting literally meant a kitty shooting an owner rather than visa-versa, readers will relish this fun caper.
From Long and Short Reviews
Long and Short Reviews
Cats Can’t Shoot by Clea Simon
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Genre: Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (280 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Alice
When Pru Marlowe gets the call that there’s been a cat shooting, she’s furious. Animal brutality is the one thing that this tough animal psychic won’t stand for, and in her role as a behaviorist she’s determined to care for the traumatized pet. But when Pru finds out that the cat did the shooting – accidentally setting off a rare dueling pistol – she realizes something else is going on. Could the white Persian really have killed her owner – or did the whole bloody mess have something to do with that pricey collectible? With the white cat turning a deaf ear to her questions, Pru must tune in to Beauville’s other pampered residents – from the dead man’s elite social set to their equally spoiled pets – and learn the truth before her ex, a former New York cop, gets too close. In a world where value is determined by a price tag, only Pru Marlowe and her trusty tabby Wallis can figure out if this was a case of feline felony – or if some human has set the Persian up to be the ultimate cat’s paw.
When Pru gets a phone call asking her to respond to a cat shooting, she’s prepared to deal with a traumatized cat. However, she’s not prepared to find the cop suggesting the cat was the shooter!
This author previously published Dogs Don’t Lie which was a very good mystery, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to review this Pru mystery. Ms. Simon has made her main character, Pru Marlowe, unique. She talks to animals. I don’t mean she watches and guesses what they might be trying to communicate. She can actually talk to them through mental telepathy. It’s a real asset to her job as a pet handler and trainer. Being able to hear any animal’s thoughts around her is a bit of a detriment, though.
One of the things I enjoy about Ms. Simon’s writings is she doesn’t make her characters bigger than life. Pru is not exceptionally smart, she’s dating questionable men, and her cat even gets mad at her for not knowing more. Being compared to a kitten is not a compliment. The author also made Pru very dedicated to her work and trying to solve mysteries, so she’s a good sort overall.
This story moves along fast with several characters being introduced. Since four of them are men that Pru has dated at one time or another, it quickly becomes entertaining. All Ms. Simon’s characters are a bit quirky. She gives you the very rich and the very gossipy and mixes them with the get-rich-quick and stalwart characters. With such a rich mix of characters, you can’t help but having fun reading this author’s work.
If you like animals, that’s a plus with this series. If you aren’t sure, this cozy mystery will keep you reading to see just how Pru manages to keep her nose out of trouble and if the killer is finally found. The engaging mystery was easy to finish in one night because I didn’t want to stop reading.
Why not get a copy of this book at your local bookstore and let Ms. Simon take you into the world of Pru and entertain you like she did me?
From Animal Nation - Yahoo! Shine
Author Clea Simon on Murder Mysteries, Cats, and How She Started Writing "Pet Noir"
By Lylah M. Alphonse, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Shine | Animal Nation – Tue, Mar 6, 2012 Author Clea Simon with her cat, Musetta.
Most pet-lovers know that dogs and cats communicate regularly with their human companions. But what if they could help you solve a mystery? In her latest pet noir, "Cats Can't Shoot," author Clea Simon explores the connections between pets and their owners, weaving a complex murder mystery that appeals even if you're not a die-hard animal lover.
"In truth, I have always been a storyteller," Simon told Yahoo! Shine:. "From the earliest I can remember, I loved making up stories to amuse people. But in junior high, I was also bitten by the news bug and it quickly became apparent that there was a more clear career path in journalism."
A Long Island native who has lived in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts, since the mid-1980s, Simon spent years as a magazine editor, newspaper editor, and music critic before stepping away from full-time journalism in 1999. By then, she already had one non-fiction book to her credit ("Mad House: Growing up in the Shadow of Mentally Ill Siblings") and her second, "Fatherless Women: How We Change After We Lose Our Dads," came out soon after.
"I'll admit, in many ways it is less scary to be a journalist than a storyteller," she says. "After all, as a journalist, you are conveying information -- finding out facts that everyone needs. But to be a storyteller requires a certain confidence -- the belief that a story that you've made up out of your own head, that has no useful value, will be valued by someone. And somewhere in my early adulthood, I'd lost the confidence in my storytelling that I'd had as a child."
Her confidence returned after her third non-fiction book, "The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats," was published in 2002. The link between women, mysteries, and cats took her to the next level, and soon her first mystery series, featuring a Boston-based music reporter named Theda Krakow. Since then, she's written three full series, all with different heroines; her ninth and tenth books come out in April. (You can find excerpts of her books online at CleaSimon.com).
Shine: You wrote three nonfiction books before publishing your first pet-related murder mystery. What made you start writing mysteries? And why populate them with pets?
Clea Simon: I'd always loved animals, and animals have always played a huge role in my life. My last nonfiction book ("The Feline Mystique") let me explore history and mythology, behavioral science, psychology, you name it - all with cats. And I had a blast.
At the time this book came out (2002), I was a regular at the great Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and had come to know Kate Mattes, the proprietor. Kate had an annual holiday party at which she'd invite dozens of authors to come sign their books. I'd been to several -- the store was small and would be packed, people spilling out into the yard. It was always a blast. And Kate said to me, "Clea, why don't you come sign 'The Feline Mystique'? I'll get a bunch in." I said, "But Kate, my book isn't a mystery." And she replied, with a twinkle in her eye, "Clea, believe it or not, there's a huge overlap between women who love cats and mystery readers."
So I did, and she did, and a fair amount of wine was consumed. And then towards the end of the party, when we were picking cupcake wrappers off the bookshelves, Kate turned to me and said, "Clea, you should write a mystery." And so I went home and started one that night, which became "Mew is for Murder." She gave me permission to do what I'd always wanted.
Shine: In your earlier books, the animals don't talk, but in the later ones, they do. What happened?
C.S.: In my first four mysteries, the Theda Krakow mysteries, I was very concerned with making the cats be real animals. I was still mining a lot of the research I'd done with "The Feline Mystique," and I wanted to put animal issues front and center in each book. And so "Mew is for Murder" dealt, lightly, with animal hoarding -- the neighborhood "cat lady" is murdered. Then in subsequent books I dealt with puppy/kitten mills and pet overpopulation. I wanted to -- and I think I succeeded -- in bringing these issues up without being preachy, and in the context of a fun adventure. And, of course, I obeyed the golden rule of cozy mysteries, which is that you can kill as many people as you want, but you cannot harm an animal. I also really enjoyed portraying my characters and their pets as directly as I could -- we pick up cues from our pets all the time. They don't HAVE to talk!
Then my longtime beloved cat Cyrus died, and I had a very strange encounter. I was running down the street -- late for an appointment -- and I saw a cat that was the exact double of Cyrus, sitting on a porch, watching me. I'd never seen that other cat before, and I never did again. And so I started thinking, "What if our animals came back as ghosts to watch over us?" Add in that I spent a good deal of my undergrad career studying novels of the 18th Century - and that I've become increasingly aware of some issues that have stayed the same (mainly, the ghettoization of female authors, and of books popular with female authors). Suddenly, I had a new heroine - a bookish grad student, Dulcie Schwartz, who is studying Gothic novels and thinks she's super rational. Until she sees the ghost of her late cat, telling her not to enter an apartment where a body lies dead... "Shades of Grey" was born, and that series will have its fourth book, "Grey Expectations," out this April. Mr. Grey, the ghost cat, appears erratically, and is usually quite enigmatic, never telling Dulcie anything directly. He is not only a ghost, after all, he is a cat.
I took the next step as the result of a challenge. I was at Sleuthfest, a mystery conference in Florida, when the editor of a mystery story anthology challenged me to write a story for her. I'd been reading a lot of the new female-centered noir, books like "Queenpin" by Megan Abbot, and I just loved that tough, cool voice. But when I write, somehow, there's always an animal involved. So, sitting by the pool, I came up with "Dumb Beasts," which featured an animal psychic with a real bad attitude, who solved a mystery by the clues the animals were giving her. The key, though, was that the animals responded as animals do - the dog doesn't say, "he did it!" The dog says, basically, "Let's go out! Let's go out! Why haven't we gone out?" And the cat doesn't say, "it was a gun." The cat says, "That was loud. I hate loud."
Pru has little use for people, but she grudgingly respects animals - because they are true to themselves. That short story grew into "Dogs Don't Lie," which became a three-book series and continues this spring with "Cats Can't Shoot."
It is very important to me, in all these books, that I present the animals honestly. No, I know cats don't talk, but even when I have them communicate, I try to present them in ways that are true to themselves. I love animals, but what I love about them is their animal nature - the way they react, with their instincts, to the world. I think that if I can convey that honestly to the reader, then the reader will love these characters as much as I do - and more than if I tried to cutesy-poo them up. So, yes, several of my animals now talk, but I like to think their voices are true to who they are.
Shine: Your latest heroine Pru Marlowe can hear what animals are thinking. Are you a bit of a pet psychic as well?
C.S.: I wish -- or, no, I don't, because Pru often finds it maddening. Can you imagine the inanities the birds come up with each morning? But I do think that even we normal humans can use many of the same tools that Pru uses: if we observe our pets, we know what they are “saying.”
Shine: Have you ever worked with a pet psychic?
C.S.: Yes, for "The Feline Mystique." it was kind of hilarious. She did a consultation over the phone and my cat slept through most of it.
Shine: Are any of your heroines autobiographical? There's Pru, journalist Theda Krakow, and graduate student Dulcie Schwartz.
C.S.: I think they all contain elements of my personality. Theda's life most closely mirrored mine -- a onetime newspaper copy editor and music critic. I like to see myself as Pru, tough and world-weary. But at least one of my close friends thinks I'm much more the bookish, gentle Dulcie.
Shine: Tell us about your own pets.
C.S.: I am now serial monogamous with cats, and we currently cohabit with Musetta, a feisty but affectionate black and white ("tuxedo") medium-hair cat. She's a very different personality from the late, great Cyrus, in that he was courtly, allowed anyone to pet him, was very quiet and gentle. Musetta will hiss and meow at anyone - including me - and when she gets excited, she bites. But she's also extremely affectionate. I think she's like our little riot grrrl, whereas Cyrus was a philosopher.
When I was younger, I had a huge menagerie. Several anoles and other lizards, including a horned toad, and various turtles and hamsters, too. For a few years, I had a lovely toad named Dyatt, who overcame his fear of me and would sit nestled in my hand, enjoying the warmth. I would catch flies for him in summer, which is a very useful skill that I have retained (though i do tend to kill them now -- Dyatt preferred his prey still kicking). The first cat in my house was a big black-and-white tom named James, brought home by my brother from college. He was followed by Thomas and Tara.
Shine: Is there a real-life pet-related issue that you're particularly passionate about?
C.S.: Most of them! I'm a huge supporter of spay and neuter programs, and also of keeping cats inside. They have longer, healthier lives indoors with a modicum of care and attention, and it is better for them and for the environment. People are about 20 years behind the times with cats then they are with dogs. Nobody, well, virtually nobody, leaves their dogs outside anymore to fend for themselves. We know that these are domestic animals and we have a pact with them - to care for them as they serve and please us. We have to catch up with our care of our cats, too.
Shine: Tell us a bit about "Cats Can't Shoot," which comes out in April.
C.S.: As "Cats Can't Shoot" opens, Pru has gotten a call from the cops, telling her that she's needed to help out with animal control, there's been a cat shooting. She's horrified, of course, but when she arrives, she finds out that the cat is unharmed - but its owner is dead. It appears that the cat, a white Persian, has accidentally set off a hair-trigger antique dueling pistol. The cops had called Pru to remove the cat, which is hiding and terrified, but, of course, Pru is curious and hopes, using her special skills, to pick up something about what really happened here. However, the cat is either too traumatized to tell her, or she's losing her special gift. Then, when the widow and her much younger "assistant" start fighting over the cat, Pru knows something is going on.
Pru, by the way, has a snarky sidekick, an elderly tabby named Wallis, who has no respect for pedigreed cats like that Persian. Or anyone else for that matter.
Shine: You have another book in the works, too, don't you? Can you share a bit about it with us?
C.S.: Next month will also see the U.S. publication of "Grey Expectations," the fourth Dulcie Schwartz mystery. In this one, Dulcie finds herself under suspicion when a rare English codex goes missing - and when she discovers the dead body of the director of the library special collections, she is drawn in more deeply. Rumors have been circulating that the missing codex is haunted, but when Dulcie tries to confer with Mr Grey, he's no help at all.
Shine: Most of your pet mysteries involve cats. Why not more dogs? Are cats inherently more mysterious, do you just like them better, or is it a readership demographic issue?
C.S.: I do have a wider variety of animals in the Pru series. In fact, the first of those, last year's "Dogs Don't Lie," focused on a rescued dog who is accused of killing her owner. She's headed for euthanasia unless Pru can prove to the world what she knows - that Lily would never have killed the man who gave her a new life. There's also a recurring character, a very macho bichon frise, in that series, who acts as a kind of Greek chorus. He's the canine equivalent of Wallis. Please don't tell Wallis that, though!
Dogs and other animals will probably always be secondary characters in my books, though. I don't write with reader demographics in mind. I can't; I just write what I love and at heart, I'm a cat person. There are great dog mysteries out there - I recommend Susan Conant's books highly - but I don't know them as well and so I don't write them as naturally.
Copyright © 2012 Yahoo Inc.
From Bookblog of the Bristol Library
Reviews by the Reference Department of the Bristol Public Library, Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2012
Grey Expectations by Clea Simon
Reviewed by Jeanne
Things finally seem to be looking up for graduate student Dulcie Schwartz. She’s settled in with her boyfriend Chris after her own apartment was destroyed and things are good between them. Her new kitten Esme is becoming dearer to her every day, even if she does like to nip. Dulcie still gets a word or two of comfort and wisdom from her dearly departed cat, Mr. Grey, although he insists on being cryptic. Best of all, she is finally making some progress on her thesis about The Ravages of Umbria, an incomplete gothic novel written in the eighteenth century by an unknown author. Dulcie is determined to try to identify her and try to discover what happened to this courageous, free-thinking woman. Dulcie’s so obsessed that she’s begun to dream about her.
A frantic phone call turns everything upside down. Dulcie’s friend and fellow student Trish calls to say the police have been by to question her and that she’s suspected of homicide. In her efforts to help, Dulcie finds people sometimes aren’t who they claim to be, that books may be haunted, and a valuable clue to her mystery author may be hiding in plain sight.
This is the fifth in the Dulcie Schwartz series and for me, it’s the most successful. Simon has found the perfect tone—voice, if you will—for Mr. Grey and Esme, and given Dulcie some much needed stability in her life. She feels more comfortable with herself. Having a ghostly guide is a problematical thing in most books; either our heroine (it’s usually a she) keeps fighting the idea or else serves as a deus ex machina to clear up plot lines. Having a ghostly guide who’s a cat may sound just too precious for words, but it’s handled very well. Mr. Grey, while offering a word or two, believes kittens, be they human or feline, need to find their own way in the world; he tends to limit his comments to general instructions, such as “Things are not always as they seem.” Mostly he is there for a bit of psychic moral support which Dulcie needs after a life of near-rootlessness and abandonment by her father. I especially like the dynamic in this book between Mr. Grey and Esme, who have brief conversations; he treats Esme much the same way he treats Dulcie.
Equally pleasurable is the parallel that runs between Dulcie’s life and that of her unknown author. Dulcie is so close to the work that she doesn’t see, leaving the reader to feel a bit like Mr. Grey, knowing that we see something Dulcie can’t. The cast of characters, especially Dulcie’s New Age mother, are likeable. English majors will identify with Dulcie’s frustrations in researching and proving her thesis, but non-academics won’t have any trouble following that aspect of the book. In fact, I’m beginning to become as curious as Dulcie as to who this author might have been!
In short, this is a good solid mystery which is fun without being silly, and which melts my cat lover’s heart whenever Esme and/ or Mr. Grey are on the scene!
From MBR Bookwatch April, 2011
At Harvard, graduate student Dulcie Schwartz has completed all her classes except for her dissertation on the anonymous British author of a two-century old gothic novel. Besides wondering who the author was, Dulcie would like to know why the unknown author stopped writing.
However, she will soon be engulfed in a real world mystery. Signs seem everywhere asking whether anyone has seen a missing former student Carrie. Dulcie saw Carrie with a man before she knew people were looking for her. After sending an email to Carrie's contact address, the woman seeking Carrie, Corkie asks Dulcie to contact her. Dulcie searches for Corkie, finds her but she runs into a building and to the stairs. Seconds later Dulcie learns Professor Fritz Herscloft just jumped out of a window to his death. Later she finds out he was murdered. Dulcie worries someone she knows might be the killer and that she may be in danger as she has a lot of so-called accidents. Making matters more complicated is that her beloved late feline Mr. Grey, whose spirit guided her, is contacting Dulcie less and less; while her impish kitten Esme is not assisting her at all. As she digs deeper, falling concrete injures Dulcie who now knows she is in danger.
The latest Dulcie Schwartz paranormal amateur sleuth (see
Shades of Grey
) is a delightful cozy starring a young female who fears her late significant other Mr. Grey is moving on at a time she needs him though even she knows he is a crutch. Both cats are involved in trying to keep their human pet safe though it is not easy to do as the heroine has a tendency to stick her nose into dire situations. Readers will enjoy wintry Cambridge as Dulcie struggles with closure from the loss of her loved one, her dissertation, and her investigation.
Dogs Don't Lie
Pru Marlowe returned to her Berkshire hometown to escape all the animal voices running through her head. She tells her neighbors that she came back to care for her mother, but Pru knows the real reason is to obtain some quiet time.
An animal psychic, Pru makes money walking dogs and training animals. However, the animal behaviorist becomes concerned when Lily the pit bull rescued from the fighting ring dog is accused of killing her mangled owner Charles. Pru tries to listen to Lily's chatter, but the canine is confused by the tragedy and other nasty events in her life though she obviously witnessed the murder. Still Pru feels for the dog so she decides to investigate with Wallis her grouchy cat at her side insisting canines are notorious liars. Pulling a Dr. Doolittle, she listens to the animals chat and finds clues to the homicide while also learning more about the town she grew up in while also trying to help the two females in the life of the late Charles, Lily and his fiancee Delia Cochrane. However, Pru also knows if she clears the dog, she becomes the replacement prime suspect.
The first pet noir whodunit is a fun whodunit even with the animal noise level (mostly from that opinionated darn cat) greater than the Dr. Doolittle movies. The investigation is refreshing as Pru seeks clues from animals especially the traumatized eye witness, but is limited with what she can share with the cops as talk to the animals is fiction. Fast-paced with several terrific twists and spins, readers will enjoy
Dogs Don't Lie.
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: GREY ZONE
Issue: 1 ST MAY 2011
Simon, Clea. Grey Zone: A Dulcie Schwartz Mystery. Severn House. May 2011. c.216p. ISBN 9780727869920. $28.95.
Graduate student Dulcie Schwartz and her ghostly feline, Mr. Grey, return in a third academia-set cozy.
Dulcie, stressed with midterms and a new thesis adviser, is also having dreams about the author of Ravages of Umbria (her thesis subject) that have her convinced that the author was in someway silenced in 1794. And then she not only witnesses a suicide but thinks one of her undergraduate students may be involved. The fast-paced story is propelled by Dulcie’s frenetic investigations and harried personal life, but unlike in many cozies—in which the mystery plot is lost amid the personal detail—here the many scenes from Dulcie’s life actually support the main story, whether they are Dulcie’s phone calls with her commune-dwelling mother, Dulcie’s kitten troubles, or her worries about long-time boyfriend and fellow grad-student, Chris. A must read for series fans, the novel should also be suggested to Lauren Willig and Jennifer Lee Carrell readers.
From Richmond Times-Dispatch
Published: April 03, 2011
Mysteries: Felines, canines and plotlines
By JAY STRAFFORD
Anyone who has ever been the human companion of an animal, particularly of a dog or a cat, knows that inter-species communication is no myth. This reviewer knows a Chihuahua who becomes ecstatic and zips into the kitchen at the words "cottage cheese." And we all have been made aware in hard times how our pets realize instinctively that we need comforting.
Which brings us to Boston-area crime novelist Clea Simon, who infuses her mysteries with human-pet interaction and whose books are models of the whodunit genre. In a somewhat rare occurrence, she has published two books simultaneously, one the continuation of a series and the other the beginning of one.
"Grey Zone," the third entry in the series featuring Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz, finds our heroine still working on her doctoral thesis, still teaching undergraduates, still missing her beloved late cat, Mr. Grey (who's known to remain communicative), and still growing accustomed to Esmé, her new kitten.
But life isn't all purrs and research. Her new faculty adviser scoffs at the direction her work seems to be going: Dulcie is now trying to prove not only the identity of the 18th-century novelist she's studying but also that the mysterious woman was murdered. Then there's the problem of the Harvard Harasser, who's making life miserable for female students.
Meanwhile, a former student of Dulcie's, Carrie Mines, goes missing, and a psychology professor, Fritz Herschoft, appears to have taken a dive out his office window. But the cops rule out suicide, and a plethora of Dulcie's pals are among the suspects.
Dulcie, of course, is too inquisitive — and she cares too much for her friends — to simply leave matters to the police. In doing so, she risks her life. But in the end, Mr. Grey and Esmé come through, and all comes right.
Simon's talent sparkles in a true puzzler, Dulcie shines with sympathy, and the story stresses the gravity of sexual harassment.
"Grey Zone" shows again that the animals in our lives are much more than our pets. It's a lesson that they know innately and prove every moment of their — and our — lives.
* * * * *
Fans of Gary Larson's "The Far Side" comic strip are likely to remember his parody of "Perry Mason," in which a cow leaps up in the back of a courtroom and says, "All right, I confess! I did it! That's right! The cow! Ha ha! And I feel great!"
In "Dogs Don't Lie," the opener in Simon's projected series featuring animal behaviorist Pru Marlowe, it's not a cow but a pit bull who's the suspect.
Pru, who's 33, has returned to her hometown in western Massachusetts after finding her New York City life a bit overwhelming. And she's not just a behaviorist; she's an animal psychic who can hear what animals are saying (and they can hear and communicate with her, too).
Far-fetched? Not really, given Simon's emphasis on strong women and animals in her books. This time, Pru has been training Lily, a pit bull rescued by computer programmer Charles "Chuck" Harris from a life of abuse. But when Pru visits Charles' house for a training session with him and Lily, she finds a horrifying scene: a dead Charles, his throat ripped out, and a distraught Lily, her muzzle covered with blood.
Pru is convinced of Lily's innocence and sets out to prove it (with some timely help from her senior tabby cat, Wallis — and, when the cops get doubly suspicious — her own). As is her wont, Simon peppers "Dogs Don't Lie" with a cast of credible culprits. Was the real killer Delia Cochrane, who claimed to be Chuck's fiancée, or Mack Danton, Chuck's business partner, or Chris Moore, Delia's previous boyfriend, or someone else entirely?
"Dogs Don't Lie" differs from "Grey Zone" — but not in ways that affect either's likability. Pru is independent, somewhat antisocial and fully smart-alecky, while Dulcie is none of the above. With that distinction driving the tone, "Dogs Don't Lie" has a more tongue-in-cheek feel.
With a clever plot, a surprising conclusion and another amiable heroine, "Dogs Don't Lie" has all the earmarks of the beginning of a successful series. It's a doggy departure from her body of work, but Simon brings her usual skills — and her great heart — to another story that animal lovers and mystery fans will lap up.
From Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly, March 21, 2011
Grey Zone: A Dulcie Schwartz Mystery
Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7278-6992-0
In Simon's spirited third
Dulcie Schwartz mystery (after 2010's Grey Matters), Harvard grad
student Dulcie continues to work on uncovering the identity of the
anonymous female author of The Ravages of Umbria, an 18th-century
gothic novel. But the death of psychology professor Fritz Herschoft,
an apparent suicide, as well as the disappearance of a former student
of Dulcie's, sophomore Carrie Mines, distract her from finishing that
darn thesis. Dulcie's evolving relationship with fellow grad student
Chris Sorenson further complicates her life. The appealingly earnest
Dulcie reveals a sweetly eccentric side through her psychic
communications with Mr. Grey, her ghost cat sidekick, and her new
telepathic kitten, Esmé Strange dreams and Mr. Grey's sporadic
assistance steer Dulcie toward a most elusive killer. Fans of Shirley
Rousseau Murphy, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Rita Mae Brown should
enjoy this feline whodunit, the best in the series so
From Library Journal
Author: CLEA SIMON
Title: GREY ZONE
Publication: LIBRARY JOURNAL
Issue: 1 ST
Simon, Clea. Grey Zone: A Dulcie Schwartz Mystery. Severn House. May 2011. c.216p. ISBN 9780727869920. $28.95.
Dulcinea Schwartz’s life as a Harvard grad student is more complicated than most. She’s a bit psychic; has a ghost cat, Mr. Grey, for a muse; and is already known to the local police for earlier cases (
). And then she just happens to be on the scene when a professor falls to his death from his department’s building. At the same time, her research into a 1794 feminist author’s writings has stalled, and this gives Dulcie horrible nightmares that further complicate her thinking.
For those seeking mysteries with a gothic twist, Simon offers a supernatural cozy that also weaves in real-life issues (e.g., sexual harassment of students). Readers will relate to the academic politics and might also like Emily Arsenault’s
The Broken Teaglass
as a similar suspense puzzle. Or for the paranormal element, consider Sue Ann Jaffarian’s “Ghost of Granny Apples” series.
By Jo Ann Vicarel
Mar 1, 2011
Dogs Don’t Lie.
Simon, Clea (author).
Apr. 2011. 256p. Poisoned Pen, hardcover, $24.95 (9781590588604); Poisoned Pen, paperback, $14.95 (9781590588628).
REVIEW. First published March 1, 2011 (Booklist).
Pru Marlowe has recently returned to her hometown in
the Berkshires, ostensibly to care for her dying mother. In reality,
she fled New York when she was weeks away from completing her degree
as an animal behaviorist, having endured a nervous breakdown caused by
her sudden ability to hear animals. Only a few months later, after
setting up shop as an animal trainer, Pru finds her best client dead,
his throat ripped out, and his newly adopted pit bull, Lily, standing
next to him, covered in blood. Spurred on by the desperate cries only
she can hear, Pru commits herself to saving Lily and solving the
murder. Simon writes a high-quality cozy mystery, well paced and
plotted, with plenty of twists, and set in a New England small town
full of intriguing characters. Pru’s struggles to deal with her
abilities make this stand out among other animal mysteries, and the
sad story of Floyd, the heart-broken Persian, will touch the heart of
cat lovers everywhere. Recommend this series to fans of Blaize Clement
and Rita May Brown (especially those who have grown weary of the
Mrs. Murphy novels). Watch this series closely. It could well sprint
to the top of the animal-cozy genre.
— Jessica Moyer
From Library Journal
By Jo Ann Vicarel
Mar 1, 2011
Simon, Clea. Dogs Don’t Lie: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir. Poisoned
Pen. Apr. 2011. c.250p. ISBN 9781590588604. $24.95; pap. ISBN
9781590588628. $14.95. M
Berkshires pet psychic Pru
Marlowe finds her highest-paying client dead in his living room with
his throat torn out. The prime suspect is the victim’s
blood-covered pit bull, Lily. Trying to save Lily places Pru squarely
on the path to danger.
VERDICT Simon, author
of the Theda Krakow (Probable Claws) and Dulcie Schwartz series
(Grey Matters), launches a delightful new pet series that will
appeal to fans of Shirley Rousseau Murphy and Rita Mae Brown.
From Hey, There's A Dead Guy in the Living Room
February 12, 2011
Can a book with a cat be taken seriously? (Answer: yes).
Robin Agnew (Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI)
While I often am approached by writers
wanting to send me ARCs and have me read, possibly review them, and
certainly try to sell them, it’s not often that I say “yes,” send the
ARC, and less often when I actually read and enjoy them. However,
such was the charm and erudition of author Clea Simon (who I hadn’t
heard of, despite the fact that she had nine books to her credit) that
I agreed to an ARC. When she contacted me a few months later - I’d
set it aside, because it was so far ahead of when the book came out -
that I thought, OK, I’ll give it a try. I even thought my daughter
had squirreled it away with her when she went back to college, because
it has the magical word “dog” in the title. After frantically
contacting Poisoned Pen for another copy, lo and behold, it turned up
on one of my dining room chairs, and now I felt well and truly
obligated to read it.
The title of the book
is Dogs Don't Lie, and
it will be published by Poisoned Pen Press in April. I wasn’t too
hopeful when I discovered that the premise was that the main
character, Pru Marlowe (yes, a nod to the great one) can “hear” what
animals are saying and thinking. But somehow, the premise works. I
asked Clea if she herself was psychic, as her character is, and she
answered “I wish I were psychic....I do end up getting the strong
feeling that my cat is trying to tell me something, if only I weren’t
too stupid to hear it.” The rest came about from necessity. “I
really wanted to write a bad girl heroine for a change. How did she
become a bad-girl animal psychic? I don’t know, except that I also
knew I wanted her to have a snarky cat as a sidekick and I guess I
needed a way for them to communicate.”
The detail Simon brings to her premise
is what sells it. For one thing, many of the animals she communicates
with have a name they’ve given themselves, not the same one their
human owners have given them. Pru walks a Bichon named Bitsy whose
private name is actually “Growler.” The premise that kicks off the
book is that a rescued pit bull Pru’s been helping to train is found
in a room with it’s dead owner, his throat ripped out. The cops are
pretty sure it’s an open and shut case, and impound the dog, though
naturally, this being a mystery, things are more complex than they
appear on the surface. So while the storyline is somewhat dark in
itself, it’s leavened by the interactions Pru has with various animals
throughout the book, parts of the story I began to look forward to,
especially when it came to a Ferret named Frank (Bandit to it’s
This is the kind of cozy that’s kind of
a half breed. While Pru communicates with her cat, it’s not a story
that easily vacates your brain after you close the book; it’s pretty
vivid and memorable. The pain of the pit bull who is incarcerated in
the pound is very moving, and Pru herself is undergoing a type of
midlife crisis, something I asked the author about as she’d apparently
left her job as a journalist to become a writer. She says her first
few books were autobiographical, and “It takes a while to think you
can just make up stories that anyone would want to read.” While this
book isn’t really autobiographical, Simon deftly captures the
unsettled quality of Pru’s life and the fact that she’s on a personal
journey, one that looks like it will take more than one book to
When I asked Clea about her own
personal reading tastes, they were much darker than what she writes -
Megan Abbott, Henning Mankell, Tana French. She says “I guess I go
for character as much as anything, although a good plot...can keep me
going too.” Simon’s book has the sharp kind of character detail I
think she herself appreciates. Her crisp writing and polished plot
are a pleasure from start to finish.
by Clea Simon
Severn House, March 2010
Dulcie Schwartz has more than her share of
tribulations. A PhD English student at Harvard, she is saddled with
Professor William Bullock for her dissertation director, a cranky,
demanding professor who wrote a major work twenty years ago, leading
to an endowed chair in the department; he hasn't written a word since,
but keeps promising a new book.
The subject of Dulcie's dissertation is THE RAVAGES
OF UMBRIA, a fragment of a Gothic Romance novel she has
uncovered. Unfortunately, she can't find the name of the author of the
book, nor can she unearth a complete copy. To compound Dulcie's woes,
after she leaves Professor Bullock's home, following a very
unproductive session, she stumbles over the body of Cameron Dessay, a
recent recruit to the English department from Comparative
As Dulcie tries to find the person responsible for
Cameron's death, she receives sage - if often enigmatic - advice from
the specter of her beloved and wise cat, Mr Grey. Having toiled in the
groves of academe for over thirty years, I can vouch for Simon's grasp
of that world. Plagiarism is all too frequent, as is Professor
Bullock's habit of passing off as his own the research done by a
While the plot is engrossing, the book's strength is
in the characters. Simon has crafted a very well defined cast...all of
whom are dependent on Professor Bullock for their careers. Dulcie is
charming, if often befuddled; her usually genial office mate, Lloyd,
is protecting Professor Bullock in order to keep his financial grants;
Polly, another graduate student, who is Bullock's housekeeper and
gofer, is sadly ageing without degree or prospects. Roger Gosham, the
craggy and rude bookbinder and rare book dealer lives on Bullock's
patronage. Most engaging are the two adorable cats, the wise, old Mr
Grey and the feisty kitten who has attached herself to Dulcie.
Harvard may never be the same.
Mary Elizabeth Devine taught English Literature
for 35 years, is co-author of five books about customs and manners
around the world and lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Devine, May 2010
From Bristol Library BookBlog
THURSDAY, MAY 13, 2010
Mystery in Grey
Grey Matters by Clea Simon (F SIM Main)
Reviewed by Jeanne
Since it’s well known that I am owned by multiple
cats, it’s no surprise that I’d seek out this series about a woman who
receives messages from a ghost cat. It’s also no surprise that I
enjoyed it. The surprise is that this mystery is firmly rooted in
reality, no “Ghost Whisperer” nor “Medium” otherworldly intervention
in discovering whodunit.
Dulcie Schwartz, the grad student we first met in
Shades of Grey, is up against a deadline that may determine her
future. Her advisor is pressuring her to show “significant progress”
on her doctorial thesis. If she fails to do so, she could lose the
grants which allow her to stay in school. The problem is that Dulcie
feels she HAS made progress, more than enough progress, but Professor
Bullock doesn’t seem to think so. Actually, Dulcie has serious doubts
that he’s even read her notes and he doesn’t seem to remember from
time to time what they’ve discussed.
It doesn’t help that Dulcie’s friends, including her
boyfriend, all seem to be too wrapped up in their own lives to offer
her much solace. She still misses her beloved Mr. Grey, the late
feline who was her confidant, and friend. Since his demise, Dulcie
feels that he’s also been something of an advisor, albeit a very
cryptic one—a fact she’s keeping mostly to herself. People seem to
behave very oddly when told about communications from departed pets;
and Dulcie’s reputation is already a bit tarnished by being one of
those English majors with her head lost in mists of early Gothic
She comes down to earth when she stumbles upon the
corpse of a fellow grad student littering the path to Professor
Bullock’s house. Cameron Dessay had been handsome, charming, and
apparently well-heeled, on the fast track to a degree. He had a fancy
car, fancy clothes and a playboy reputation, but could any of these
things have resulted in murder?
Not that this is any of Dulcie’s business, not
really. She just has a cat’s curiosity. Besides, Dessay’s death is
affecting her department in strange ways and there seems to be
something going on with Professor Bullock, upon whom Dulcie’s future
largely depends. As she tries to unravel these mysteries, Dulcie
becomes aware that a lot of people around her seem to be keeping
secrets. The question is, which of these are dangerous?
I found Grey Matters to be even better than the
first book. There is much to like. Dulcie herself to start, a bookish
heroine with her head as much in literature as in her own life. Now
able to deal with the loss of Mr. Grey, she’s more able to focus on
her studies but still a bit adrift in her personal life. The new
supporting characters/suspects are interesting: Polly, an adoring
student who has served as an aide for the Professor for so long that
no one is sure she is actually a student anymore; seemingly nice guy
Lloyd, who shares an office with Dulcie but who doesn’t share a lot of
information; Gosham, the rare book dealer and restorer who seems to
have more than a professional interest in Polly; and Raleigh, the
annoyingly beautiful and brainy English major who seems to be vaulting
over others on her way to the top. Lucy, Dulcie’s mother who lives on
a commune and believes herself to be psychic, is another favorite
character. The star, of course, is Mr. Grey, Dulcie’s late feline
companion. He dispenses advice in a patient but somewhat distant
manner, allowing Dulcie to figure out situations on her own, rather
like Master Po and Grasshopper. The academic setting is another plus
for me, reminding me of my student days. (We won’t discuss how very
long ago that was.)
I also liked the fact that Dulcie doesn’t set out to
solve the murder. At times I’m willing to suspend disbelief and allow
that bookstore owner/author/caterer/whatever can become involved in
one murder after another, but on occasion I do pause and wonder why on
earth the police are letting Mary Smith question felons. Dulcie’s
contacts with suspects are natural and reasonable.
Then there’s the matter of “woo woo,” the
supernatural elements of the story. In the first book, Simon tried to
leave doubt in the reader’s mind as to whether or not Dulcie really
was hearing from Mr. Grey. In this book, she drops that sort of
pretense but refrains from using the ghost cat as a deus ex machina,
solving all the mysteries. In fact, Mr. Grey probably isn’t at all
interested in anyone except Dulcie and he seems to regard her as a
kitten who needs to find her own way. The little twist at the end
utterly delighted me. Frankly, I liked the change: I don’t like it
when an author drags out the “is it real or not?” over multiple
books. I feel they need to commit, one way or the other, and decide if
there is a supernatural element or if there is not. Simon has made her
choice and I approve. Mr. Grey is a much less intrusive guide than,
say, Aunt Dimity, so people who don’t care for ghostly characters
shouldn’t find it a problem. No crimes are solved due to otherworldly
intervention. (No disrespect to Aunt Dimity is intended, by the way. I
do enjoy Nancy Atherton’s series, but some folks just don’t want to
read a mystery with ghostly interventions.)
There’s a bit of a twist at the end, nothing
earth-shattering, but it certainly has me anxious for more. The next
one will be a definite Must Read for me!
Grey Matters (Dulcie Schwartz)
by Clea Simon
Review by Gayle Surrette
Dulcie Schwartz is having a difficult time adjusting to the new
kitten that replaced her beloved Mr. Grey. The kitten just doesn't
speak to her nor does it have the solemn manner of Mr. Grey. But,
there are other matters even more important. Dulcie's advisor,
Professor Bullock, wants to see real progress on her thesis, but the
problem is that he's also being erratic. Just when Dulcie thinks
things can't get any worse, she nearly trips over a dead body
leaving the professor's house. Who would want to murder a grad
Grey Matters is the second of the Dulcie Schwartz feline mysteries,
the first book Shades of Grey set up the characters that continue in
this installment. However, Grey Matters can definitely stand alone
as I had no difficulty having missed the first book. Dulcie is a
third-year graduate student living in Cambridge, Massachusetts
studying a Gothic novel, the Ravages of Umbria. She's found an angle
that no one else has looked at before and she needs to convince her
advisor to let her run with it. However, after a short and
frustrating meeting, she discovers a body of a fellow student on the
Thus begins a series of events that pulls Dulcie further and further
into confusion as she tries to regain her balance. It doesn't help
that Dulcie's mother, who believes herself a psychic, begins to call
and leave cryptic messages. Then there's her boyfriend working
longer hours and not available for support or comfort. It's no
wonder that Dulcie, dwelling on the murder, finds herself trying to
figure out how it happened and who did it.
Once again, Clea Simon has written a satisfying mystery with
interesting characters, none of whom can be mistaken for the other,
enough red herrings to confuse the issues, all the clues out in the
open, and a realistic tale of academic politics and snobbery in a
tight economy. The subtitle of the series is “a feline
mystery” and cats are involved. Dulcie talks to her cat and
believes it could talk back. Her mother believes that a cat is
Dulcie's spirit guide. Even with this bit of woo-woo, the mystery is
solved the old-fashioned way by gathering clues and trying to fit
the pieces together. While the cat or cats may speak to Dulcie,
they're an eccentricity more than a deus ex machine.
Very enjoyable and entertaining.
From Richmond Times-Dispatch
JAY STRAFFORD TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
February. 28, 2010
Back-stabbing, jealousy and gamesmanship. Is it
corporate America? Or could it be academia? In Grey Matters (232
pages, Severn House, $28.95), the second installment in Clea Simon's
series featuring Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz, it's definitely
This time out, Dulcie is continuing to research her
thesis, a study of an obscure Gothic novel of the 18th century whose
author is unknown -- and whose identity Dulcie is trying to
discover. But after a meeting with the professor who's her faculty
adviser, she stumbles over the body of a fellow grad student outside
the adviser's posh house.
Dulcie soon realizes that something is wrong inside
that house, and it may be connected to her adviser, or two of his
assistants, one of whom also serves as a semi-housekeeper, or a dealer
and repairer of old books. Meanwhile, Dulcie believes she's getting
hints and warnings from her late, beloved cat, Mr. Grey, and she's
having a hard time bonding with her new kitten.
With skill and style, Simon fashions a true
whodunit, a look inside the cutthroat academic world and an homage to
the pets we've lost but who remain forever in our hearts. It's a
tricky trifecta, but Simon makes the leap with catlike grace.
Title: GREY MATTERS
Issue: 1ST FEBRUARY 2010
Grey Matters,Simon, Clea (Author),
Mar 2010. 240 p. Severn, hardcover, $28.95. (9780727868404).
Simon’s second Dulcie Schwartz mystery picks up a few months after the end of
Shades of Grey (2009), with Harvard doctoral student Dulcie deep into
her fall semester, overloaded with grading papers and concerned about
getting her adviser’s approval on her thesis. Then she finds the
body of a fellow graduate student on her adviser’s front step. The
ghost of Mr. Grey, her deceased cat, returns to offer his usual
cryptic advice, and her new kitten takes a noncommittal stance toward
crime-solving, leaving Dulcie on her own to try and find the real
murderer before the killer finds her. While the cats are an important
part of the book, they are not an overwhelming presence, in fact, the
academic setting is a much stronger part of the novel’s appeal,
making this easily recommendable to readers who enjoy Lauren Willig’s
Pink Carnation series or Jennifer Lee Carrel’s literary thriller
Interred with Their Bones (2007), which also has significant scenes
set in Harvard’s Widener Library. A solid follow-up to an
From Richmond Times-Dispatch
Fiction review: five mysteries
JAY STRAFFORD TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Published: September 27, 2009
You're without a definitive idea for a thesis,
you've had to have your beloved cat put down, you're working
temporarily in a corporate snakepit, you've discovered your
temporary roommate's murdered body -- and you're suspected of
Grad students' lives aren't generally this
complicated, but Clea Simon makes it all work in Shades of Grey (216
pages, Severn House, $28.95), the first in her projected series
featuring Dulcie Schwartz. The author of four books featuring
Cambridge, Mass., rock journalist Theda Krakow, Simon steps boldly
onto a new path with Harvard student Dulcie.
And though this is a fine whodunit, it's not just
another mystery. Simon gives it a hint of the supernatural -- Dulcie
thinks the spirit of her late cat, Mr. Grey, is trying to warn and
protect her -- as well as subplots involving hacked computers and
Dulcie's an intriguing and sympathetic lead
character, Simon's plot is well-conceived and the feline angle
satisfies without being overplayed. And "Shades of Grey"
reminds us that our pets are never gone from our hearts. Give this
one a blue ribbon.
From The Sacramento Bee
Simon makes her elements of the supernatural work in `Shades of Grey'
Oline H. Cogdill
PUBLISHED WEDNESDAY, AUG. 12, 2009
-"Shades of Grey," by Clea Simon; Severn House (216 pages, $28.95)
easy to get caught up in the adventures of grad student Dulcie
Schwartz in the start of this new series by Massachusetts author Clea
appealing Dulcie is at a crossroads in her life: She's looking for a
thesis topic in gothic literature; her best friend and usual roommate
is gone for the summer; and she's just had to put her beloved cat,
Mr. Grey, to sleep. To add to her woes, Tim, her housemate for the
summer, is a self-centered jock who has little patience for education
and a snobby girlfriend.
soon thinks she's in a gothic novel herself when Tim is killed. The
trauma of having someone murdered in her own home is hard to
comprehend. Now his girlfriend keeps coming by looking for something
hidden in his room.
temp work in an insurance agency takes a weird turn with computer
viruses and petty thefts. Then there is the little matter of the
ghost of her cat that she swears keeps popping up.
makes her elements of the supernatural work by keeping this aspect as
believable as possible in "Shades of Grey." Simon brought
that same sense of realism to her four cat mysteries by showing how
the felines enhanced the lives of their owners. In that series, she
never stooped to making detectives out of the cats, as have other cat
mysteries. She brings the same standards to "Shades of Grey."
also layers on the gothic ambience as she shows the joys of a library
and the terrors it can hold after dark.
is a likable, intelligent young woman who also often says the wrong
thing and worries that she doesn't always fit in. She aces the test
of realism in "Shades of Grey."
From Library Journal
Title: SHADES OF GREY
Publication: LIBRARY JOURNAL
Issue: 1ST AUGUST 2009
Shades of Grey, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (240p),
Sept 2009, ISBN 978-0-7278-6781-0
Graduate student Dulcie Schwartz is working as a
temp and renting a room to another student for the summer to make ends
meet. When her roommate is murdered, Dulcie hears her dead cat’s
voice warning her about dangers. Verdict This series launch by the
author of the Theo Krakow series (Cries and Whiskers) is for readers
who like their feline cozies mixed with a touch of the
Title: SHADES OF GREY
Issue: 1ST AUGUST 2009
Shades of Grey, Clea Simon. Severn, $28.95 (240p), Sept 2009,
Twentysomething Dulcie Schwartz is a doctoral student at Harvard,
struggling to find a thesis topic, mourning her recently deceased cat
Mr. Grey, and working a summer temp job. Then, one afternoon, she
thinks she sees Mr. Grey and believes he warns her not to go
home. When she enters her apartment, she finds her despised subletter
dead with her knife in his chest. Mr. Grey, Dulcie’s mother informs
her, is her spirit guide; that’s fortunate because Dulcie could
certainly use extraterrestrial help, seeing as she finds herself
suspected of both murder and hacking into her computer system at
work. Well paced and tightly plotted, Shades of Grey debuts a
promising series from the author of the Theda Krakow mysteries
(Probable Claws, 2009). With scholar Dulcie as the main character, and
most of the action taking place on the Harvard campus and inside the
Widener Library, it should appeal to a wide audience, including fans
of both cat cozies and fiction that uses an academic frame story
(Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation,
From From January Magazine
FRIDAY, JUNE 26, 2009
Author Snapshot: Clea Simon
We engage with the work of the authors we love on many levels. In the
case of fiction, that engagement is often about a careful blend of
passion and voice. In non-fiction, it seems to me it’s about
heart and sincere understanding of the material under study. It’s
why the authors who excel at both fiction and non are rare. Those
four things -- passion, skill, heart and research -- are unlikely to
surface in a single person. When it does crop up, more often than
not, the writer in question is a journalist.
Clea Simon is not the exception to the rule. A respected journalist whose
credits include The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Rolling
Stone, Ms. and Salon, Simon wrote three critically acclaimed works of non-fiction before penning her first novel, 2005’s Mew is for Murder, the first in a series of popular mysteries featuring Boston rock
journalist, Theda Krakow and her well loved cat, Musetta. The fourth
book in the series, Probable Claws (Poisoned Pen Press), was published in April. Despite the punny titles and the strong cat connections, Simon points out that the cats in her books don’t talk. In fact, Simon has referred to the books featuring Theda and Musetta as “kitty noir,” something she says with a smile but is only half-joking about. And she’s right:
there is a whiff of the darkness at the edges of the tales she’s chosen to tell here. Murder, mystery and music via the Boston club scene
that Simon herself knows very well. A strong core of animal rights
and welfare run through Simon’s books, though never in a
self-righteous way. Readers knowledgeable about animal protection
issues will find themselves nodding in agreement, those who aren’t
will find knowledge shared in an interesting way.
Mystery, music, nightclubs, animals in danger: on a certain level, it’s
an unlikely combination, yet, somehow, it works very well. And why?
That special blend, I think: passion, heart, understanding and voice,
voice, voice. Simon’s is as strong and clear as the passion she
brings to the stories she tells.
A snapshot of... Clea Simon
- Most recent book: ProbableClaws
- Born: East Meadow, NY
- Reside: Cambridge, MA
- Birthday: July 27 (I’m a Leo!)
- Web site: www.cleasimon.com
What’s your favorite city?
Well, I adore Cambridge, where I live, but I’d have to say New
Orleans. Not sure I could live there, but I need regular fixes, for
You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
Eat oysters at Acme, browse the “early novel” shelves at
Beckham’s Books (where I have found many wonderful, sentimental
turn-of-the-20th century finds), stop in at Louisiana Music Factory,
and then head out to Tipitina’s, where through some marvelous
happenstance Rebirth is opening for, oh, let’s say Dr. John. If
there’s any time left, I’d end up at Coop’s or
Clover Grill before the celestial ride home.
What food do you love?
Easier to say what I don’t... um, all seafood? Pheasant, quail, and
andouille gumbo? Spicy boiled crawfish? (Can you tell I’m
recently back from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest?)
What food have you vowed never to touch again?
The pre-cooked crawfish that a dear friend had shipped to me as a
present. Very well intentioned. Very scary.
What’s on your nightstand?
Lens cleaner, a glowing squirt frog to squirt water at the cat when she
gets rambunctious at four a.m. (the fact that it’s a glowing
squirt frog helps), the books from the pile up the side of the
nightstand that are leaning onto it for support. Clock radio set on
the local college station.
What inspires you?
Talking with friends about making art (music, painting, writing).
What are you working on now?
I have just sent the sequel to Shades of Grey
off to my agent. I’m sure she’ll suggest more revisions
before we send it to my editor, but right now, I’m catching up
on a lot of freelance and other things that had been pushed aside.
Shades of Grey
is the first in a new series, slightly paranormal, that Severn House
will publish in September, but the sequel, tentatively titled “Grey
Matters,” is due on May 31. It’s very odd to be finishing
up the sequel before having any real-world feedback on the first
book, but I’m grateful for Severn’s interest! At some
point, I want to start revising my tongue-in-cheek pet noir, find a
publisher for that...
Tell us about your process, please.
Although I try to write mornings, these days I find myself needing to get the
money work (editing, mostly) done first and the creative stuff really
kicks in mid-afternoon. I usually write to a word count (i.e., 1,000
words a day), five days a week. And although I have a basic idea of
the book’s direction and a white board with sticky notes all
over it of ideas I’ve had that often make little sense within
24 hours (such as “He has green eyes!” Or “Lloyd
shows up at Bullock’s”) I tend to need to write the book
out, then revise it to make sense.
Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
My iPod recharging, my various cat fetishes. A wilting daffodil and the
cereal bowl from my breakfast.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I always knew that’s what I wanted. It just took a few years (as
a journalist, an editor and in various other publishing jobs) before
I realized it was feasible.
If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?
Pulling my hair out? I don’t know. Probably just cooking a lot more, or
maybe studying zoology. I always wanted to be a herpetologist. But
that’s because I love frogs and toads. I hated having to
To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
This one changes. But I still have saved, on my answering machine, my
agent singing “It’s beginning to look a lot like
Christmas...” from December, when we got the Severn House
For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
The dress code. Right now, I’m wearing sweats and big fuzzy socks.
Several years ago, I gave away all the suits I had from my days
working as a magazine editor.
What’s the most difficult?
The waiting. I don’t even mind the rejections so much as the
waiting. When someone rejects something, you can revise it and send
it out again. But not knowing? The worst.
What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
Where do I get my ideas? To which I don’t have a good answer. Also,
if my heroines are me. To which I can only say, all my characters are
part of me.
What’s the question you’d like to be asked?
like to be asked about specific plot or character developments in the
book -- why did this character do that? More generally, how do your
What question would like never to be asked again?
“Why don’t you send a copy to Oprah?”
Please tell us about Probable Claws.
It’s the fourth, and I suspect maybe the last, Theda Krakow mystery. Theda
has reached a turning point in her life. Her friends’ lives
have all changed: Bill, her boyfriend, has retired from the police
and is managing a jazz club, a job that takes a lot of his time.
Bunny is about to become a mother. Violet is fully ensconced in her
own relationship and her shelter work. The newspaper business is
changing. Theda has to figure out where she stands in this new world,
and there are no easy answers. It’s funny, because my editor
thought it should be obvious that the next step for Theda is to get
married. I don’t think it’s obvious. I think that things
cannot stay the way they have, but that she has legitimate concerns
and interests pushing her various ways.
This is all set against a backdrop of a very real, and possibly
unresolvable conflict in animal welfare: the issue of euthanasia.
Nobody wants to kill healthy animals, but there are too many cats,
dogs, etc., for shelters to care for. So lots of places are trying
innovative campaigns to reduce the necessity of euthanasia -- better
matching people and pets, fostering animals, etc. -- but it’s
an asymptotic approach to the absolute of eliminating the practice.
And there is a lot of tension between shelters with different
philosophies, a tension ratcheted up by the struggle for funds. Well,
it seems perfectly reasonable to me that in this conflict, you might
have a murder. A “no kill” murder, if you will.
Because, oh yeah, there’s also a murder!
Tell us something about yourself that no one knows.
I was about to type, “I’m very lazy at heart and only write
out of fear of deadline.” But a lot of people know that. So,
um, I’ll have to come up with something else. But then I’d
have to kill you.
From Richmond Times-Dispatch
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER, April 26, 2009
The scene is a well-tested mystery
convention: The hero (or in this case heroine) discovers a body,
picks up the murder weapon without thinking, is found in that
position and is charged with murder.
That's the situation facing rock
journalist Theda Krakow of Cambridge, Mass., in Probable Claws (264
pages, Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95), Clea Simon's fourth installment
featuring Theda and her cat, Musetta. But unlike some mysteries that
combine felines with felonies, Simon's have a hard edge. And Theda is
an all-too-human protagonist as she struggles with career, boyfriend
and other life issues.
"Probable Claws" mixes
serious reality -- pet-food contamination, euthanasia and
professional back-stabbing -- with absorbing fiction, and Simon
combines it with well-conceived characters we've come to appreciate,
a prose style that suits them and an attitude that far surpasses the
cute cat cozies that have become an overpopulated subgenre in the
mystery field. With panache and perception, Simon delivers another
Contact Jay Strafford at (804)
649-6698 or email@example.com
From Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly 2/2/09
Probable Claws Clea Simon. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (264p) ISBN
Music journalist Theda Krakow once again proves a
feisty and determined sleuth in Simon's lively fourth cat-themed
mystery (after 2007's Cries and Whiskers). Theda alternates between
the cat world, dominated by her pet, Musetta, and the Boston area
music scene, about which she writes for local magazines and
newspapers. When her retired policeman boyfriend, Bill, buys into a
successful club that's a cop hangout, Theda can't help feeling a
little jealous, though she admits she also has a problem with Bill's
attitude—he's too patronizing. Meanwhile, contaminated cat kibble at
the animal shelter run by her friend Violet may be the work of a
poisoner. When Theda, guided by blood on Musetta's paw, discovers
Rachel, a shelter vet, lying on the treatment-room floor with a fatal
stab wound, she gets arrested for Rachel's murder. Well-drawn
characters, a plot with many strings to unravel and plenty of
appealing cats make this another winner for Simon. (Apr.)
Probable Claws: A Theda Krakow Mystery
by Clea Simon
Review by Gayle Surrette
Poisoned Pen Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781590585641
Date: 10 April 2009 List Price $24.95
Violet calls to warn Theda that someone is
poisoning cats and that the shelter cats are all ill. Theda rushes
over to find that while she's been nursing her wounds over her
argument with Bill, she's somehow lost touch with Violet, the music
scene (that's the core of her writing), as well as with Bill. She
offers her help to Violet to learn the source of the donated
poisoned food. Before long, she's finds her reputation as a writer
is being questioned, she's accused of murder, and she and Bill have
some serious talking to do.
The Theda Krakow
mysteries just keep getting better and better. Theda is finding
that Bill's jazz club is finding its place in the music scene and
she's feeling a bit jealous since it seems like its been so easy
for him. She's worked hard to gain her column and to make the
connections among the club, players, and musicians in the Boston
music scene, and she's feeling left out. She also feels something
is going on and she can't quite put her finger on it.
Once again, Theda has to put her investigative
journalist abilities to the test; this time to keep herself out of
jail, and the best way to do that is to find the real
killer. However, it's hard to find your center when your
relationships are seeming to slip through your fingers, and it's
hard to tell a brush off from a real need to put things off until
Over the series, I've come to care for these
characters and enjoy the interactions between them. Simon gives the
reader a true feeling of being a part of a community in these
books. The characters are solidly build and have roots,
interrelationships, fears, joys, sorrows, and history. They're the
people you'd like to spend time with if you happened to live in
The plots are always plausible within the context of
the narrative and while I sometimes rage at Theda's decisions and
actions, they nonetheless logically follow from her character and
background. If you haven't tried any of the previous books, you
could just jump in with this one as they can stand alone. If you
enjoy Boston and would like to, for the duration of a book, feel
like you're in the city, give these stories a try.
While cats are a strong element in the stories, they
don't talk and they don't solve crimes. Theda owns or is owned by a
lovely cat. Her best friend runs a shelter, and most of her friends
have feline companions. Many times the plots have a element that
deal with pets, animal shelters, and responsible ownership and
Probable Claws is no exception. These are good
mysteries that will also touch your heart.
From Mystery Book Review
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Mystery Book Review: Probable Claws by Clea Simon
Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is
publishing a new review of Probable Claws by Clea Simon. For our blog
readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication
on our website.
Clea Simon A Theda Krakow Mystery
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover) ISBN-10:
1-59058-565-8 (1590585658) ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-565-8
(9781590585658) Publication Date: April 2009 List Price: $24.95
Review: Freelance music journalist Theda Krakow is
arrested for the murder of an animal shelter veterinarian in
Probable Claws, the fourth mystery in this series by Clea Simon.
Theda has a wide sphere of friends but they all have something in
common: their love of cats. One friend, Rachel, is the veterinarian
at the local animal shelter. Another friend, Violet, manages the
Helmhold House for Wayward Cats. When it becomes apparent that many
of the cats at the Helmhold House are very ill, Violet calls
Theda. They come to the conclusion that a bag of kibble bits cat
food may be contaminated. Theda takes a sample to Rachel for
testing who determines it was tainted with some kind of
alkaloid. Someone accidently or intentionally dropped cocoa or
chocolate, or some derivative thereof, into the bag of kibble
bits. There have been widespread threats against the shelters: some
to get rid of all animals that freely roam the streets, some to
stop killing animals. Even bomb threats have been received. Someone
may have made good one of those threats. When Theda returns to
Rachel’s office to pick up her special "tuxedo" cat Musetta, she
walks into the lab to find Rachel dying, stabbed with a
scalpel. While trying to understand Rachel’s last words, a vet tech
had heard Theda scream and runs in to find her holding Rachel’s
body with the bloody murder weapon in her hand. Theda is arrested,
released on bail, and loses her job all within a few days. She and
Bill, her ex-cop boyfriend, have been having problems too. Bill is
willing to help, but his work keeps him busy most days and nights
giving them not too much time for a lot of talk about what has
passed and what’s to be in the future. Bill urges her to let the
police do their job. But Theda wants to do a little snooping to
find the killer as she believes the police have not started a
search since they have her as a prime suspect. This involves Theda
looking into animal shelter politics and threats, and questioning
her friends at the city shelter. She has to juggle the time she has
between Bill, Musetta, her friends, wanting to get her job back,
and finding clues to the killer before she becomes a target
herself. The well-developed plot of Probable Claws keeps the
reader guessing. There are a surprising number of suspects to
consider, some less obvious than others. Theda is an interesting
amateur sleuth with plenty of conflict in her life, but she
balances her priorities very well. And it's hard not to enjoy the
interaction Theda has with her cats, in particular Musetta. While
cat lovers will be drawn to Probable Claws for its feline
characters, it's the overall book itself that will have mystery
readers looking forward to the next in the series.
Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of The Betz Review for
contributing her review of Probable Claws and to Poisoned Pen Press
for providing an ARC of the book for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery
Books — All Rights Reserved.