The Wildness in Wild Things

Photo by Art Farmer (Evansville, Ill.), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Firefly 0877)

Photo by Art Farmer (Evansville, Ill.), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (Firefly 0877)

A few weeks ago I read a magazine article written by a young woman who was recalling fond memories of watching fireflies on summer evenings as a child with her family. Her parents would bring along a large cage and give it to the girl and her brother so they could catch the fireflies. Children love to run and try to catch animals. Just watch any toddler waving her arms and stampeding a flock of pigeons. But these fireflies stayed in their cage.

When the family left the park at the end of the evening, they took the firefly cage with them and the parents placed it in the children’s bedroom. A living little nightlight. By the time the children woke up the next morning, the firefly cage was gone, discreetly spirited away by their parents during the night so the brother and sister wouldn’t see what happened while they slept.

The fireflies had died.

The writer’s language, as she recounts her later discovery of this gentle deception, shows an uneasy awareness of the insects’ plight, her description of “the dead little bodies,” with their “half-dried wings and quivering, then quiet, legs” demonstrating an empathy with their suffering, even as she never explicitly acknowledges that caging them was wrong. Later in the article, she cites the statistic that fireflies in the wild live for around two months, while those that they caught and caged died within twelve hours, but says nothing further on the subject. The remembrance of the firefly nightlight that she and her brother shared leads the writer instead to reflections on change and mortality.

The lessons parents teach their children about our relationship with nature are so lasting and important, lessons that will influence their attitude toward the earth and its creatures throughout their lives. My parents and I enjoyed watching fireflies, too, but it would never have occurred to any of us to try to capture the little creatures. My mother in particular valued the wildness in wild things and reveled in the free and untrammeled workings of nature. Any animal or plant, any stray cat, any bird, any wild creature had a right to its existence.

Fireflies are living creatures, not toys to be gathered for our use and then discarded. The lives of these insects have a place in the world, of spiritual value to humans, of essential value to the creatures themselves, and ecological value to the world in which they live.

Thanks to Amber Foxx for her assistance in editing this post.

Summer Visitors

This past summer we hosted an unexpected group of visitors. Sometime in mid-June I was about to take down the spider plant from its hook above our porch for some much-needed watering when I noticed bits of grass and weeds poking out of the top. Closer inspection indicated that a nest had been built around the middle of the dirt in the plastic hanging pot. I decided to leave it alone and spritzed a bit of water around the roots on the side, where some of the plastic had broken off last year (a tumble the plant took when I went out after dark and thought I had hung it up: not).

photo from watching grass grow blog

photo from watching grass grow blog (This is the female; the adult male has a red head.)

As the days went by, we spied Mama and Papa House Finch as they flew from the nest to a nearby wire every time one of us opened the door onto the porch. It was pretty common to see one of them sitting on the wire, complaining at us, as we sat on the porch reading. Eventually the finches became relaxed enough around us to return to the nest even when we were there.

A few weeks after the nest first appeared, my husband (who’s a bit taller than I) noticed the eggs. Days later we heard high-pitched cheeping sounds, and peering out the door screen saw one of the parents sitting on the nest, obviously feeding the demanding baby birds. Eventually, as the chicks grew, we could sometimes see three little heads poking up, mouths open wide.

Then, one day, they were all gone. We were able to actually witness the young’uns’ first flight. All day long, I’d noticed the parent birds sitting on the wire, calling out to the nest. I was out on the porch reading when my husband came home late in the afternoon. As he mounted the stairs to the porch, a little bird flew out of the nest and down to the ground. My husband worried that he had startled the bird into a premature flight and that it wouldn’t be able to defend itself outside of the nest. But I pointed out that the parent birds had been acting differently all day: instead of sitting on the nest and feeding the chicks, they were out on the wire and calling to them. I think the parents had decided they’d had enough and that it was time for the Finches Junior to leave the nest and learn to fly and fend for themselves.

We were surprised when the little birds didn’t come back, and I started to share my husband’s concern. Then I googled “finches nest” (or something like that) and discovered that once the little birds “fledge,” that is, take their first flight, that’s it. No more nest.

I also found something else: a webcam recording of a similar finches’ nest, with up-close shots of the nest interior, that a nature-loving blogger had installed when a finch family decided to build their new nest on top of the wreath on the front door of his house! I didn’t look at the entire set of footage, but what I saw was fascinating. Here’s the link: http://www.watching-grass-grow.com/house-finch/2010/

photo from watching grass grow blog

photo from watching grass grow blog

We gave it a couple more days in case the parent birds needed to stay there for the night, then took down the long-suffering spider plant, the nest inside still intact and encircled with an almost decorative rim of bird poop.

And how did our poor spider plant survive all this? It looked pretty scraggly when all was done and my husband took the nest off, but now, two months later, it’s green and flourishing, thanks to frequent watering. After reading that finches often raise two groups of chicks in a season, we decided to give poor Spidey a break, and have left it on the porch steps for the reminder of the year. My guess as to how the spider plant survived all those weeks without a proper watering?

It was “watered” by the birds.

Interview with author Clea Simon

Today I am pleased to present an interview with one of my favorite writers, Clea Simon, author of the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, and Pru Marlowe mysteries.

Clea SimonSAT: You write several mystery series, but the Dulcie Schwarz books are your longest running. What’s your secret for creating a great series and character who will keep the reader’s interest for so many books?

CS: Wow, thank you so much, Nancy. I think the only secret is that I love my characters. Doing a series means that I don’t have to leave them once a book is done, and I get to follow them through various adventures. In Dulcie’s case, this means watching as she not only solves crimes but also works on her graduate dissertation – and yes, she will finish it and get her PhD before the series ends!

SAT: As with all of your books, there is a cat involved. For those new to the series, what is the background of Dulcie’s relationship with her cat Mr. Grey?

CS: When we first met Dulcie, in “Shades of Grey,” she was mourning the death of her late, great Mr. Grey – her “heart cat” as some people put it. The friend who had been with her for years. Now, he was simply a regular cat – he didn’t talk or anything. But Dulcie always felt that he was special and that he was looking out for her. So it doesn’t really surprise her when, in that first book, she sees him again, sitting on the stoop of her apartment building. But when he warns her not to go inside, she doesn’t listen….

SAT: Early on—in the second book of the series, you introduced a new feline player, the kitten Esme. Tell us why you decided to give Dulcie a new pet and how you went about developing Esme’s very distinctive personality.

MusettaCS: Well, I wanted Dulcie to have an actual, live cat in her life. The spirit of Mr Grey hangs around, but he’s more of a guardian now than a pet. And I loved the idea of a spunky new feline in her life. And, yes, Esme – the Principessa Esmeralda – is modeled on my own Musetta.

SAT: The setting for Dulcie’s books, Harvard University—in particular Widener Library, is part of the charm. Did you attend Harvard yourself?

CS: Yes, I did. I studied English and American Literature and Language, as Dulcie does. But I stopped with an undergrad degree … Dulcie is rather more bookish and dedicated than I am!

SAT: As a beleaguered graduate student, Dulcie’s personality contains an appealing mix of self-doubt and a tough willingness to stand up for what she believes is right, whether it involves her research or questioning authority after a suspicious death. What inspired you to create her character?

CS: Well, I knew I wanted to use the ghost of Mr Grey after I had a similar experience with an apparent sighting of my own late, great grey cat, Cyrus. And I thought it would be fun to play with the idea of Gothic literature – the Gothics were (like mysteries) popular fiction, written largely by and for women and largely disparaged by the critics. So somewhere in there Dulcie was born, and she really developed her own personality, without much help from me.

SAT: Dulcie’s grad student world of teaching, wrestling with her dissertation topic, and money troubles is depicted with such genuine feeling and authenticity that I assumed you did graduate work yourself. Since you stopped with an undergrad degree, how did you go about depicting all these wonderful details of Dulcie’s academic life?

CS: Thank you! I do my research, and that includes talking to people who are graduate students.

SAT: One of my favorite aspects of this series is the way you interweave Dulcie’s area of expertise, the 18th-century Gothic novel, with the plot of the novels in her series. What was your inspiration for developing that?

CS: I have always loved books within books (like A.S.Byatt’s “Possession”) and so I’ve tried to pass that on.

SAT: You seem to be one of those fortunate writers who can turn out books at a rapid pace–this is the second Dulcie book to be released this year–without neglecting their quality, continuing to maintain the thoughtful and well written novels readers have come to expect from you. What is your secret?

CS: I’m afraid there is no secret. I work really hard – long hours – and toward deadline especially I become a hermit, quit working out, and rarely see the sun.

SAT: Mysteries and cats, the two just seem to go together! What in your opinion connects felines and mystery?

CS: Well, they are mysterious creatures! And their company is conducive to sitting and reading something cozy!

SAT: When you’re not writing, what is your favorite activity? When am I not writing?

CS: Well, I do love cooking and all things food-related (reading food magazines, browsing farmers’ markets, etc.) And I used to be a music critic and still love hearing live music – though these days, I’m more likely to be at a zydeco or Cajun music show than in a rock club (but I still make the occasional appearance for the right band!)

Thanks so much for having me here today! I hope you enjoy this as much as I have. – Clea

Read more about Clea and her books at: http://cleasimon.com/

Clea’s newest release is Stages of Grey:

stages of greyDulcie never considered herself a player. But when her friends drag her to a new local theatre company that is updating Ovid with a disco version of The Metamorphosis the grad student finds herself in the front row of a murder.

This could be the end of the struggling company, which is also plagued by money woes and romantic rivalries. But was jealousy the reason the performer was stabbed? Or are there darker secrets behind the scenes? And what role does Gus, the troupe’s feline mascot, play? As the classics get mangled, Dulcie must untangle the truth before she also gets caught up in deadly illusion.Pre-order now at your favorite local indie bookstore or at Amazon.

To order at your independently owned bookstore, click here

To order on Amazon, click here.

 

 

Short Story Winner!

My short story “The Black Cat” won this year’s Halloween short story contest sponsored by the online magazine Kings River Life, where it was published last Saturday. If you’re curious, you can read it here.

black cat (krl)

photo by Margaret Mendel for Kings River Life

I wrote the short story last fall, my first “creation” since leaving the day job, but the idea had been kicking around in my head for a while. Shortly after I decided to experiment with self-publishing a Christmas short story, “Saint Nick and the Fir Tree,” which appeared in December 2011, I got the idea of writing other holiday-themed stories featuring Saint Nick. I’ve always loved Halloween (I grew up watching Dark Shadows and reading Edgar Allan Poe) and I love cats, so writing a Halloween story that featured a black cat was an appealing notion.

I decided to frame the story by setting the first part on the Saturday night before the Feast of Saint Francis, which many churches celebrate with a Blessing of the Animals. The feast day proper of the much-beloved saint is Oct. 4, and the Blessing of the Animals usually takes place either on that day or the following Sunday. The last part of the story takes place on Halloween.

While my Christmas story featuring Saint Nick cast him as the original saint—aka, Santa Claus, in “The Black Cat” Nick appears merely as a “regular” human, a kind man but shrewd, his personality toned down somewhat from the occasionally crotchety Saint Nick of my Fir Tree story. (“Saint Nick and the Fir Tree” takes place the day after Christmas, when Nick is in search of a much-needed vacation, so his crotchetiness is quite understandable!) The black cat herself has another inspiration, but to discover that, you’ll have to read the story.

The Salamander Room

Nature and children seem appropriate subjects for summertime musings, and writing about Diary of an Earthworm made me think of another picture book I liked so much I got a copy for myself as well as my nephew.

salamander roomThe Salamander Room is a gorgeously illustrated tale of a little boy, Brian, who finds a “little orange salamander” in the woods and takes it home. Instead of outright denying him his new pet, Brian’s mother instead asks some practical questions—“Where will he sleep?” “When he wakes up, where will he play?”—and then observes, “He will miss his friends in the forest.”

The mother’s responses demonstrate a perceptive compassion that extends to the salamander itself, a gentle reminder to her son Brian that the salamander is not a pretty toy from the store, a plaything made for his own devices, but a wild creature with its own needs, desires, and concerns. By phrasing her observations as questions and statements that demand Brian’s response, she (and the author) avoid accusatory, didactic diatribes on humans and nature, inviting Brian instead to think through the consequences of his action, both for himself and the fellow creature he has taken from its native environment.

Brian’s responses to his mother’s questions and observations (which continue on to the subject of food, and the consequent creation of an entire ecological foodchain) create the magic of the book as the boy envisions how he will transform his room to suit the salamander’s needs. The illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher show the gradual transformation of Brian’s bedroom to a virtual forest, a complete habitat for the salamander and its food and friends, lush and verdant, lovingly depicted.

The story, by Anne Mazer, is a wise and wonderful tale that creates its own magic. I’m so glad I stumbled on it.

Two Tales of Earthworms

I love children’s picture books, and I also love earthworms (the latter discussed in a previous post), so it’s not surprising that two of my favorite picture books feature this lowly but supremely important tiller of soil. hair in my dirt Gary Larson’s There’s a Hair in My Dirt presents a decided contrast with Diary of a Worm (story by Doreen Cronin; charming pictures by Harry Bliss). Of course part of the difference is that Larson’s book is really meant more for adults. One of my favorite bloggers, Isaac Yuen of Ekostories, wrote about Larson’s book here, providing a useful summary and thoughtful commentary.

Both books engage with plenty of humor. Some of my favorite lines from Larson include: “Mother Worm . . . . tried to make their home as cheery as possible, even going so far as always putting silverware on the table—despite the fact that none of them had arms.” And “[Harriet] was as excited as a tapeworm in a meat patty!” From Diary of a Worm there are humorous references to Junior Worm (as I call the unnamed first-person narrator) eating his homework and telling his sister that “no matter how much time she spends looking in the mirror [a puddle on the ground in the drawing], her face will always look just like her rear end.”

Along with the hysterically funny one-liners are some much needed reminders of important truths. From Larson: “As any worm with half a ganglion knows, the plants did a little more than just make the air crisp and clean—they made the air air! Every molecule of oxygen in the earth’s atmosphere was put there by a plant.” My husband especially enjoyed Larson’s reminder that the grey squirrel, though “cute,” is an aggressive invader that has driven out native Red Squirrels (and attempts to invade people’s attics, as well—the source of my better half’s quarrel with them).

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Harry Bliss. One of my favorite books!

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Harry Bliss.
One of my favorite books!

Diary begins by informing the reader that “Mom says there are three things I should always remember: 1. The earth gives us everything we need. 2. When we dig tunnels, we help take care of the earth. 3. Never bother Daddy when he’s eating the newspaper.” Junior Worm ends his little tale by concluding: “It’s not always easy being a worm. We’re very small, and sometimes people forget that we’re even here. But, like Mom always says, the earth never forgets we’re here.”

Both books also address the question of humans and their relationship to the natural world. For Larson, this is the heart of his book, addressed in an unabashedly moral tale told by Father Worm featuring a “beautiful young maiden” named Harriet whose sentimental and well-meaning but uninformed interventions in Nature ultimately result in her rather gruesome death when she “rescues” a mouse from a snake—a mouse infected with a deadly disease. Yeah, not really a children’s book. (Although little boys may well like it because of that—as Larson reminds us, some things about biology can’t be changed.) Like the little worm, the reader is tempted to ask, “What kind of story is that?”

But Larson’s gruesome little satire is designed to illustrate a very specific moral: “Loving Nature is not the same as understanding it. . . . Connections . . . are the key to understanding the natural world.” And earthworms, it turns out, are crucial in this natural web: “We till, aerate, and enrich the earth’s soil, making it suitable for plants. No worms, no plants; and no plants, no so-called higher animals running around with their oh-so-precious backbones! . . . Heck, we’re invertebrates . . . . Spineless superheroes, that’s what we are!”

Diary‘s examples are more specific, giving the reader a visceral sense through the drawings of how a worm might respond to activities that many humans engage in without giving them a thought: “Fishing season started today. We all dug deeper.” Followed by a worm’s-eye view on the next page of child playing hopscotch, “a very dangerous game,” that nicely illustrates E.O. Wilson‘s parting words in his introduction to Larson’s book: “Just watch where you step; be careful of little lives.”

Both contain appealing illustrations, Larson’s with his trademark critters that manage to look anatomically correct even while wearing harlequin eyeglasses and a beehive hairdo (for Mother Worm), while the humans are typically Larson: goofy-looking, overweight, and rather grotesque. Harry Bliss’s drawings in Diary of a Worm strike a nice balance: whimsical without straying into cutsey—the be-spectacled worm father and baseball-capped son no more anthropomorphic than Larson’s worm family, the background details such as bottle-cap seats for the little worms in class a charming way of showing the small dimensions of the worm family in a way that relates to children’s experience.

Where Diary differs most strikingly from Dirt is its portrayal of inter-species friendship between Junior Worm and Spider. Obviously in the real world, the two seldom meet and Spider would be more interested in Worm as potential food if they did. Nonetheless, the interactions between Worm and Spider nicely illustrate how each differs from the other, giving the reader a good sense of how special and unique each kind of creature is. To quote from Wilson’s introduction to the Larson book: “We all need one another, each in our special niche.”

Each of these books does indeed occupy its own special niche, and each is well worth perusing multiple times for its richness in both text and pictures. Their minds and hearts engaged by books that teach love of Nature, future generations will be better primed to follow Wilson’s parting dictum: “Just watch where you step; be careful of little lives.”

Birdsong and the Transcendent

I wasn’t planning to post this week, but walking back from Maundy Thursday service at church this evening, I was struck by  the abundance of birdsong. It was dusk, so that was not surprising, but the birdsong added an extra touch of beauty and contemplation to the day. Birdsong was present during the service, too: during communion I could hear birds twittering in the bushes on the other side of the stained-glass windows, and a flock of wild geese called as the priest recited the Eucharistic liturgy, adding a lovely counterpoint as if all creation were participating in the service.

from tgreyfox's photostream

from tgreyfox’s photostream

I noticed birdsong last Sunday as well, on my way home from church. On both occasions it brought to mind the opening of my new all-time favorite film, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza), which begins with a quiet, contemplative scene in a park on the outskirts of Rome. A woman sits on a bench, we hear birdsong, then an a cappella women’s chorus. And then the scene shifts abruptly to a loud nightclub—an intentionally grating contrast.

The film, which I saw (twice) a few months ago, moved me very powerfully, and I suppose one measure of that is how often I think of it during especially contemplative moments. But it also made me more attentive to the occasions for mindful contemplation of the world, of the present, of the moment, of nature and of other people, so that the current, so to speak, flows both ways.

The point of all this is my realization that, for me at least, birdsong is a gateway to the transcendent, a symbol of the earthly joy that C.S. Lewis speaks of as a pointer to the reality of a transcendent nature and being. Without birdsong and birds—and the trees and plants that support them—the world would be a very poor place indeed. I thank the Creator for the gift of birds!

Happy Spring.

 

Squirrel in Rain

A couple of weeks ago, I looked out one of the upstairs windows and saw a solitary squirrel on the neighbor’s lawn across the street. It was raining steadily, not hard, more of a gentle rain, but enough that I wouldn’t want to be out without an umbrella. The rain didn’t seem to bother the squirrel, though. It bounded across the grass, stopped and dug, bounded, dug again. I suppose it was looking for nuts and seeds, but I kept wondering why there were no other squirrels around. Were the rest of them snug in their nests, saying to themselves, “It’s all very well for him, let him go out in the rain and get wet, but not me”? Or were they scattered elsewhere, equally busy, intent on gathering food, just in a different place?

Eastern Grey Squirrel, photo by BirdPhotos.com, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Grey Squirrel, photo by BirdPhotos.com, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It’s not the first time I’ve wondered how animals feel about being out in the elements: rain, snow, extreme cold or heat, high winds. Do they notice? Of course, they’ve got those nice fur coats to insulate them and to waterproof them, I suppose, to some degree. Yet cats certainly seem to notice cold, and generally to dislike being wet. Are they the exception? Do domesticated pets feel these things more than their wild cousins?

I suppose I could go looking for answers on the internet, but I’m feeling too lazy. Unlike the squirrel out in the rain, I’m ready to sit with a hot cup of tea and hibernate on the sofa.

Interview with author Clea Simon

Today I am pleased to present an interview with one of my favorite writers, Clea Simon, author of the Theda Krakow, Dulcie Schwartz, and Pru Marlowe mysteries.

Clea SimonSAT: Tell us a bit about your writing journey: when you started to write, your journey to publication, and so on.

CS: I have always loved making up stories and have been writing stories since I could read. But it took me a while as an adult to think my stories had any validity. I became a journalist and wrote three nonfiction books in part because of this: I felt like if I was conveying information, then I had a reason to write. But I largely read fiction. It wasn’t until Kate Mattes, who owned the now-closed Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, Mass., told me, “You should write a mystery” that I started my first one, “Mew is for Murder.” I think in some way I needed permission.

SAT: Why do cats feature in most of your books?

CS: I’m not sure, except that I love cats and have long lived with them. When I started writing the Pru Marlowe pet noir, I didn’t intend for the protagonist to have a cat. I wanted to write a tough, dark heroine. But as I was writing it turned out that she had an even tougher tabby.

SAT: The heroine’s psychic abilities in the Pru Marlowe series come off to me as very realistic in the way that animal thoughts are portrayed. Did you do any kind of research for this series, for example, reading about how animals think and perceive the world?

CS: I do. This fascinates me — learning, for example, how parrots see or how ferrets express agitation. It’s just such a different language. Cats, of course, I know from experience, but other animals I have to research.

SAT: Are there are particular books or websites you consult for researching animal psychology?

CS: Not one particular one. Because of my background in nonfiction, I like to think I’ve got pretty good research skills. Plus, when I wrote “The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats” (St. Martin’s), I amassed a pretty great personal library of books about animals and I’ve got some great friends. Vicki Constantine Croke, who writes about animals, is often my first go-to person: she has connected me to some wonderful experts. Sometimes, it’s just a question of calling around: Who has a ferret? Who works with rescue dogs? There’s always somebody who is willing to share expertise. So many writers get things wrong that the experts are usually really grateful when one of us at least makes the effort! That’s why I try to always say in my acknowledgments that any errors are all mine.

SAT: Dulcie and Pru are such very different personalities. Which do you resemble the most? In what ways are you different from either?

CS: I think they’re both sides of my personality — as are all my characters, probably! If I can’t relate to a character, even a killer, then I don’t know how I’d write them. That said, I’m not nearly as tough as Pru (or Wallis) nor as studious as Dulcie. I do live a bit too much in my head, though, as she does — and in books.

SAT: Both the Dulcie Schwartz and the Pru Marlowe books contain elements of the paranormal, a cat-ghost in Dulcie’s case and a (sometimes unwelcome) psychic ability in Pru’s. What led you to include these elements in your mysteries?

First in the Dulcie Schwarz series

First in the Dulcie Schwarz series

CS: Dulcie’s first paranormal experience with Mr Grey, the scene that opens her first book, “Shades of Grey,” is something that happened to me… almost. I had lost my beloved gray cat, Cyrus, to age and kidney disease. I missed him terribly — but then one day, I swear I saw him. He did not tell me that anyone had been murdered, though. At any rate, the story just grew from there. As for Pru, well, don’t we all feel like we really know what our animals are telling us? And that this makes us a little crazy?

SAT: What is it about mysteries that appeals to you as both reader and writer?

CS: I love the puzzle aspect. But I think the secret to mysteries – at least to good ones – is that they’re about the characters. With a series, you get to revisit people you’ve come to know and, hopefully, love. That’s very appealing to me as a reader and very much so as a writer.

SAT: What’s next for Clea Simon?

CS: Well, I am pleased as punch to have just been contracted for two more Dulcie books — and that’s not including the one that is now in production (“Stages of Grey,” which will be out in October). I am also working on the next Pru book, and my contract covers another one after that so that carries me into 2016. Beyond these books — four still to write, five to see light of day — I don’t know. I really hope that my publishers will want to stay with me. I am beginning to think I would like to write something different. A stand-alone or maybe even a non-mystery. But I can’t see leaving crime fiction behind, and any mystery I write will certainly have kitties in it somewhere. So we shall see!

Read more about Clea and her books at: http://cleasimon.com/

Clea’s most recent releases are:

grey howlGrey Howl: A Dulcie Schwartz feline mystery

A prestigious literature conference is convening in Cambridge and Dulcie Schwartz is the university liaison for the event, meeting and greeting some of the finest minds in her field.

But events do not run according to plan when one scholar’s presentation is sabotaged while another visiting professor disappears. As Dulcie and her boyfriend Chris struggle to solve problems and soothe egos, a strange apparition starts to haunt the bi-annual event. And even Mr Gray, the ghost of Dulcie’s late, great cat,,appears to be overwhelmed, leaving Dulcie to manage an increasingly backstabbing crew of professional rivals, one of whom may be a killer.

And, just released:

panthers play for keepsPanthers Play for Keeps: A Pru Marlowe pet noir

When Pru Marlowe takes a dog for a walk, she doesn’t expect to find a body. But Spot, a service dog in training, has too good a nose not to lead her to the remains of the beautiful young woman, and despite her own best instincts, Pru can’t avoid getting involved. The young woman seems to have been mauled by a wild cat – and Pru knows there have been no pumas in the Berkshire woods for years. And while Wallis, Pru’s curmudgeonly tabby, seems fixated on the idea of a killer cat, Spot has been sending strange signals to Pru’s own heightened senses, suggesting that the violent death was something more than a tragic accident. As motives multiply, a cougar of a different sort sets her eyes on Pru’s sometime lover, and another woman disappears. With panther panic growing, Pru may have to put aside her own issues – and her own ideas of domesticity – to solve a savage mystery.

 

Unusual Pets in Mysteries

Two of my favorite mystery writers feature unusual pets in their sure-to-please-animal-lovers stories. Last week I mentioned Clea Simon‘s great way with cats, but her “Pet-Noir” series with Pru Marlowe includes much more than your typical domestic fare.

Photo by Mika Hiltunen via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Mika Hiltunen via Wikimedia Commons

My favorite non-cat regular in this series has to be Frank the Ferret, who lives in the local deputy’s desk drawer and has considerably more smarts than his rather dimwitted keeper. Many the clue’s been passed from Frank to Pru, who has the rather unusual talent of being able to tune into animals’ thoughts. Since Frank is so much smarter than the deputy, we may safely assume that he’s actually happy with his living arrangements. If he weren’t, Pru would sense it, and happily assist with his break-out.

Sandra Parshall‘s Rachel Goddard mysteries are somewhat darker, but veterinarian heroine Rachel and her boyfriend, local sheriff Tom Bridger, still always manage to see that justice prevails. Between them, Rachel and Tom have the usual cat and dog pets (see the recent “interview” given by Tom’s dog, Billy Bob in Dru’s Book Musings), but the member of their household who stands out the most in my mind  is Cicero the parrot.

photo by Selvejp via Wikimedia Commons

photo by Selvejp via Wikimedia Commons

In a recent book, Cicero saved the day when his alarmed squacks alerted Rachel to a nighttime fire in her house set by the villain du jour. Cicero’s narrow escape added to the reader’s anxieties (and to Rachel’s as well). Every book seems to feature at least a cameo appearance by Cicero, who has quite the personality.

What other unusual animal characters do you know of that have appeared in mysteries (or any other fiction, for that matter)? I’d like to know!

Clea Simon’s most recent release is GREY HOWL in the Dulcie Schwartz series, with a new Pru Marlowe soon to follow. Look for her interview here on the blog the first week of April.

The latest book in Sandra Parshall’s Rachel Goddard series is POISONED GROUND. Root for Rachel as she confronts a no-good developer! If you haven’t read this series, you’ll enjoy it the most if you start at the beginning with the page-turning novel of suspense that explores the dark past of Rachel’s family background: Heat of the Moon. And look for Sandra’s guest appearance here on the blog next week.

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