Cat Me if You Can (Cat in the Stacks #13)
By Miranda James
Even on vacay native Mississippian’s ‘Cat in the Stacks’, librarian sleuth still solving crimes
By Susan O’Bryan
Special to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger
USA TODAY NETWORK
A 36-pound Maine coon cat and its inquisitive owner take a classic approach to crime-solving in “Cat Me if You Can,” the latest novel by Miranda James. It is the 13th installment in the New York Times best-selling author’s “Cat in the Stacks” series.
Miranda James is the pseudonym of Dean James, a seventh-generation Mississippian who returned to his home state after 30 years in Texas, according to his website (catinthstacks.com). Whether writing under a pen name or his own, James has fans eager for mystery and suspense with down-home heart and humor.
Charlie Harris is a librarian at a small college in fictional Athena, Mississippi. The widower is passionate about his family and friends, justice for all, fiancé Helen Louise Brady, and an arrogant cat named Diesel. The cat goes everywhere with Charlie, including a boutique hotel in Asheville, NC., where Charlie and Helen Louise are spending a week with a group of fellow classic mystery novel lovers and patrons of the Athena library. They all plan to tour the local sites in addition to discussing their favorite authors and characters.
The Athena mystery lover and his cat soon are caught up in their latest adventure, even though Charlie has again promised Helen Louise to stay clear of crimes. With Diesel in tow on a leash, the couple and their friends visit Biltmore Estate the morning after an evening book circle. It was an eventful night— an uninvited guest intruded on the group’s “Golden Age” of mysteries talk, harassed a member, and got knocked down by another. They all hoped the Biltmore excursion would be a nice distraction.
Charlie and Diesel again walk into a crime scene. The arrogant man is now a dead man in his hotel room. The body count begins to mount when a maid known for falling asleep on the job is found dead. A group member soon is headed to the hospital after possible poisoning. Only one member of their group seems to have a grudge against the man, but, as Charlie and the detecting Ducote sisters (senior sleuths also in James’ Southern Ladies series) soon discover, a good whodunit always has unexpected twists. The cozy murder novel also includes discussions about several sensitive subjects, but they are handled with respect.
James keeps readers entertained with an easy-flowing dialogue and well-developed characters. Readers can identify with the southern cast and settings. As befitting a well-educated character, Charlie has a way with words and literary references. Recurring characters and developing relationships between humans and pets bring home the small-town feel of neighbors and family dinners. Diesel is front and center as always, complete with trills, warbles, and furry arrogance.
And although this novel is part of a series, it can be read as a stand-alone with easy-to-follow throwbacks to earlier stories. The series began with “Murder Past Due” in 2010, and a new novel has been released each year since then.
Susan O’Bryan is a retired Clarion-Ledger newspaper editor and web content coordinator. She is an avid reader who enjoys discovering new writers, plots, and angles for fiction and non-fiction publications.