Generally I stay away from mysteries that feature cats. They tend to be too cute, with anthropomorphized felines that solve crimes or even talk. But Clea Simon’s Cries and Whiskers avoids those pitfalls. Aside from featuring cats, this novel also appeals to me because of its dead-on portrayal of the People’s Republic of Cambridge and a thinly disguised version of the Boston Globe. There’s also a running theme — here and in other novels in Simon’s Theda Krakow series — that goes into considerable depth concerning the Boston music scene, with special emphasis on a couple of clubs in Cambridge. I assume these are meant to be the Middle East and T.T.’s, but it’s definitely not my world. If it’s yours, there’s an extra reason for you to read Cries and Whiskers.
Simon also gently satirizes newspaper editors, Wiccans, various other types of Cantabrigians, real estate developers (well, not so gently in that case), fake rock bands, and the more extreme sort of animal rights activists, while clearly being sympathetic to the moderate wing. Here is the narrator’s description of her neighborhood:
Our Cambridgeport neighborhood, nestled into a bend of the river, served as a microcosm of the city: students and professors shared blocks, and often buildings, with new immigrants from Asia and Africa, while older communities of Cape Verdeans and Haitians added their traditions to the mix. Usually, we all found some way to get along. With a population this tightly packed, we’d better. But these days the uniting factor tended to be resentment toward developers, the speculators and big-money investors who wanted to turn out little city by the Charles into the next Gold Coast.
If you know and love mysteries, cats, Cambridge, and music clubs — or any three of these four — do read Cries and Whiskers, along with its sequels, Cattery Row and Mew is for Murder. Another in the series, Probable Claws, will be out in April. I’m definitely going to be reading it.