The first novel in a frisky new mystery series set in a small New England town, where an unlikely citizen is called in to solve the purrfect crime. . .
Maddie James has arrived in Daybreak Island, just off the coast of Massachusetts, eager to settle down and start her own business—and maybe even fall in love. When a stray orange tabby pounces into her life, she’s inspired to open a cat café. But little does Maddie know that she’s in for something a lot more catastrophic when her new furry companion finds the dead body of the town bully. Now all eyes are on Maddie: Who is this crazy cat-whisperer lady who’s come to town? If pet-hair-maintenance and crime-fighting weren’t keeping her busy enough, Maddie now has not one but two eligible bachelors who think she’s the cat’s pajamas . . . and will do anything to win her heart. But how can she even think about happily-ever-after while a killer remains on the loose—and on her path?
Curl up with Cate Conte's first Cat Cafe Mystery: Cat About Town!
About the Author
Cate Conte serves on the Sisters in Crime New England board and is a member of Sisters in Crime National, Mystery Writers of America, and the Cat Writers’ Association. She currently lives in Connecticut with her cats and dog. Cate is the author of Cat About Town.
Read an Excerpt
The main difference between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.
— Mark Twain
The cat's eyes had been on me during the entire service. I'd seen him right away despite his attempts to remain hidden behind a distant gravestone — I'm a sucker for an orange face. Plus, he was the only spot of color in this bleak, gray, sad day. Every time I glanced in that direction those green eyes blazed a hole right into me, like I emanated some kind of cat-attract radar. On second thought, I probably did. Cats were my weakness. I'd never met one I didn't love instantaneously. Not even the one who had nearly scratched my eye out at a shelter I'd volunteered at years ago.
Now that most of the crowd here to mourn my grandma had dissipated as everyone headed back to their cars with the postfuneral luncheon on their minds, the cat seemed to feel more comfortable. He — I assumed it was a he, given his color and size — took a tentative step forward, big paw moving gingerly as if still unsure of his actions. One of his ears looked bent, as if he'd had an ear infection from which he hadn't recovered well. Sadly, a common ailment for strays.
I moved closer to his position and crouched down, holding out one hand to coax him forward. I wished I still carried treats in my purse. There'd been a time I never left my house without cans of cat food and Temptations treats packed in my oversized purse. I could see him pondering, assessing, then one paw started to move ...
"Maddie!" My dad's voice rang out through the quiet. I sighed as the cat darted back to hiding; then I stood up and turned around.
"When Grandpa's ready, we'll be in the limo." He pointed to the sleek black car idling on the main path of the cemetery. My mother, sisters, and aunt were already safely tucked inside. "Take your time."
Which really meant, We're on a schedule here. I gave him a thumbs-up to acknowledge his request. He returned to the limo and I returned to waiting. Grandpa Leo still stood in front of my grandma's grave a few feet away, head bowed and hands clasped, saying the final good-byes he hadn't been able to say with the other mourners watching. I thought I'd give him another minute, which might give me time to coax the cat out again. Besides, I hated looking at the coffin poised over the hole in the ground. Even though I knew Grandma's spirit wasn't in it, it still seemed so final. And claustrophobic.
I tugged my black sweater tighter around me, wishing I'd chosen pants instead of a dress. Especially since I'd forgone tights. I hated tights. But even though it was almost June, the air still held a chill, exacerbated by the sea breeze ruffling through the trees. It was the reality of island living, being surrounded by water that hadn't completely warmed yet from the harsh New England winter. The damp weather today wasn't helping. Rain had chased us on and off all day, and thick moisture hung in the air. I wondered if the orange cat had found shelter.
Movement behind the gravestone perked me up. My orange buddy must still be there. I took a few quiet steps closer, buoyed by the sight of one cat ear poking out. "Come here, cutie," I called softly.
The cat eased around the stone in a one-sided game of peekaboo and looked at me curiously. I could see him weighing his options — trust her? Don't trust her? Once again, the minuscule movement. And once again, a voice rang out, startling both of us.
"Leo! I'm glad I caught you."
A curse on my tongue, I turned around in time to see a short, older man who looked vaguely familiar loping toward my grandpa, whose head was still bowed in front of the grave. His pasty face, thinning white hair, and glasses made me guess late sixties. He looked like he fought a good fight to keep the pounds from settling in his middle and was slowly but surely losing the battle.
Grandpa looked up from the casket, disinterested. "Frank," he said, nodding at the other man but making no move to shake his hand. "Thanks for coming."
I looked back for the cat, and he'd vanished again. Giving up, I trudged toward Grandpa, hoping to rescue him from the visitor he didn't seem eager to see.
"Ah, Leo, so sorry," Frank said, the hint of an Irish accent dancing through his words. "Lucille was one of a kind. Good Irishwoman."
Grandpa inclined his head in acknowledgment, his eyes suddenly wet. "You remember my granddaughter Madalyn," he said, nodding at me.
Frank turned his attention to me, smiled. "'Course I do. Though it's been a long time. Frank O'Malley, if you don't remember. President of the Daybreak Island Chamber of Commerce." He puffed his chest out a bit, then leaned over and bussed my cheek. I smelled wine on his breath, even though it was barely eleven in the morning. "I'm sorry for the loss of your gran."
"Thank you," I said.
Frank adjusted his glasses and turned back to Grandpa. "When things calm down, we need to get together. Continue our discussions about the house," he said. "We'll do it over dinner."
It almost sounded like a directive. I held the frown back as I watched Grandpa. I didn't know what they were talking about, but Grandpa wasn't usually on the receiving end of directives. If someone tried it, they got The Look — bushy white eyebrows drawn together in a wild slash, the usual twinkle in his brown eyes dimmed by dark storm clouds. He'd perfected The Look during his long tenure as chief of police of Daybreak Harbor, the largest of the four towns that made up Daybreak Island. I waited breathlessly for it.
But The Look didn't surface. Instead, defeat slouched his shoulders forward, exhaustion settling into the lines around his eyes. "Yeah," he said. "Give me a call."
Frank nodded. "You'll be hearing from me," he said with a smile. "We'll take care of you, Leo." He patted Grandpa's back, then lifted his chin to me in acknowledgment. "Madalyn."
"Maddie," I murmured, but he was already walking away. I glanced at Grandpa. "What was he talking about? What house? Who's taking care of you?" Grandpa Leo looked at me, his mouth working. "I've been wanting to talk to you about something," he said finally. "But not now. Let's talk tonight over dinner."
I frowned, warning bells dinging in my brain. The tone of his voice sounded ominous even though he tried to pass it off as nothing. "Okay. But is everything —"
"They're waiting for us," he said, nodding toward the limo where my dad had reappeared out of the car, checking his watch. "We have to go." He started walking, not looking to see if I followed.
I didn't. Even though I wanted to race up to my grandfather, grab his arm and demand he tell me whatever secret he was keeping. Instead, my gaze slipped back to the gravestones by the tree line, one last-ditch effort to glimpse the cat again. But I didn't see anything beyond the stones. Disappointed, I started to walk back to the limo when I heard a squeaking sound. I paused and scanned the area. My eyes finally landed on the orange cat sitting a few feet away next to a different gravestone. His clear green eyes radiated calm and wisdom. He was the most handsome cat I'd seen in a long time, with his perfect ginger patterns. And he sat perfectly still, like one of those statues people put in their gardens.
I moved forward slowly, one hand extended to the cat. He watched me, unmoved. I'd almost reached him when my dad came up behind me, startling both of us. I wanted to cry out in frustration.
"Maddie? What are you doing? They're holding the limo for you. We need to get back to the house."
"Coming," I said. "One second."
My dad sighed, but didn't argue. Between me, my sisters, and my mother, he was used to being overruled.
I turned back to the cat, but I'd had three strikes, and I was out. He was gone.
My mother cornered me in my old bedroom at the postfuneral gathering, foiling my attempt to steal a few minutes to check some e-mails. I'd been neglecting my business while I'd been home in Massachusetts. My fabulous business partner, Ethan Birdsong, would disagree. You're at a funeral, he would say. Why would you care if the Grapefruit Pucker was no longer the best seller after the Spicy Green Apple beat it out? But Ethan is much too accommodating.
We owned Goin' Green, an organic juice bar, out in San Francisco. We'd opened up shop over a year ago now, and it had been the smartest business move I'd made. Since we had a spot on Pier 39, we had constant foot traffic, an awesome location to hang out in all day, and fun, healthy offerings.
Basically, we had it made.
"I knew you'd be in here," she said, leaning against the doorjamb. "It gets to be a bit much, doesn't it?"
I tossed my phone on the bed and leaned back against my pillows. My mother had made my room into a lovely guest room, with decorative pillows and a matching comforter. I kind of missed the old iteration of my room, with my Nirvana posters and favorite red down quilt.
"It does," I agreed. "For you too?" Given my mother's extroverted personality, I wouldn't have imagined that. But it was her mother's funeral. That, I imagined, changed everything.
"Way too much," she said, entering the room and kicking the door closed behind her. She reached up and tugged out the barrette holding her mane of curly brown hair in a funeral-appropriate style, letting it fall around her shoulders. Her eyes were red-rimmed and tinged with exhaustion. She'd lost weight, and her flouncy black skirt reminiscent of Stevie Nicks in her Gypsy days hung off her tiny waist. She sat down next to me and I leaned over to give her a squeeze. "I'm glad you were able to come home for a few weeks," she said.
"Me too." Although I hadn't spent much time at my parents' house during this visit, choosing instead to stay with Grandpa. I knew he'd have a rough time after my grandmother died, and I wanted to be there to help him as much as possible. Grandpa was my favorite person in the entire world. Usually when I was home I had to divide my time between the two houses so no one would be offended. This time, my mother seemed relieved.
"I'm grateful that you've been with your grandpa. He needs you. You're his favorite, you know." She smiled at me, but it had a hint of sadness. "You're not to repeat that to your sisters, of course."
I smiled. "Of course."
My mother picked at a thread in the blanket. "Do you know when you're leaving?"
"I haven't made official plans yet," I said. "Ethan's got everything under control and told me to take my time. So I figured I'd see how Grandpa felt." I was looking forward to some quality time with him before I left. I'd been here for nearly three weeks already but given the circumstances, we hadn't had much down time. The first two weeks had centered around spending as much time with Grandma as possible, which was a blessing as much as it was heart-wrenching and difficult. After she passed away earlier this week, we'd then become engrossed in the arrangements, finding pictures, ordering flowers, and all the other logistical work that funerals demanded in order to create a fitting send-off. Most nights we fell asleep before nine, exhausted emotionally and physically. Ironic that death could be more grueling for the people watching than the person dying.
But I'm lucky. Being my own boss means I get a certain level of freedom, but having someone like Ethan to cover with a smile was the icing on the cake. Plus, he cared about the business as much as I did, if not more.
"Good," she said, still avoiding my eyes.
Something was up. My mother seemed way too subdued, even if it was a funeral. This wasn't her typical demeanor. My mom was the coolest person I knew. Not because she rocked out to better music than I did, always drove fun cars, and knew how to dress. She lived her life exactly the way she wanted it. She'd kept my father, the quintessential straight arrow, on his toes since the day they met in college. The way the story goes, my mother was involved in a war protest and my father had been one of the "dorm police" who had to break it up. Reportedly, my mother had taken a swing at him. He'd asked her out to dinner that night, and they'd been inseparable ever since. He'd been so smitten with her he'd even moved to the island — akin to another planet for my Pennsylvania-raised father. None of that could have happened without her bubbly, expressive personality. And I hadn't seen much of that personality while I'd been home. "What's going on, Mom?"
"Mom. Just tell me."
"I'm worried about your grandfather," she said finally.
"Worried? About him being able to live without Gram? I know." I sighed. "It's going to be tough."
"Not just that. He's been having some ... trouble."
Now she had my attention. "What kind of trouble?"
She dropped her hands into her lap and finally looked at me from under hooded eyes. "Small things, but they've become more noticeable over the past couple of months. Some of his friends have mentioned it, but I've seen it too lately. He's agitated a lot. He's become forgetful. Have you noticed any strange behavior while you've been with him?"
I hadn't, aside from his passive demeanor at the cemetery with Frank O'Malley and the evasive comments about needing to talk to me. Which I chose not to mention. But all of this seemed ludicrous since he'd been dealing with Grandma's illness and death. Who wouldn't be acting differently?
"No, and it doesn't seem like a fair question. He's been under a lot of stress, in case you hadn't noticed." I didn't know where this was going, but I immediately felt defensive. Grandpa Leo wasn't old and he certainly wasn't sick.
"Maddie. Honey." She reached out and squeezed my hand. "I know that's not good news to hear. I don't want to think about it either. I just lost my mother. But there've been little things. Bills that haven't been paid. I found an invoice on his counter from the landscaper. It was the third notice. Then he volunteered to help with the Food Stroll, but didn't meet certain commitments. Most recently it's related to your grandmother's illness, of course. But it's been happening for a while."
Bills that hadn't been paid? Commitments? That wasn't like Grandpa. His superpower was dependability. It was part profession, part character. I pulled away from her, got up and walked slowly around the room. My mother had kept some of my favorite childhood trinkets, which I always loved to see when I came home. A picture of me and my best friend, Becky Walsh, on the beach when we were around ten. My music box with the three cats that played "You Light Up My Life." I picked it up and wound it, let it play.
My mother got up too. She came over, turned me around, and took my hands in hers. "Look. I don't want to worry you. I just want you to keep an eye on him, okay? Please?" Her eyes were wet.
The song from the music box faded into slow motion, finally winding down into silence. I squeezed her hands. "Sure," I said, forcing a cheery note into my voice. "I'll keep an eye on him."
Once the crowd had thinned out enough that we could make our escape, I kissed my parents good-bye and followed Grandpa to his car — my grandma's car, actually. He usually drove a beat-up pickup around town. Having a nice car had never been a big priority, because he'd always had an official vehicle.
We drove the ten minutes to his house in Daybreak Harbor in silence. My parents lived in Duck Cove, the town bordering Daybreak Harbor on the west side. In the dead of summer, this ride could take up to forty-five minutes as people crammed the streets, walking, biking, riding Segways, and packing onto tour buses. But tonight, thankfully, the traffic wasn't completely insane even though tourist season had already dropped onto Daybreak like a falling meteor — barely two weeks in and the population had tripled. Give it another week or two and there would be ten times the people thronging the streets, fighting for the best spot on the sand or the last umbrella at Grisham's General Store, determined to get everything they wanted and more out of this summer vacation. It made me glad I lived in San Francisco.
My mother's words weighed heavily on my mind. And then there was the matter of whatever Grandpa wanted to talk about. I couldn't shake the bad feeling brewing and wished I could avoid the conversation. It felt like genie-in-the-bottle syndrome — once released, there was no stuffing whatever it was back inside.
I hadn't realized I'd been manically winding my long hair around my fingers until Grandpa glanced over. "How you doing, doll?" he asked. "You're going to rip your hair out of your head."
Excerpted from "Cat About Town"
Copyright © 2017 Liz Mugavero.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed this mystery very much. I love animal stories. We have two female cats that were feral. We each one at a young age. Mysteries are one of my favorite things to read. This book was all I expected it to be. Thank you Cate Conte. Thank you Barnes and Noble for having this book when I needed a very good book to read.
I couldn't put the book down. It was a great read.
A very nice start to a new series. It looks like a winner. Good characters including a cat! Well crafted mystery. Fun to read.
After her grandmother's funeral , Maddie stays on to help her Grandpa deal with his loss, loneliness, and a persistent shady entrepreneur who is trying to railroad him into selling his generational home and land for a business plan that will change the small town she grew up in in significant ways. When the entrepreneur is found dead by Maddie's newly adopted cat, Maddie must discover the real killer's identity to remove suspicion from her beloved Grandpa .
Started a little slow Almost too many characters Good surprise ending Enjoyed it .
I thoroughly enjoyed this cozy mystery. The story and characters held my interest. Maddie returns to her hometown, Daybreak Island in New England to attend a funeral. She rescues a stray cat that serves as her sidekick as she tries to solve a murder mystery. The cat doesn't talk, just meows-the book isn't overly cutesy. This is the first book in the series and I look forward to reading the next when it is released.
A lively cozy mystery. Look forward to the next one.
Having worked with an animal shelter, this story was true to form. A cat cafe is a marvelous idea. Hope there will be a sequel.
Dollycas’s Thoughts Maddie James comes to town for her grandmother’s funeral and to spend some time with her grandfather as they both grieve. The funeral has one surprise guest, a cute tabby cat that attached itself right to Maddie. Things go great until her new furry friend finds a dead body. Maddie finds herself reacquainting herself with the people of Daybreak Island and getting to know the new residents as she tries to find the person who was driven to kill the man that wanted to change everything about the Island. Turns out there are plenty of suspects. Cate Conte has brought some truly lovable characters to this series. The relationship between Maddie and her Grandpa Joe is so heartwarming. She will go to great lenths to protect him and he her. As a cat lover I was taken in by the way Maddie accepted orange feline into her life complete with a leash to take him with her everywhere. It reminded me of the relationship between Charlie Harris and his cat, Diesel, in Miranda James Cat in the Stacks mystery series, one of my favorite series. Daybreak Island is a wonderful setting. It is filled with history in the shops and the homes. You need to take a ferry to reach it and while it does have a tourist season most residents live there year round. I could easily picture everything thanks to the author’s terrific descriptions. The mystery was top notch. A variety of suspects with means, motive and opportunity drew me deeper and deeper into the story. The “cat cafe” has not come to fruition yet but this first installment gives us the backstory that has started to put the cafe in motion. This series is off to a fantastic start! I can’t wait for my next escape to Daybreak Island. My virtual bags are already packed.
Cate Conte has created a wonderful world for her Cat Cafe Mystery series. CAT ABOUT TOWN by Cate Conte The First Cat Cafe Mystery Maddie James has left her juice bar in San Francisco in the capable hands of her business partner as she returns to Daybreak Island in New England to be there when her grandmother dies. After the funeral Maddie is concerned about her grandfather, especially when she discovers he's not doing well financially and the chamber of commerce leader is trying to coerce him into selling the family home. Maddie's not about to let anyone threaten her family and warns the man off, publicly. It's only a few hours later, as she chases after her new cat friend, that they come across his body, murdered in a tent on the Food Stroll. Maddie realizes she could be the number one suspect, but could her grandfather, the former Chief of Police, really be suspect number two? Familial love with an interesting dynamic, secondary characters with depth, and an orange cat you can't help but love combine with humor to make a fine mystery. CAT ABOUT TOWN is a solid start to a new series. When the mystery is solved we are left with plenty of avenues still to explore and, indeed, a new beginning prepared for the next book. Cate Conte has created a wonderful world for her Cat Cafe Mystery series. An insulated island that gets jam packed with tourists in the summer months yet becomes nearly desolate in winter is the perfect place for murder. It's a place where neighbors know each other, but not necessarily the strangers. It's also a place with varied ideas about growth and a place where people could get desperate. I look forward to seeing and learning more about the secondary characters, especially Damian and the Leopard Man. But my favorite aspect of the book is JJ whose charm is completely captivating! FTC Disclosure – The publisher sent me a digital ARC provided through NetGalley, in the hopes I would review it.
Fun 1st in series read. Now I just have to wait & see what happens next on Daybreak Island.
Cat About Town by Cate Conte is a purr-fect book. I felt a connection with the main character, Maddie James right from the start. With the story opening at a funeral and her grandfather asking for help, I was intrigued from the beginning. Some prominent people in this quaint New England town are being killed. When Maddie's grandpa becomes a suspect, she begins to sort the pieces of the mystery, putting the puzzle together swiftly and accurately. The ending was fantastic and I absolutely love J.J. As a cat lover it's always fun to read about the animals and all their quirky antics. I definitely give this book 5 paws up. I voluntarily read an ARC of this book provided by the publisher and NetGalley.
Cat About Town by Cate Conte was a delightful cozy book and just the beginning of a new series. I liked Maddie right away and her relationship with her grandfather and family was realistic. Ms. Conte's descriptive writing of the island and shops made me feel like I was there with Maddie and JJ as they walked around their home town. All of the characters were very likable and developed enough that I want to know more about them. The plot was steady with plenty of suspects, clues and twists that I was surprised at the reveal. A great beginning to a new cozy series. I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Minotaur Books via NetGalley. All of the above opinions are my own.
You can't go home again, or can you? What about you MUST go home again? Sometimes life makes choices for each of us and then we must decide how to move forward. Maddie James wanted to experience life off an island where once the tourists have left for the season there seems to be nothing to do. Everyone knows their neighbors and there seems to be no privacy. Maddie returns home to spend some time with her grandmother before she passes and to help her grandfather adjust to life without his partner of forever. As things are supposed to be settling down, things just become more mysterious and messed up. Both Maddie and her grandfather, the former police chief, become suspects in a murder. Murder does not happen on Daybreak Island! The victim has many friends (connections) but is not well liked. People Maddie thought she knew, pillars of the community, have more secrets than anyone could ever imagine. The characters are colorful, the relationships between them are intriguing. There is action and suspense. I am sure we will learn more about Leopard Man as the series progresses. And the star of this novel, an orange cat with the personality (and potential) of a Superstar - JJ - will steal your heart. Discover this series from the beginning. I hope we do not have to wait long for the next adventure.