The dead don’t keep pets. So when animal behaviorist expert Pru Marlowe gets a call about a kitten, she doesn’t expect to find the cuddly creature playing beside the cooling body of prominent Beauville lawyer David Canaday. Heart attack? His three adult daughters angrily blame drug interactions, feline allergies—and each other. And begin to feud over their father, his considerable estate, and that cute ball of fluff. While the cause of death is pending, each sister has an axe to grind –with arguments that escalate when David’s partner reads out the will.
Pru’s special sensory talents and sensitivity to animals that caused her to flee the cacophony of Manhattan for the quiet Berkshires add further problems. The local vet is overwhelmed with money running out. There’s that needy Sheltie and some invasive squirrels? But the dead man’s kitten, his former partner, and his troublesome family keep drawing “wild-girl” animal psychic Pru back in. Despite the wry observations of her trusty tabby Wallis, now the wrongfully accused kitten’s guardian, and the grudging compliance of her cop lover, this may be one time when Pru can’t solve the mystery or save the kitten she wants to believe is innocent. A single witness knows the truth about that bright spring morning. How far can Pru investigate without risking her own hidden tale?
Read an Excerpt
Kittens Can Kill
A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir Mystery
By Clea Simon
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2015 Clea Simon
All rights reserved.
There's nothing cute about a death scene. Not the shards of the mug that rested in a puddle on the cold tile floor. Not the scent of the tea—acrid and sharp—that now mingled with the mustier odors of a body's last struggle. And certainly not the body itself, sprawled contorted beside the shattered ceramic, one arm reaching out for succor, the other frozen in rigor as it clawed at the argyle wool vest that covered the still chest.
No, there was nothing cute about the tableau that greeted me when I made my way into the kitchen of Mr. David Canaday, Esquire, after twenty minutes of pointless knocking. But the kitten that sat beside the puddle, batting at a metal button that must have popped off the vest in that last desperate effort? That little white puffball, not more than eight weeks old and intent as he could be on his newfound toy as it rolled back and forth? He was adorable. The cutest little bundle a girl could ever swoon for.
He knew it, too. As I stood there, staring, he batted that button toward me. Rolling around on its rounded top, it made its slow circular way toward my feet.
"Play?" The message in those round blue eyes was clear. I was supposed to kick the button back. To get it moving—make it livelier prey than the still man on the floor would ever be again. "Back to me?"
The button hit my boot, and the kitten reared up when I stepped back, his front paws reaching up to slap the air.
"No, kitty. I can't." I took another step back the way I had come.
"Play?" And another.
I had no desire to kick the button. What I wanted to do was scoop up this little puffball and run. To remove such an innocent creature from the horror before me. That had been my plan, even before I'd walked into the room. Get the kitten, get out. Get on with my day.
That didn't look like it was going to happen. Not now, and as much as I wanted to snatch the kitten up I restrained myself and, fiddling with my bag, found my phone while I took a third step and a fourth back to the kitchen door. As much as I wanted to grab up the kitten and run for dear life, I knew better than to disturb what just might be a crime scene—or to remove what I assumed to be the only living witness.CHAPTER 2
The paramedics arrived first, and for that I was grateful. They had the body on a stretcher by the time the daughter arrived, straps across those jolly blue diamonds and a blanket covering the soiled khakis below. Better still, they were the ones to tell her what that still, pale face should have. What had been patently obvious to me from the moment I'd stepped into the room: Dad was dead. They were taking him to the hospital—that was protocol—but there'd be no sirens wailing because there was no great rush. Lucky for me, she opted to ride along.
I didn't envy the paramedics. The daughter looked like the type who would fight them. Insist on CPR or defibrillation, even as the old man's color faded to a muted version of that vest, the blood slowly settling in his back.
She didn't look much better. Pale as dishwater, with hair to match. That hair, a listless bob, had been dark once, maybe as black as mine, but time had dulled its color and its sheen, much as it had softened what might have once been impressive cheekbones and a jawline that now sloped gently into a chubby neck.
Between that pallor and the way she had carried on, I had thought at first that she was the wife. Then I remembered: the old man was widowed. It was his daughter who had called me, asking for help in settling a new pet with an increasingly shut-in and by all accounts difficult elder.
"It needs everything," she had said when she'd called. "Shots, whatever."
I'd been bothered by that impersonal "it." Sexing a kitten can be difficult, but this smacked of something colder. Still, I'd said I'd call Doc Sharpe, our local vet, to set up a well-kitten visit and silently figured on adding taxi and escort charges. In the meantime, I'd told the daughter that I'd drop by to set things up. As the woman on the phone had gone on, though, I'd begun adding services. Neither she nor her father had expected this kitten. She had errands to run, she'd said, and sounded particularly put out by its sudden, unannounced appearance. It—that impersonal "it" again—had been an unexpected gift, the caller had said. And while that sounded odd, I wasn't going to question it. Not if they were willing to pay.
That gig was shot, I thought as I watched the ambulance from the shelter of an eager rhododendron, blossoms ready to pop. Sure, I could bill for my time. I'd certainly charge for the load of supplies in my car. But I wouldn't count on getting paid, not soon anyway. Spring and my business usually picked up. The tourists started filtering back, and the seasonal condos filled with troubled dogs and angry cats, all confused by the very human idea of relocating for fun. But even though the May days were growing soft, my client base hadn't warmed up yet. I'd been counting on this job for at least a few regular checks.
"Mama? Where did you go?" The soft cry brought me out of my musing. Male, definitely, though still much more a baby than a boy. Spring. I looked through the bush's dark green leaves for a nest. For a den in the dark, damp leaves beneath the trees. "Where are you?"
The kitten. Of course. With all the hubbub, the tiny animal must have been spooked. Must have darted for safety and gotten outside. I couldn't recall anyone mentioning the little cat as they strapped the old man to the gurney and bundled his daughter in for the ride.
The kitten was determined, I'd give him that. And he seemed to have gotten over his fright. I looked around. The EMTs had left the door ajar when they first stormed in, and the little fellow probably snuck out. Normally, I'd cheer him on. Self-determination is a virtue that I applaud, but a baby is a baby, after all. And while the east side of Beauville might look nicer than our shabby downtown, part of the appeal was its old-growth woods. I thought of the foxes that would be nesting soon beneath those trees. And the fishers, and a few other predators, all of whom would be looking for a tasty morsel for themselves or their own young. Nature, right? With a sigh that probably revealed more about my human nature than I'd care to admit, I dropped to my knees. Besides, it wasn't like I was doing anyone else any good just then.
"I'm here, little fellow," I called out softly, peering around the shrubbery. "Where are you?"
He didn't answer, not that I really expected him to. I should explain that this is odd for me. I have a sensitivity, you see. Some people might call it a gift. I can pick up what animals are thinking, hear their thoughts like voices in my head. Yes, I know how nutty that sounds. That's why I keep my particular sensitivity to myself, although I have a feeling that others are growing suspicious.
But the thing about picking up animals' voices is that they don't talk like you or I do. They have no need for meaningless conversation, and they certainly don't chatter just to hear themselves speak. And so although I tend to perceive their voices in human terms—that kitten asking for its mother, for example—that's just my weak human brain trying to make sense of what I'm really getting. Which was a young animal coming to terms with its environment. That kitten wanted to play, because playing is its job—how it learns to hunt, to survive. He had appeared to address me because kittens, like all mammals, learn from their mothers, their peers. From the world around them. He wasn't calling to me, specifically. He was reaching out, because he was alone.
Alone. That was part of what I was getting, but there was something else, too—an undercurrent of loneliness and confusion, a jumble of noise and fear and ...
"Back to me? Kick it again?"
Boredom? Well, as I've said, play is a young animal's job. And while I didn't necessarily want to play kick the button, I was grateful for the repeated plea. The voice was clearly coming from inside.
I turned back to the silent house. Although I'd walked in with no problem—Beauville still being that kind of place—someone had thought to lock the door. Luckily, the latch was a simple one, and it gave way quickly to the thin blade of the knife I always keep close at hand. This wasn't breaking-and-entering. Not really, I told myself as I closed the door carefully behind me. I'd been hired to take care of a kitten, and that's what I was going to do.
"Kitten? Hello?" As I've said, I wasn't really expecting an answer. What I was doing was announcing my presence, trying to sound as nonthreatening as I could, which for me meant voicing my thought in the form of a question.
"Back to me!" I tried to echo the thought I had picked up. The kitchen remained still and apparently empty. I proceeded through the open archway into what appeared to be a living room. "You there?"
"Play with me!" That insistent voice. "Why wont he play with me?"
I didn't have the heart to tell him, but I had to. "He's gone," I said.
"Gone?" The question bounced back, like that button. The small creature was trying to make sense of my response. Of the word. I kicked myself. I wasn't doing the kitten any favors with my euphemism. Animals live or die in the physical world, and despite this one's infant appeal, he probably had a better sense of reality than most of the humans in this town.
"Dead," I said, summoning the memory of the still, cold body.
"Gone?" The damage had been done, and I felt the confusion as the kitten continued to roll that word—that concept—about in his tiny feline brain.
"Catch me!" The button appeared, rolling in a slow semicircle from under a chair. "Let's play!"
"Kitten?" I ducked down and leaned beneath the coffee table. There, eyes wide, crouched the little creature. He'd taken refuge from all the commotion. Up close, I could see he was undersized and a little ragged, more ready to pounce than to groom. I reached for him and he reared up, batting at me with cool paw pads. "Okay, little fellow." I scooped him up, and as he nuzzled against my shirt, I felt a wet spot on his back.
"Feels like you've been trying to wash." No wonder his fur looked patchy. "Or did you get splashed?"
* * *
I sniffed the kitten and caught something funky. Tea, I hoped, and not something more gruesome. I didn't think I was imagining a slight mint scent, and any puddles on the floor where the body had fallen had been trampled into dark stains. Mimicking my action, the kitten stretched around to sniff the wet spot, and promptly sneezed.
"Gesundheit, little fellow." He looked up at me, eyes wide, and sneezed again. An adorable little snort, prompted perhaps by that touch of mint. But I've been in this business too long not to think of the other possibilities: feline viral rhinoneumonitis—FVR, better known as feline herpes—for example. Not fatal, but something to manage. At any rate, I held the little creature under the tap for a moment. He was young enough to take my impromptu bath without too much fuss and was purring as I rubbed him down with a dish towel.
"Excuse me." The voice behind me made me twirl around and the kitten jumped to the floor. He landed by a pair of cowboy boots—turquoise blue—attached to jeans that fit like a second skin. On top of these, a woman's face scowled at me, the eyes wide and regal. "But who are you, and what are you doing in my father's house? And what are you doing with my kitten?"CHAPTER 3
"Who the hell are you?" I wasn't at my best. I knew it. Dropping by to visit a kitten and finding a dead body will do that to you, and I'd been enjoying my brief respite with the kitten. But even as I grabbed the damp infant once again to my chest, I was beginning to suspect something was wrong.
For one thing, the kitten was squirming. Don't get me wrong. I'm not an animal whisperer. Wild beasts don't go all dreamy in my presence, although I did have a moment with a panther once. I've even got the bite scars—and rabies shots—to prove I'm perfectly capable of provoking animal aggression. But the way I was holding the little cat should have been comforting—body supported, up against my own heart. And the message I was getting wasn't of fear or even a desire get down, but something else again—agitation. Discomfort.
"I'm calling the cops," the newcomer said, still standing in the doorway. And as she pulled her cell from her bag, I suddenly understood.
"You're Judith. In from California." She paused, phone in hand. "Look, the door was open," I said. It had been, originally. "That's how we do it around here. Maybe you don't remember." Her eyes narrowed, and I wondered how long she'd been gone. "Continue calling, by all means." I had more important things to worry about. I had a kitten in distress. "Detective Creighton will vouch for me."
That did it. She hung up and began carefully removing her leather driving gloves, but her dark eyes narrowed as she took me in. "Who are you?"
"Pru, Pru Marlowe." The kitten coughed, his body heaving. I knew the drill. I turned him just in time, holding him as he heaved up a bit of liquid and then, with another convulsion that shook his tiny body, what looked like some half-digested kibble. I didn't see anything immediately harmful in the mess, and I made a mental note to check the house plants. Some of them could be dangerous.
That last heave was it, though. Already the fuzzy baby seemed to be better. I put him down as I reached for a sponge to wipe up his vomit. By the time I'd done rinsing the sponge, he was sniffing at the damp spot on the rug and purring. I lifted him up again and absently stroked his velvet-soft head as I turned once more to the woman standing there. "I'm the animal person—the trainer." If it weren't obvious now, there was no hope for it. "Jackie called me."
"Jackie?" I could tell from her tone that this was a quiz.
"Your big sister?" I could pass this one. "She said she needed someone to get a kitten checked out. Get whatever it would need. I picked up a litter box and a scratching post, as well as a bag of kibble."
"Play." The kitten was getting drowsy. I could sense his eyes closing, but still, he looked out at the dark-haired woman before me.
"I could've done that." The peevish tone was fading. More for her sister than for me, I suspected.
I didn't disagree. "She seemed a little anxious." I would give her that. "And she'd called our local veterinary hospital, and the vet there recommended me...." I shrugged, letting her reach her own conclusions. I'm not a behaviorist. I've never finished the training. But Beauville is a small town, and so when somebody needs a pet trained, I usually get the call. I walk dogs, too.
"Huh." Judith pocketed her phone. "What did she say, exactly?"
"That her sister Judith from California had come by with a kitten." I thought back to the call. The woman on the line had sounded significantly older, but there are other things besides time that can age a person. "She said you'd dropped it off—sorry, that's what she said—and 'disappeared.' She sounded like she had her hands full."
She paused and I waited, unsure whether to offer condolences, unwilling to be the one to break the news.
"I didn't 'drop it off.'" Her tone was peevish, her full lips pursed. Judith wasn't angry with me, though. She knew it too, and as she ran her hand through her hair, she shook off the last of her suspicious edge. "I'm sorry. Today's just been ... Jackie called me from the hospital. I was on my way there. You said your name was Pru?"
This last was called back over her shoulder. Judith—the glossy sister, as I'd already labeled her—had wandered into a downstairs bathroom and was rummaging through the cabinet, emerging with a couple of aspirin, which she swallowed dry. "My dad's birthday is today—was today." So she knew. It was official. That made my role easier, and I went through the formula then, mouthing sadness and regret while she splashed some water down her throat and on her face.
Excerpted from Kittens Can Kill by Clea Simon. Copyright © 2015 Clea Simon. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Prior to even considering reading this book, ask yourself this question: "Can you cope with a jaded and nosy woman narrator who can talk to animals Dr Dolittle style and sense their traumas and presence á la "Sixth Sense"? If the answer is no, as you think that is an absolutely ridiculous and annoying concept, you should really give this one a miss. Also, if you are looking for a cosy novel, this isn't it. Pru Marlowe is a typical noir character: she has baggage, bad habits and often a bad attitude. She is very sceptical about people and she is very nosy. She is not a private investigator and she does not work for the police; she is an animal behaviourist, with a very special talent, which is both a blessing and a curse for her: Pru does not just sense what animals think, she can actually fully understand their language, and read their minds, and they can hers. Kittens Can Kill is the first instalment in the Pru Marlowe Pet Noir series, and the first one I have ever read. It is well written and fairly engaging, even though at times I found some passages to be a bit slow and rather educational with preachy undertones about animal welfare (which is not necessarily a bad thing). We get a reasonable insight into the main characters, who are mostly unlikeable, and what had actually happened to the deceased, Mr D Canaday, does not become clear until the very end. Family feuds and intrigue are plentiful. All in all, I did enjoy this book and I would definitely read more from this author. [ARC received via Netgalley]
Pru Marlowe can talk to animals and they can talk to her. Comes in handy as she’s an animal behaviorist. She helps pets and their humans to understand each other. When lawyer David Canady is found dead, Pru doesn’t buy it that a kitten, the cute little fluff ball, Ernesto, had anything to do with his masters death. Taking the traumatized kitten home with her, Pru becomes enmeshed in the mystery. Cause of death is pending and everyone is scrambling to cover their butts and cast blame on others. Likely suspects are the lawyers three daughters. There’s no love lost between them, and the reading of the will just makes this worse. Between dealing with pesky squirrels, trying to decipher her cat Wallis’s cryptic clues, and trying to coax info out of her sexy cop boyfriend, Pru’s secret ability may be revealed. I don’t envy Pru’s ability to communicate with animals. They aren’t very good at making themselves clear. I’d get a headache trying to figure them out. Her ability as an animal behaviorist helps her with this. Sometimes for the good and sometimes it’s sad. I think I liked the animal characters in this book more than the humans, except for Pru, her lover, Jim Creighton, and the humble town veterinarian, Dr. Sharpe. I couldn’t warm up to Pru’s loser ex-boyfriend, or to the three sisters. They all seemed self-centered and greedy. And some of her clients were so ignorant of their pets needs. I pity some of those animals. Pru’s cat, Wallis, was my favorite. I tried to picture him as a human. He’d be portly, partly balding, and have a British accent. He really was a sarcastic one. Little Ernesto was a sweetie, but very young. He couldn’t get his messages across to Pru, but he was coming around to it. As much as I wanted to know if the lawyer was truly murdered, and if so, who did it, I wanted to know who ended up with little kitty, Ernesto, even more. What can I say, I love all furbabies. Give me a cozy mystery with plenty of suspects, a bit of the paranormal, and animals, and I’m a happy camper.
A mystery with talking animals. They seem to be popular these days so every so often I try one. And then remember that I don't like them. I guess I keep trying to see why they appeal to readers but I've yet to see it. Pru is an animal behaviorist that can hear what animals are saying and talk to them. She's been called in to deal with a kitten that was given to a retired lawyer as a gift and needs to be taken to the vet. When she arrives, the lawyer is dead and the kitten is playing next to him. The lawyers three daughters all get accused and, in turn, seem to accuse each other of killing him. In the end, of course, the animals provide the clues for Pru to solve the mystery. The mystery plot, taken on its own, is not bad. The book is well edited. The dialogue is believable. If you into talking animals, this will probably be ok, but I did not care for it at all. Pru is bitter and fairly unlikeable in many ways. She has a great disregard for normal human activities which reminds me of Kinsey Milhone at her worst. She seems to think that animals are smarter than people and everyone who doesn't understand them is just an ignoramus. She's dismissive of her boyfriend. I just generally didn't enjoy her character at all. But the final nail in the coffin is the way she investigates the murder. She has absolutely no standing to do so. The family doesn't ask her to. She didn't know him. She's not being accused of anything. All the normal reasons that amateurs investigate crimes are non-existent. She's just super-nosy and not in a fun way. What makes it worse is that people tell her stuff. Stuff that you would never tell a stranger. It's nonsensical. This is the fifth in a series and the first I've read so maybe that has some bearing on how ridiculous this book seemed to me but I won't be reading the others to find out. This was provided to me through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.