Mew Is for Murder (Theda Krakow Series #1)

Mew Is for Murder (Theda Krakow Series #1)

by Clea Simon


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781464201172
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication date: 04/02/2013
Series: Theda Krakow Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 250
Sales rank: 991,017
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Clea Simon is the author of the Theda Krakow mystery series, which began with Mew is for Murder, as well as three nonfiction books, including the Muse and Merial Award-winning The Feline Mystique: On the Mysterious Connection Between Women and Cats. A contributor to such diverse publications as The New York Times, Cat Fancy, Rolling Stone, Salon, Ms., the Boston Globe, and the Boston Phoenix, she lives in Cambridge, Mass., with her husband Jon Garelick, and their cat, Musetta.

Read an Excerpt

Mew Is for Murder

By Clea Simon

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2005 Clea Simon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-59058-165-2

Chapter One

"You ever hear the one about the cat lady who died alone with her precious pussies? By the time they found her, the cats-" Ralph's voice boomed across the open room.

"That's an urban myth, Ralph," I snapped back. I couldn't help but see his broad grin. "And you know it." I was sorting through a stack of mail on a big, empty desk in a big, almost empty newsroom, but I heard him hoot with pleasure. He'd gotten to me.

"They're heartless beasts, you know." He swiveled his bulky bottom in the ergonometrically correct desk chair and called back over his shoulder. "No point in loving them."

"Well, you're not any kind of winner," I muttered. "Not with that attitude." Head turned away, he didn't hear me, and I saw him swivel back toward his desk, the only exercise he apparently ever got. He reached into the mountain of paper and cardboard mailers, cleared a space to reveal a computer keyboard, and pushed his Discman headphones back up on his head. As his tiny ponytail began to bob, I knew I'd been dismissed. Still peeved, I was tempted to grab that thin grey queue, as I'd never grab a cat's tail. To pull him on his rolling chair through the city room would be pure fun.

But that kind of fun was too expensive for me. I was a freelancer, aninterloper in this newsroom, even if I preferred to call myself talent for hire. An outsider, despite having labored as a Clea Simon Clea Simon paid employee here for the better part of a decade. Ralph was a staff writer-the Morning Mail's senior rock critic-which made him a fixture while my kind came and went. And I'd just sold my former boss on a story that I cared about. Better not to ruffle any feathers-or fur for that matter. Despite the itch in my palm as I walked by that paltry bobbing lock, I resisted. Instead, I dumped the junk mail that had accumulated in my mailbox, tucked a long reporter's note pad in my bag, and walked toward the escalators that would lead me out.

Sunlight, one of the first real days of spring. I fished my dark glasses from the big, fl at courier bag that held my life, pushed an unruly red curl back out of my eyes, and enjoyed the view through the paper's glass front. The trees were budding, the strip of earth that rimmed the building glowed with a faint green that would soon be lawn. Next week, or maybe in two, either the heat would kick in with all its wonderful bugs and mugginess, or it would turn frigid again. In Boston, you could never quite tell. But on one glorious May Monday, it was spring.

After years of using the grim employee's entrance in the back, I stepped out through the big, glass doors of the Mail and enjoyed the damp, fresh scent of the season. The first hint of lilac, salt from the nearby bay: it smelled to me of freedom. Which, considering I'm thirty-three, was coming just in time. Thirty-three, the "Jesus year," which my friend Bunny, a lapsed-Catholic-turned-Wiccan, had assured me would be a year of changes and decisions. Professionally, at least, she'd been right. Sure, my income had plummeted when I'd left the copy desk a few months back, giving up nights of spelling checks and correcting grammar for financial instability and freedom. But now I could tell anyone who asked that I was Theda Krakow, writer, and not want to correct myself, to tack on "part time" or even "hopeful." I had three months' rent in the bank, a reasonably sound Toyota, and I was doing what I loved most, finally, with no restrictive clause attached.

Thinking of claws, I tried to remember my cat food situation. The Mail was located right by a huge supermarket with a well-stocked pet department. It was just a moment's thought, but suddenly the bright sky turned misty. For a moment there, I'd forgotten this year's most devastating change: James was no more. The huge gray former stray who'd been my loyal feline companion for twelve years had succumbed three weeks before to kidney failure and an intestinal blockage that the vets had decided, too late, was cancer. Twenty-three days ago, actually. The bright sun no longer warmed me.

Time to work, I reminded myself. After several weeks of never leaving James' side and nearly daily vet visits, I'd thrown myself back into my career, such as it was. My closest friends, I knew, were a little worried about me. Their attempts to drag me out hadn't met with much success, even after James was gone, and when they did they noted the weight that had dropped from my normally healthy five-foot-nine frame, the rings that almost matched my dark eyes. At least one of my girlfriends had asked if I needed more time to mourn, or at least be with people, before diving back into a full work schedule. But I'd made the step out of my secure little job and toward a dream, and no matter how much I was hurting I wasn't going to let that become a mistake. Editors didn't understand delays, didn't understand anything but deadlines and word counts. The freelancer who was late might have the best excuse in the world, but she wouldn't get the call the next time that editor wanted a thousand words by Thursday. Putting grief aside, I'd typed up fresh story pitches, Xeroxed my best clippings, and gone looking for assignments.

It wasn't just the money. I found the rhythms of reporting and writing to be mercifully seductive, particularly when my one-bedroom apartment had become so still and quiet. This kind of work was the perfect distraction-how can your own story bring you down when you're trying to get inside someone else's? I'd head home just long enough to make some phone calls, set up interviews, and immediately head out again. No point in crying or sitting around staring at the empty plush cat bed on the filing cabinet by my computer. There was always a source to be called or a fact to be checked. A story was in the offing, and it was time to hunt it down and pounce.

The story that was waiting for me this afternoon was one I'd been pushing for, one that sprang out of my adopted home town. Since coming to the area for college, I'd lived in Cambridge. This smaller city, across the river from the paper's Boston base, had been dubbed "Boston's Left Bank" and "The People's Republic" with varying degrees of affection by the academics, immigrants, and aging hippies I called neighbors. Of course, the presence of staff and students from Harvard, M.I.T., and a dozen smaller schools hadn't always blended easily with the area's solid working-class base, a mix of old Portuguese families and newer arrivals from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, but that's what kept things interesting. With the final demise of the Tasty, the old diner's linoleum counter giving way to a chi-chi chain store that peddled overpriced swim trunks, some said the real Cambridge was dead. What kind of town was it where you couldn't get an honest hot dog for under two dollars anymore, not to mention a lime rickey? But outside of Harvard Square, the balance still held. We still had more independent bookstores and coffeehouses than McDonald's, and for that I was grateful.

My area, at least, was resisting gentrification. Stuck between the universities and the river, Cambridgeport wedged town and gown together too tightly for anyone to take on airs. Even the architectures lived cheek by jowl. Right around my block, with the rusty brick buildings where I'd found a rent-controlled apartment a couple of years back, was a row of old Victorians. Despite the wear, the graying clapboard, they had grace, not to mention the wrap-around porches and high ceilings I'd always longed for, and they gave the area character and a sense of warmth. You could wave at someone lounging on a swing on one of those sprawling porches, and he or she would wave back, regardless of color, language, or income level. The next time you saw that person, waiting in line at the drugstore or walking along the sidewalk, you'd both smile, like you knew each other. In a way, you did, thanks to the forced proximity of the neighborhood.

I'd made a habit of strolling through these tree-lined blocks as the dirty snow receded into the gutters these past few weeks. Deep in the heart of the riverside city they sat like a warm oasis. The neighborhood was definitely urban: traffic lined up on Putnam, the main cut-through, with loud salsa competing against NPR from the car windows as commuters sought a short cut to or from the turnpike. And in the mornings a definite sweet smell often filled the air-sometimes mint-flavored, sometimes pure sugar-from the confectionery factory that shadowed the area. I'd had roommates who said it made them gag, but Cambridgeport was home to me. I loved the mix of languages and people as well as the filigree touches that embellished an old arch, the detailing on top of a painted wooden column. And until I could afford one of those magnificent old houses, I was happy enough to live in a big brick box nearby as long as I could walk by those aging beauties and pay my respects.

It was on one of my morning walks, just two days earlier, that I'd found my story. It had found me, actually. Or she had, a small black and white kitten who'd barreled into me, nearly tripping me as I strolled unaware, eyes up on a particularly well preserved bit of masonry detail.

"Yow!" I'd exclaimed, catching myself from a stumble and seeing, at last, the black and white dumpling who'd woven between my ankles. "What's up, little kitty?" But she took off, not deigning to answer, and I followed. Partly, I'll admit, because she was adorable, those tiny white boots kicking up behind her, but partly too because she looked awfully young, with fur that still clumped like wool and a little spiky tail that seemed too short for her round body. I hadn't spied a collar, but if I found one on her I'd make sure to deliver her right back to her mama's door.

She was too fast for me, however, and ducked under an overgrown holly bush before I could scoop her up. I could see two light green eyes staring back at me from beneath the dark green cave, but the thorny leaves that came almost to ground level made access challenging.

"Okay, little girl. Maybe you're home." I've always spoken to cats. Who knows how much they understand? More than we knew, I'd venture. At any rate, she didn't respond, and I stood to straighten my back. Suddenly I was aware that I wasn't alone. Standing up had brought me eye level with the elevated porch of one of those Victorians-and face-to-face with three of the largest cats I had ever seen. Two tabbies and a long-haired gray stared at me, and as I stepped back-an involuntary response to their pure size and majesty-another, somewhat smaller, joined them.

"Hello." It couldn't hurt to be polite. They didn't respond, but a fifth walked up, a bright orange tiger, coming, I could see now, from the opened window that let out onto the sagging, paintless porch. She (or he, I couldn't really see) was joined by another, basically white and frankly a little grimy, with a black spot like an eyepatch on her right side. "Meh!" she said, summing me up rather quickly, and flopped on the boards beside her colleagues.

Six cats, seven counting my kitten. I was beginning to wonder who lived here. Forgetting my original intention of simply perambulating toward groceries, I walked up the pitted driveway that ran up alongside the house and was nearly tripped again as a door opened inward and four more kittens-adolescents, really-charged out, all long legs and skinny tails as they batted each other and wrestled their way around me to disappear in the weeds of the lawn.

"Do you have a kitten?" I looked up at the sound of a voice so faint it could have been the rustle of the leaves. "Did you bring me a kitten?"

I was momentarily dumbfounded as I looked up into a small round face surrounded by white curls. Despite the day's growing heat, she wore a blue-gray cardigan, which I couldn't help noticing was misbuttoned. And on her shoulder sat another cat, a small one, brown and sleek with at least a little Siamese in its background.

"Did you?" Her voice had grown a bit louder. Was she expecting tribute? Then I remembered how I'd first noticed her brood.

"There was a kitten, a little black and white one. I thought she might be lost." My answer sounded feeble. Clearly, I realized, this kitten was part of a much larger pride. How many cats did this woman have?

"Ah, Musetta. My little flirt. No, she's fine. We're all fine here," she said turning back into the house. On her shoulder the almond-shaped blue eyes of the Siamese turned back to watch me and blinked once. "We're doing fine." The door closed behind her and I was once more alone in the sun. The cats on the porch had disappeared, as had the adolescents play fighting in the long grass. All that remained were my questions and the memory of one roly-poly kitten, too young to be out on her own and destined, I feared, for trouble.

"Excuse me. Excuse me!" The sharp voice that broke my reverie didn't seem to be begging anyone's indulgence, but I looked up automatically. Was I blocking someone's way? I'd begun to wander away from the cat lady's house, my mind lost in a vision of cats' eyes, and stood at the end of her driveway, where an overgrown lilac had begun to show its first dark-purple buds. "Excuse me!" A thin thirtyish woman in a bright turquoise suit was waving to me from the steps next door, one of the nicer houses on the block. "Are you with animal control?"

"No, I just thought there was a lost kitten ..." I began to reply, raising my voice to match her volume, when she cut me off with a wave of her manicured hand. I caught a glimpse of a gold bracelet, the obvious mate to the heavy gold chain around her neck. At her gesture, I approached.

"Kittens! There are always kittens there." She said it as if it were a bad thing. "People are always bringing them by to her. I don't know what to do."

"Do you think she's a hoarder?" Ever since I'd seen those cats assembled on the porch, I'd wondered. While true cat hoarders-the kind who take in so many stray felines that both their health and the well-being of their pets is endangered-might be uncommon, the number of cats that I'd seen, plus their caretaker's unwillingness to chat, had set off a small alarm in the back of my head. Cat hoarders, or collectors, tended to avoid outside contacts. We are all the enemy in their eyes, since we often come around to remove the animals that we see as endangered and they see as family. I'd heard of hoarders who lost almost all connection with reality, as their isolation fed the wild stories that grew around them and they were ostracized by their neighbors. This woman had seemed to recognize the kitten I'd described, so she wasn't too out of it. But why had she brushed me off like that? How many more cats were sheltered inside the rundown house? Sure, the old lady might just be a bit reclusive, a private person or shy. But I'd thought of this as a friendly block. Here was her neighbor, a woman who obviously had a life-and a well-financed one at that-willing to talk with a perfect stranger.

"Hoarder? She's a freak, that's what she is." Her clipped tones accented the word dismissively, leaving no room for discussion. "A freak. But everyone brings their cats to her. Never mind what they do to our yard or to the songbirds in our trees."

"Do they look healthy and well fed?" I asked, knowing full well that some hoarders will feed their cats before they put dinner on their own tables.

"The cats? They make this area look like a ghetto!" She spit out the word. It didn't answer my question, but her own gesticulations brought her attention to the thin gold watch that lay beside the bracelet. "My ten-thirty!" She disappeared inside. Just as I turned to walk on, her glossy dark-green door opened again.

"If she's a friend of yours, you tell her that I'm calling animal control again. You tell her." She ducked back in before I could reply, but there was no doubt in my mind who the nicely dressed woman was talking about. All I questioned now was my own readiness to believe appearances.


Excerpted from Mew Is for Murder by Clea Simon Copyright © 2005 by Clea Simon. Excerpted by permission.
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.

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Mew Is for Murder (Theda Krakow Series #1) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 64 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
It hasn¿t been a very good year for Theda Krakow, copy editor for the Morning Mail in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She and her boyfriend broke up when he took a job out of state and even more devastating her beloved cat James died. She quits as a copy editor to become a freelance writer for the Morning Mail. When she sees a kitten near a house in her neighborhood, she finds herself charmed by her. The kitten Mussetta belongs to Lillian Helmhold who has a house full of cats that people dump on her. --- Theda decides to do a story on Ms. Helmhold but on the day she approaches her she finds her dead in the house. The police think Lillian tripped and a resulting head injury caused her death but the victim¿s friend Violet Hayes thinks she was murdered. Theda believes it is a possibility and starts investigating even while she thinks someone is in the house illegally, looking for something. --- Clea Simon has a definite talent for writing investigative mysteries and her love for felines shine through on almost every page. Theda is gutsy, independent and totally likeable. The who-done-it is well crafted and readers will have a good time trying to figure out who the killer is and why it was necessary to kill an elderly lady who hurt no one. MEW IS FOR MURDER is a delightful start to a new series.--- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hip, smart and full of surprises. Simon's done something new with mysteries here--blending rock 'n roll, cats and a heroine so real you swear she's roaming in your neighborhood. Theda's down on her luck--but she doesn't take no for an answer when it comes to solving a mystery, even when everyone insists there is no mystery to solve. I truly loved this book and cannot wait for Simon's next!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like mixing up my reading. Sometimes I want to be moved or learn something. Sometimes I wish to be entertained. I was entertained here. The writing is clever. I learned something about the club scene and freelance writing without it being pushy or dull. The characters are real and relatable. No gore. No obscence language. Simply a murder mystery well written and enjoyable. I will read more from this author because I feel like I just cant stop at one!
CathWren More than 1 year ago
An engaging mystery with enough red herrings to keep it interesting. Especially good for cat lovers.
TheBookResort More than 1 year ago
Mew is for Murder is the first book in a terrific series featuring freelance writer & cat lover Theda Krakow.Following a precious stray kitten, Theda stumbles upon an old woman holed up in a decrepit house full of cats.Thea goes to interview " cat " lady Lillian and finds her dead.Everything points to her death being an accident except for the fact that someone keeps breaking into Lillian's house.It is rumored there is hidden treasure in the house.Theda is determined to get to the bottom of things and prove Lillian was murdered and why.The neighbors are celebrating her demise. The local police aren't listening to Thea's claims it wasn't an accident.Thea skilled with her investigative journalism savvy jumps in to find Lillian's killer & save the lovable kitties left behind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy read, good characters. Looking forward to additional books.
IngridKing More than 1 year ago
"Mew is for Murder" is the first in a series by Clea Simon, featuring freelance writer and rock and roll lover Theda Krakow and her cat Musetta. In addition to a great mystery, which begins when Theda shows up at a local "cat lady's" home to interview her and finds her dead, and which features suspects ranging from the coffee-bar waitress who helped the murder victim take care of the cats to the victim's schizophrenic son, Simon also shares her love of Cambridge, the setting of the story, as well as her forays into the Boston music scene. Filled with well-developed and likeable characters, this book is a thoroughly enjoyable read that leaves the reader wanting more. Thankfully, there are three more books in this series: "Cries and Whiskers," "Cattery Row," and "Probable Claws."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too much detail about stuff that didn't pertain to the main story. I found myself skipping over pages just to get to the "meat" of the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sweet read about smart kitties
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I could not put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Look forward to more from this series.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing 21 days ago
After free-lance writer Theda Krakow successfully pitches an article to the editor of the Boston Morning Mail, the elderly woman who was to be the subject of the story dies. It¿s Theda who finds the body of Lillian Helmhold in her home, surrounded by a slew of cats she has rescued and cared for. The police believe Lillian¿s death was an accident, but the older woman¿s young friend Violet believes it was murder. Theda isn¿t so sure. But the more she learns about the victim, the more suspicious she, too, becomes. Thanks to her interest in Lillian and the fate of her cats, Theda is pulling out of a months-long funk. Theda¿s sense of loss was brought on by the death of her beloved cat James and, to a lesser extent, by the move of her most recent love interest, Rick, to Arizona. Although Theda opted to stay in her Cambridge MA neighborhood rather than moving with him, that doesn¿t keep her from feeling low. Theda¿s recovery is helped by Musetta, one of Lillian¿s kitten she hid away to keep from being taken to a shelter. Although I¿m not a huge fan of books in which animals play a prominent role, I really enjoyed Mew is for Murder. Clea Simon has created a very attractive heroine in Theda Krakow and the story rings truer than any cozy in recent memory. The author¿s portrayal of the ups and downs of making a living as a free-lance writer are quite realistic; I spent years as a newspaper stringer and am in a position to judge. Plus the story moves along with a pleasant rhythm, solid writing and a very satisfying conclusion ¿ leaving readers wanting more. But what I liked most about Mew is for Murder that it will appeal to younger readers, who will be able to identify with Theda¿s situation and appreciate the references to the Cambridge music/club scene, without leaving more mature readers (like me) feeling excluded and ¿ well, old. Clea Simon is the author of non-fiction books about both cats and mental illness. I was very thankful she didn¿t feel the need to tell us everything she knows about those topics. She did, however, strike just the right balance by cluing in readers about those topics related to the story without sounding like a lecturer. I can¿t wait for the next book in the series. By Diana, first published in the Cozy Library, February 2006.Review based on publisher- or author-provided review copy.
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
When Theda meets her new neighbor, a crazy cat lady, she thinks this might be a good subject for an article. Going back, she finds her neighbor dead. Why was she killed? The characters are good, but the writing and plot were weak. I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
493 Nook pages. DW
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pretty well developed characters. Loved the feline herd & their personalities. Fast read but didn't drag. Wasn't boring and kept my interest the whole time. Lots of interesting story lines & good plot development. Will read more of the author if I run across her but won't go out of my way to hunt her down.
McDr More than 1 year ago
Great book! Keeps you guessing. I'm going to read them all.
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Anonymous5 More than 1 year ago
I chose this book based off the good reviews, but  I found it too long and mired in too much detail that doesn't benefit the story.  I found the book needed better editing and  that the first 300 pages could have been condensed into 50 pages. I found myself skipping over sections of it to try and get to the point of the story.  This book could be a cure for insomnia.
LarryMac808 More than 1 year ago
This book could have used a good editor.  It wasn't as bad as the endless coffee and Ikea lists in the "Dragon Tattoo" series, but there was a lot of needless detail.  The "deus ex felinia" was a bit much, not once but twice, and the first clue it delivered made less than zero sense, except it helped move the story along.    The ending was pretty obvious early on - not just the whodunnit, but the denouement.