Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat, Diesel, are busy decking the halls for the holidays when an unexpected delivery and a shocking murder conspire to shake up the season in this latest installment of the New York Times bestselling series.
December twenty-fifth is right around the corner, and Charlie is making his list and checking it twice. He is doing his best to show some peace and goodwill toward his nosy neighbor Gerry Arbitron, a real estate agent who seems to have designs on his house (and maybe on him, as well), while preparing for a very important role, indeedhis first Christmas as a grandfather.
The last thing Charlie expects is to gain several new additions to his family. Charlie finds a box on his doorstep with five kittens inside and a note begging him to keep them safe. With Diesel's help, Charlie welcomes the tiny felines into the Harris household just as Gerry decides it is time to throw a lavish holiday party.
Determined to make her mark on Athena, Gerry instead winds up dead at her very own party. Though attempts to dig into her past come up empty, Charlie and his girlfriend, Helen Louise, witness two heated exchanges involving Gerry before her death: one with a leading citizen and another with the wife of a good friend. Will one of these ladies wind up on the sheriff's naughty list? Charlie and Diesel have to wrap up the case before the special season is ruined by a sinister scrooge.
About the Author
Miranda James is the New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries, including Claws for Concern, Twelve Angry Librarians, and No Cats Allowed as well as the Southern Ladies Mysteries, including Fixing to Die, Digging Up the Dirt, and Dead with the Wind. James lives in Mississippi.
Read an Excerpt
I opened the envelope and read the enclosed invitation. After the import of it had sunk in, I balled up the stiff card and threw it across the kitchen. I muttered a curse to myself.
Diesel, my Maine Coon cat, saw this action as an invitation to play. He darted after the wadded-up card and started batting it around the floor. I watched, my mind busy trying to come up with polite ways to say not on your life to the issuer of the invitation.
"What's Mr. Cat playing with?"
The voice of Azalea Berry, my housekeeper, broke into my thoughts. I looked up to see her, hands on hips, staring at the large cat playing soccer across the room.
"An invitation," I said.
"Who's inviting the cat somewhere?"
Azalea's deadpan expression at first had me thinking she was serious. Then I saw the twinkle in her eyes.
"I wish it was for Diesel." I couldn't quite keep the sour note out of my voice. "It's addressed to me, unfortunately."
Spatula in hand, Azalea turned back to the stove. "Eggs'll be ready in a minute. Who's it from?"
"The new neighbor," I replied. "The one who bought old Mr. Hardy's house."
"Oh, her." Azalea's tone indicated that she didn't care for Geraldine Albritton any more than I did. "What kind of invite is it?"
"She's having a Christmas party. According to the invitation, it's a Neighborhood Meet-and-Greet. And it's next week."
"She's not giving people much notice. What if they all made other plans for that night?" Azalea set a plate of scrambled eggs, country ham, and biscuits in front of me. Diesel saw that I now had food, and he left off batting his new toy around. He came up to my chair, placed a large paw atop my thigh, and emitted a sad chirp. Starvation was imminent.
"More than likely she's thinking the curiosity value will bring them. I don't know how many neighbors have dropped by to welcome her to the neighborhood so far, but you can bet there will be more than a few people who haven't who'll be wanting to see the inside of that house."
Azalea snorted. "People are always wanting to find out about their neighbors."
"True." I put my attention to the food on my plate and let my mind contemplate the looming situation. Azalea refilled my coffee cup before she left the kitchen for the laundry room.
I believed I knew my neighbors well enough to predict that most of them would not react kindly to the overtures of a pushy newcomer. Based on my limited acquaintance with Geraldine-call me Gerry-Albritton, I felt pretty sure that, unless she toned herself down, many of my neighbors wouldn't want to have much to do with her. Southerners have always prided themselves on their hospitality, but by the same turn, they weren't always ready to welcome strangers to the inner circle. Gerry Albritton might not find people in this neighborhood as ready to embrace her as she probably expected.
Though I desperately wanted to forget every second of our first meeting, I couldn't suppress it. The memory of it hung around, refusing to be banished. I recalled it as I ate my breakfast.
Gerry Albritton had moved in a month earlier, and a week later, I decided to do the neighborly thing. Armed with a small basket of baked goods-some provided by Azalea and others from Helen Louise Brady's French bistro-I walked across the street that morning to introduce myself. I told Diesel we were going to meet the new neighbor, and he chirped happily in response. He was always ready for fresh conquests. He soaked up admiration like a hairy, chirping sponge.
I rang the doorbell. Perhaps twenty seconds later the door opened, and I beheld Ms. Albritton for the first time. Until then I'd caught only brief glimpses of her out the front windows as she went in and out of the house. Up close she was shorter than I had reckoned, probably only about five four and petite with it. I felt far too large as I loomed over her.
Dressed as if she was heading out to a formal dinner party-high heels, pearls, diamond rings, and the ever-fashionable little black dress-Ms. Albritton had an air of sophistication about her. She smiled widely at the sight of me, and I smiled back a bit uncertainly. I wasn't sure whether she actually noticed Diesel, as she appeared to be so focused on me.
Before I could introduce myself, Ms. Albritton spoke. "You have to be Charlie Harris, the handsome widower of Oak Drive." She batted her eyelashes at me, tilted her head, and offered a coy smile. "Come right on in, I've been just about dying to meet you. You're even better-looking close up." She laughed, a light, tinkling sound. "I've only been able to peek at you from a distance before now. I just know we're going to be friends, so you just call me Gerry and I'll call you Charlie, okay?"
Rattled by her flirtatious manner and thoroughly taken aback, I stared at her and made no attempt to respond. She didn't appear to notice, though. Her gaze shifted down from my face, over my chest and farther south. I resisted the urge to squirm.
Then she seemed to realize that Diesel was with me.
"And this is the famous Diesel. Oh, you are such a handsome boy. Like father like kitty, and both of you so tall and strong-looking."
I glanced down at the cat. Diesel stared at Ms. Albritton as if mesmerized. Thus far he hadn't made a sound, unusual for him. He looked up at me and offered what sounded like an interrogatory trill. He hadn't met anyone quite like her before, not with that coquettish manner and tone, at least.
I found the dregs of my composure and responded to Ms. Albritton after Diesel's appeal. "I am Charlie Harris, Ms. Albritton, and yes, this is Diesel." I thrust the basket of pastries toward her. "We wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood."
She accepted the basket with another coy smile. Her hand brushed mine. "Aren't you two the sweetest things?" Her Mississippi drawl drew the words out a few extra beats. "Y'all come on in. I'm afraid the house is still a wreck, but I know you'll overlook it. A poor woman on her own moving into this wonderful neighborhood. I can't tell you how thrilled I am this house came up for sale. All the time I was growing up here I wanted to live in this neighborhood, and when I moved back recently I couldn't believe a house on this street was up for sale." She turned and walked away.
At that point in our brief acquaintance, the last thing I wanted to do was enter this house, but I couldn't be rude and simply walk away-or rather, run away, if I had my druthers. I didn't feel up to fending off a lonesome widow this morning. I intended to tell Ms. Albritton that Diesel and I couldn't stay, that we were expected somewhere even though it was my one day off during the week and I had nothing planned.
I followed her into the living room and discovered to my distaste that the furniture and decor consisted of what I privately called industrial horror. For a moment I thought I had wandered onto the set of a futuristic movie. Everything I saw was either stark white or deep black, except for dashes of color from photographs placed around the room and on the walls. There was not a book in sight-to me, always the sign of a person with whom I probably had little in common. Most of the rooms in my house had shelves full of books.
Gerry Albritton motioned me toward a leather sofa with tubular black legs. I took one corner, and Diesel huddled by my legs. I could tell that he found the atmosphere of the room as sterile and off-putting as I did. Our hostess set the gift basket on the coffee table, the top of which appeared to be made of some kind of white synthetic substance. Then, to my alarm, she seated herself so close to me that her knee brushed against mine.
My deeply ingrained manners precluded my being rude to her. But I decided to make an exception. I got to my feet quickly, before Gerry Albritton had a chance to speak.
"I do apologize," I said, trying hard to sound sincere, "but I just this second remembered that my daughter is coming by any minute to drop off my grandson. It's my day to babysit. I'm sure you'll excuse me."
"Now that's just too bad." My hostess sounded put out with me and wasn't bothering to hide it. "I was really hoping for a chance to get to know you better." Then she smiled, and her tone became friendly again. "But of course children and grandchildren come first." She rose from the sofa. "It must be so nice to have family like that. I'm all on my own." Her expression had suddenly turned forlorn.
"That's too bad," I murmured. Diesel and I followed her to the front door.
"You'll have to come back when you can stay longer." Gerry Albritton laid a hand on my arm and squeezed it. "I know we're going to be good friends."
"How kind," I said. "We hope you'll be happy here." Diesel and I scooted out the door and headed home. I was never so glad to get away from someone in my life.
I suppressed another shudder as I tried to push the memory of that encounter away yet again. Since that time I had done my best to avoid Gerry Albritton and had been mostly successful. Diesel and I ran into her twice on walks, but on both occasions I got us away from her as quickly as I could. The woman made me uneasy. It was more than her aggressive friendliness, simply something I couldn't define, that made me wary of her.
I still hadn't told Helen Louise about Gerry's blatant flirting with me. I wasn't sure why I hesitated to share it with Helen Louise. Perhaps it was because I suspected so strongly that Gerry had an underhanded purpose in behaving like that. The more I was exposed to it, the more I began to think the flirtatiousness had a forced quality to it. Until I could figure out what lay behind it, I planned to keep it to myself.
Compounding the situation was the mystery surrounding Gerry Albritton herself. Right after that first meeting, I questioned Melba Gilley, my friend since childhood and my coworker at the Athena College Library, to discover what I could about my new neighbor.
Gerry claimed to have lived in Athena when the subject arose during my first encounter with her-yet Melba didn't know Gerry Albritton, and Melba knew everyone who had lived in Athena over the decades.
"Only Albrittons I know don't have a single Geraldine in the family," Melba said, obviously puzzled. "I could be wrong, of course, but none of the Albritton boys our age married a Geraldine, either."
"That's the name she claims now," I said. "Maybe she used to go by a name besides Geraldine."
Melba frowned. "Maybe, but I don't think so. If I got a good look at her, I could probably figure out who she is."
"I asked her if she's related to the city councilman, Billy Albritton," I said. He did not represent my district, but I had seen him around town, and his picture turned up in the local weekly newspaper on a regular basis. He was around seventy, I thought.
"I know Billy and his sister, Betty," Melba said. "I'll ask him if he knows her. I don't get along well with Betty."
I didn't want to delve into Melba's potential feud with Betty Albritton, so I didn't inquire why the two didn't get along.
"Talk to Billy, if you like," I said. "Gerry professed not to know him, though. Said it must be a different set of Albrittons."
Melba snorted. "All the Albrittons around here are one big family. Some of them are pretentious as all get-out, but that's another story." She locked gazes with me. "What's all this interest in another woman, anyway?"
I hesitated. "I'm curious about this woman because something seems off about her." I didn't want to tell Melba about the flirting, or she might take it into her head to confront Gerry Albritton herself on Helen Louise's behalf. Melba was fiercely protective of her friends.
"Like what?" Melba asked.
I shrugged. "I can't really say. She seems fake somehow. But maybe I'm making way too much of the whole thing."
Melba shook her head. "No, you've got great first instincts about people. If you're feeling like something's off about this whoever-she-is, then something sure is off."
I had to smile. Melba never failed to support me, and her friendship all these years was a blessing I never took for granted and hoped I never failed to return.
When I came out of my reverie I discovered that my plate was empty. I noticed that Azalea stood by the stove, and she was staring at me.
"I don't reckon you heard me," Azalea said.
"Sorry, I didn't. What did you say?" I asked.
"Wanted to know if you wanted another biscuit and more ham."
"Gracious me, no, thank you. I've had plenty." The truth was, I would happily have eaten another biscuit or two, packed with ham, but I had to make some effort to keep my waistline under control.
"If you're sure." Azalea gazed at me a moment longer. When I didn't respond, she sighed and turned back to the stove.
Diesel had resumed batting the crumpled invitation around the kitchen, and I knew I had to take it away from him. I couldn't ignore the invitation, much as I would have liked to. No, I would probably have to give in and accept. But only if Helen Louise was available to go with me, I decided. The invitation had said and guest.
I heard the front doorbell ring, one sharp, quick note. I pushed back from the table and rose. "I'll get it," I said.
Diesel preceded me. He loved visitors and was invariably first to the door.
I opened the door, a smile of greeting ready, but no one waited on the other side. I was about to step forward onto the porch, but Diesel's growl alerted me.
As I halted and glanced down, I heard faint sounds of mewling from the area near my feet. I had been about to step into a box containing five kittens.
Two days after The Great Kitten Rescue, as Stewart insisted on calling it, my new four-legged boarders came home from the veterinarian's office. Dr. Romano, Diesel's vet, had checked all five kittens thoroughly. She estimated they were about eight or nine weeks old, ready to be weaned. They were healthy and had obviously been cared for before they wound up on my doorstep.
Excerpted from "Six Cats a Slayin'"
Copyright © 2018 Miranda James.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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
Another good mystery. Was heart warming. Finding deeper meaning and faith in mankind.
Great to revisit Charlie and Diesel and their growing family. Fun twists and turns keep you changing your mind about who did it. Hope there are many more stories in this series.
Another cozy Charlie/Diesel tale by author Miranda James, Six Cats a Slayin' takes place at Christmastime, when all is not calm and bright in the small college town of Athena, Mississippi. Charlie and Diesel must investigate the murder of their neighbor, which seems to be tied to a secret long buried, and take care of 5 abandoned kittens that were left on their doorstep. Very charming, as usual, and perfect for the holidays (or anytime!). 5 stars!
Charlie has his hands full with a box of 5 kittens left on his doorstep left by a child worried about their well-being. He has to fend off a flirtatious neighbor, Gerri. Then, his daughter-in-law has a tough time being a new mom and won’t take help. Melba, Charlie’s friend, tries to remember who Gerri might be (because Melba knows everyone who ever lived in Athena). Charlie tries to find out who the child is who dropped off the kittens and why they did (all the while becoming attached to them along with Diesel who insists on kitten-sitting). Everyone is worried about Alex’s health. Then, Gerri is murdered at her Christmas Eve party for the neighbors and the suspects just keep surfacing. Charlie and friends get involved and find the past is pretty complicated and the present has its own trials. Miranda James brings us another Cat in the Stacks mystery with a lot of family feeling.
Ms. James never lets you down. This was a fast paced and thought provoking mystery that features family, friends and a tumbling group of kittens making an unexplained appearance, Hmm! I always enjoy Charlie and the characters he interacts with so well! GEN M.
As always, this book was terrific. The addition of the kittens and that storyline was really sweet - just the thing for a holiday theme book. The continuing story of Charlie and his family add a nice stroke of continuity as well.
Another hit by author Miranda James. This book has two mysteries to be solved along with a very enchanting side story. The plot has enough twists and turns to keep you fully engaged and a twist that will surprise even the best sleuth. Looking forward to the next book.
Six Cats a Slayin' by Miranda James is the tenth novel in A Cat in the Stacks Mystery series. Charlie Harris has a new neighbor, Gerry Albritton who makes him uncomfortable with her overly flirtatious manor. Gerry is hosting a Christmas party to meet her new neighbors, and she sends over her assistant to make sure Charlie will be attending. Charlie will attend if his girlfriend, Helen Louise Brady can be on his arm (protection). Christmas is approaching, and it is Charlie’s first one as a grandfather. He is worried about his daughter-in-law, Alex who seems exhausted from work and taking care of a colicky baby. But Alex is not ready to accept help. Charlie opens the door one day to find a box of five kittens on his doorstep with a note asking him to keep them safe. Diesel decides it is his duty to keep the little frisky felines out of trouble. At Gerry’s Christmas party, the whole neighborhood has shown up. Gerry has been causing a stir with her attempts to buy up the houses on the street and her over-the-top outdoor Christmas decorations. There is quality champagne and inexpensive appetizers. Suddenly there is a loud crash and, when the crowd parts, Charlie sees Gerry collapses on the floor. Helen Louise performs CPR, but Gerry is pronounced dead by the EMTs. Gerry’s death is suspicious, and Charlie is curious which one of the party attendees is the killer (and will be getting coal in his stocking this Christmas). Charlie has two mysteries to solve and Christmas preparations to complete. Will he get is all accomplished before Santa slides down the chimney? Six Cats a Slayin’ is a light and joyful Christmas cozy mystery. Charlie is a unique main character for cozy mysteries because he is male. Charlie Harris is a librarian at the local college in the archive room. His cat, Diesel goes with him to work (and about town) and contributes with his little chirps which are so cute (and expressive). Diesel appoints himself guardian of the kittens which exhausts him since they are so busy. Thankfully, Charlie’s renters come up with an idea to keep the curious kitties contained. Gerry Albritton has moved into the neighborhood and is wasting no time making her mark. She has flirted with every man she has encountered and is now trying to buy up her neighbor’s homes. It is no surprise when when Gerry ends up murdered. Solving Gerry’s murder was a cinch. I was surprised when it did not occur until I was almost halfway through the book. One little detail gave me the identity to Gerry’s killer (I kept hoping it I would be wrong since I would have loved a twist). I did enjoy reading on to find out more about Gerry since she was mysterious about her background. The mystery surrounding the kittens was a puzzle and who doesn’t love cute felines. Six Cats a Slayin’ contains good writing with a gentle pace. Six Cats a Slayin’ contains Christmas preparations, taking care of the kittens (in detail), speculation on Gerry’s killer, shopping for Christmas presents, food preparation and eating, playing with kittens, Charlie talking about his weight and needing exercise, attempts to catch the kittens’ owner, time spent at work, and concern about Alex. Charlie has caring friends and a loving family. They rally round to help out when there is a need. Six Cats a Slayin’ is a merry cozy mystery that will have you laughing over the rambunctious kittens’ behavior.
Dollycas’s Thoughts There are babies and kittens in the house and Charlie and Diesel have their hands and paws full even before new neighbor Gerry Arbitron invites Charlie to her party. Gerry a real estate agent, did not make a good first impression with Charlie, her overt flirting really rubbed him the wrong way. Then she put up the most hideous holiday display, he and the rest of the neighbors were not impressed. They wanted to stay home but most bit their tongues and went to her party. One guest did not hold her tongue and had quite the altercation with the hostess. Another guest had an argument with Gerry behind a not quite closed door that was overheard. Before the night ends the nosy neighbor crashes to the floor and was unable to be revived. First thought – heart attack – Reality – it was murder! I love Charlie and his big Maine Coon cat, Diesel. The man doesn’t think twice when he opens his front door and finds a box full of kittens with a note asking him to keep them safe. Diesel steps in a chief kitty sitter and the rest of house falls for them as well. This is also going to be the first Harris Christmas for the new grandchildren. Charlie’s son and his wife are struggling with their newborn and everyone tries to give good advice and help. I have seen a struggle just like this with my own eyes. The author’s take on this was excellent and heartwarming. These characters are so realistic and believable. I grab each new book in this series not only for the top-notch mystery but because I need to check in with the family and all the people they are connected with, including one big lovable feline. Yes, the mystery is top-notch. Everyone at that party is suspect and the fact that some people left before the police arrived or that someone may have snuck in unseen makes the mystery difficult to solve. The conflicts earlier in the evening land two people high on police detective Kanesha’s list but there are more questions than answers for quite a while. The other mystery confounding Charlie is who dropped off the kittens at his door. He knows it’s a child, maybe about 10, but whoever it is is very smart because all the things Charlie tries to do to see the person are thwarted. Reminded me of a certain grandchild of mine very much. These two mysteries run in tandem seamlessly along with family dynamics and holiday preparations. The pace is comfortable but the murder doesn’t take place until mid-book. By this time we get to know a little bit about the victim but she has so many secrets and surprising things continue to be revealed right up until the murderer is uncovered. Miranda James is one of my favorite cozy authors. She is a fantastic storyteller. Every time I see that big kitty on the cover, a kitty that reminds me of one of mine now gone, I get excited to see what this author has in store for the Harris family. I have never been disappointed. The characters continue to grow and evolve and the stories are fresh with unexpected twists and turns. Ten books into this series and still going strong! Six Cats a Slayin‘ is a fun and entertaining cozy for this holiday season. All cozy lovers will enjoy!!
Charlie is looking forward to the holiday season with being a newly minted grandfather, the only downer is his new neighbor who he doesn't much care for much. He does his best to avoid her because anytime she catches him she flirts outrageously and make shim uncomfortable. Gerry is a local real estate agent who seems to have designs on the houses in their neighborhood. When Charlie gets an invitation to a party she is holding he immediately invites Helen Louise so that she can see that he is taken. With tacky Christmas decorations, terrible food, and several angry guests Charlie is ready to head home and forget the party. It looks like Helen Louise might be ready to leave when their hostess drops dead to the floor. Did she have a heart attack or could she have been murdered? If so, how and why? Charlie wants to help figure out what happened but someone has left five kittens on his porch and they are taking up a great deal of time. He also wants to figure out who left the precious bundles and why. Can he figure out both mysteries before Christmas? Follow along and find out! This was a great read with a wonderful twist that turned the mystery on its head.
What's better than a basket of kittens for Christmas--been if you're really not sure where they came from? Who's the pushy woman across the street? We know her name, but really, who IS she? Come along with Diesel and Charlie as they attempt to find the answers to these questions while attempting to herd cats, literally. This is a lovely mystery for those who prefer a quiet, cozy, genteel story with lots of twists and turns. I received a free digital copy of this title to review. #SixCatsaSlayin'#NetGalley
Hey wanna be friends?
Idk i just wantdmto be the first