To be honest, I owe Ms. Murphy an apology. The first paragraph of this novel elicited an audible groan from me, and some fast second thoughts. After all, who wants to read about a woodrat dangling (still warm by the way), from the mouth of the protagonist, even if he does happen to be a tomcat? Well, I persevered, and by the end of the first page was intrigued, if not engrossed, in the unfolding tale.
Joe Grey and his paramour, an orange tabby named Dulcie, are unique felines. They have the ability to talk, read, and reason with intelligence. Unfortunately for Joe’s human, Clyde Damen, Joe Grey has also mastered the telephone and memorized countless numbers, one of which is George Jolly’s Gourmet Deli where Clyde just happens to have a charge account. The other most often dialed number is that of Molena Point’s police department. Aside from satisfying his gourmet tastes, Joe Grey’s favorite past-time is helping Chief Max Harper solve mysteries.
In Cat to the Dogs it all begins with a car tumbling into Hellhag Canyon, which narrowly misses Joe Grey, and flattens his breakfast — the aforementioned woodrat. Upon investigation, Joe Grey finds that the vehicle’s brakeline has been cut. It is not a mere accident anymore, now it is a murder! A mystery for the grey feline to solve, or at least attempt to solve.
To complicate matters further, Joe Grey’s neighbor Lucinda is left a widow. Her husband, Shamas Greenlaw, a man of very questionable character, dies in a suspicious drowning accident. Lucinda finds herself invaded by a mob of fortune-hunting relatives who have little or no regard for anything but themselves and the treasure which they believe Shamas hid somewhere on his property. Somehow Dulcie and Joe Grey find a connection between the car accident and the deceased Seattle PI behind the wheel, Shamas’ death, and the overly friendly mistress of the wealthy Shamas.
Add in two extremely large and untrained puppies which Joe Grey finds and takes home to his human, Clyde, and an odd clowder of cats appearing on Hellhag Hill after an earthquake rattles the coast, and you would think that Joe and Dulcie would have enough to keep them busy. But no, they also deal with a sudden rash of crimes in the previously quiet Molena Point, and a very strange kit connected with the clowder. A kit of very high intelligence, who is also able to converse. Another of their own kind.
And then there is the one mystery which Joe Grey and Dulcie would give almost anything to solve. The mystery of their heritage. The history of their species goes extremely far back, into Egypt and also medieval Celtic villages. There are references of Irish burial mounds with pictures of cats carved into their doors. And then there are also legends in Egyptian, Celtic, and Italian history of people vanishing and cats suddenly appearing in their stead. Perhaps Lucinda’s relatives can shed some light upon this very personal mystery for Joe Grey and Dulcie. For those criminally inclined relatives are Irish Travellers, also known as Irish Gypsies, and well learned in the lore of their people.
All in all, I found this to be a whimsical yet fast-paced mystery with strong fantasy elements.