Cat Telling Tales
Shirley Rousseau Murphy
William Morrow, 2011 (November 22, 2011)
I enjoy this series more and more with each entry. Taking place in the fictional town of Molena Point, California, it is home to a colony of special cats as well as humans in many creative vocations. I love how each book centers on a different family or cat, and we get to know them better. Each character -- human and cat -- grows with each book in this highly recommended series.
Unfortunately, Molena Point did not escape the effects of the Great Recession any more than any town in America. Some families who could no longer pay their mortgages disappeared in the middle of the night, leaving their pets behind to fend for themselves. Most pet animals do not remember the instincts needed to hunt and capture food so they rely on the kindness of strangers. Some of the cats gather by the cliffs where the local veterinarian leaves food every morning and evening. Secretly John Firetti hopes to find one of the special cats among the many cats he has fed for 50 years.
Another result of the Great Recession was the creation of a meth house in one of those empty homes in Molena Point! While Police Chief Max Harper and his excellent staff shut down the operation, they struggle to keep things from starting up again. The MPPD is diligent in patrolling the area.
One Sunday morning Joe smells bacon and Kippurs cooking for breakfast. Did I mention how spoiled the cats are? Joe’s human companions, Ryan and Clyde, scan the morning papers for houses. Even a rundown cottage is worth something in Molena Point, but someone is snapping them up before they even hit the paper and then letting them sit. They wonder if these houses are investments for out-of-towners who have been misled or perhaps are part of a flipper’s scheme.
Ryan has received a letter from Debbie Kraft, an old schoolmate, pleading for a place to stay. Joe is perplexed as to why Ryan is doing nothing about the letter. Debbie and her two children have been evicted from their apartment on which her husband stopped paying. Now she has no place to go and is hoping Ryan will take her in. What is even stranger is that Debbie’s mother lives in Molena Point and so does her ex-husband, a prominent real estate agent. To Joe, this letter and this family moving in only spell disaster. Ryan spotted Joe sitting on the letter and informed him that there’s no way Debbie and daughters were moving in.
Days later Joe awakes to see fire burning up by the cliffs. Ryan and Clyde have already left for the day, so he dials 911. Joe knows the fire is very near Max Harper and his wife Charlie’s ranch and that their horses would be in danger. Charlie calls Ryan for help, and she returns home for the proper gear. Joe hitches a ride with Ryan, and they all race to the Harper ranch and discover it untouched yet must still minister to the spooked horses. There was a structure that had burned – an old worker’s shack across from the Harpers. There was a charred body in that shack, still in bed. Billy Young was frantically peddling his bike up the hill to his burning home when he sees the gurney and must make sense out of the scene laid out for him.
Max breaks the news of his grandmother Hesmerra’s death as gently as he can to Billy. Billy won’t leave without the seven stray cats he has rescued, so they gather them up and put them in a stall at the Harper’s. Harper also insists that Billy stay with him rather than turn him over to child services.
To Joe’s disbelief, Debbie Kraft arrives late one evening with her two daughters in tow. After putting up resistance, Ryan and Clyde open the door and the three push in along with suitcases and assorted junk. Joe finds a stash of cash in one of them, thousands of dollars. However, Ryan and Charlie kick them out the next day to live in one of their empty homes that needs work, with them protesting every single step of the way.
The police must deal with the woman who was Hesmerra’s neighbor until she was evicted just days before the fire. Emmylou is now living in her car. She unearthed a metal box from underneath Hesmerra’s bed that holds all sorts of papers with Kraft Reality letterhead. She doesn’t know what they all mean, but she knows Hesmerra told her that everything she had of importance was underneath the bed. Torn between keeping it and turning it in, she keeps moving it around to find a safe place for it, so the cats are able to sniff for the ashes and follow her trail.
Now things start to really twist and turn and wind back on themselves. Debbie Kraft is looking for a place to live even though her mother lived here, her young nephew is now orphaned, her ex-husband is here, or so his office says, and her sister lives in luxury married to the other partner in the local reality firm. Neither sister wants Billy. Neither sister wanted anything to do with their mother and couldn’t care less that she’s now dead, probably murdered.
Emmylou keeps looking for a place to stay and tries her friend Sammie’s home that’s already been tossed by someone else and stinks to high heaven. She tries Kraft’s partner’s place that’s been empty for weeks, but the police chase her out of there. Debbie Kraft is protesting over the single family home that Ryan and Clyde have offered her to live in for a good cleaning. Debbie seems to know more about her husband’s real estate deals than a divorced wife would. But the worst part about Debbie comes out when the Molena Point residents learn her daughter once had a cat that they kicked out. It found its way to a local nursing home and did wonders for the residents until it burned down, and no one had seen him since. Debbie didn’t care if he were alive or dead.
What does Debbie know that keeps her from a routine finger printing? What does Emmylou know that keeps her from a finger printing after a crime? Will she find a place to live? What’s happened to Sammie, her home, and where are her cats? Where is Kraft’s partner sending e-mails from when no one has seen or talked to her for weeks? Where is Kraft himself when he can’t be found at their alternate office as the office is telling clients? What will happen to the stray cat who lived at the nursing home? Will Misto ever find his son again? What is going to happen to Billy? And his stray cats? How does the auction go with thousands of dollars of donated items, artwork, etc to be auctioned off for the cat charity and in exchange for homes for the stray cats? Will Ryan and Clyde be able to celebrate their first wedding anniversary on the night of the auction?
As I closed the book last night, I felt very content. All those plot lines came untangled and answers were found. Joe Grey, Dulcie, Kit, and their new friends have risked everything to help their humans. Their humans risked their lives to protect their community and their cats. Shirley Rousseau Murphy writes a magical story that is precious and full of every emotion.
This review for CAT TELLING TALES has been particularly difficult for me to write because it was so involved and had so many plot twists and turns and involved so many of the people in Molena Point. Even more so, one plot line had to do with The Great Recession. More people are homeless in affluent Molena Point and more animals are starving and abandoned. This part was not fiction, and I knew that. I have struggled myself (haven’t we all in one way or another?) and I am caring for a feral (?) cat who lives in my yard.
However, in the end in Molena Point, less people are homeless and an incredible auction was held to find homes for the stray animals. Many of us read mysteries because they make the world right in the end, or at least better. And that is exactly what Mrs. Murphy has done.