Wednesday, August 31, 2011

High Heels, Ebony Paws, & Vegas Gold, Baby


When an intriguingly delectable-sounding blend of mystery, sly humor, Vegas glitz, and cats (yes, CATS, people!) landed on my doorstep, it seemed like a no-brainer.
There was, however, one small hitch: the book in question--Carole Nelson Douglas’ Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta--was actually the twenty-third in a long-running series... of which I’d read nary a one. (In fact, I possessed not even the vaguest general knowledge about it; no handy clues had ever seen fit to make their way into my subconscious via some sort of bookstore osmosis, sadly.) I would be a tabula rasa, trying to get caught up on all the important whos and whats in a hurry... and having nearly two dozen books’ worth of elapsed history to contend with was, frankly, more than a little daunting.
Still, that “But this is right down my alley!” refrain kept playing in the back of my mind, so I decided there was nothing to lose... but potentially, a fun, new-to-me series to find. 
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Freelance-public-relations-whiz-cum-amateur sleuth Temple Barr is a snappy-thinking (and even snappier-talking) young woman who (apparently) keeps finding her diminutive self in the middle of all manner of mysterious mayhem. By her side (literally) is the eponymous kitty and her roommate, one Midnight Louie, feline sleuth extraordinaire. (Louie, it must be noted, is quite the thinking cat, and--while he only communicates with “his Miss Temple” in the usual meows, trills, purrs, and paw action--entire chapters are devoted to his thoughts about the various goings-on and to recounting his own detecting exploits. They're fabulously true-to-feline form and a hoot to read.)
Other recurring characters include one boyfriend (fiancé in this latest outing), the popular late-night radio talk show host Matt Devine; one ex-boyfriend, the Lazarus-like magician Max Kinsella (more about that in a minute); and not-quite-nemesis (but not-nearly-friend, either), police detective Carmen Molina.
Vegas Gold begins with Temple receiving her first formal request to do some p.i.--not p.r.--work, for one of her least-favorite people... an aging B-movie starlet who goes by the highly-unlikely name Savannah Ashleigh. Savannah is convinced that the recent death of her wealthy, bed-ridden aunt’s loyal handyman was not the accident which local police have deemed it. Furthermore, Savannah fears that her defenseless aunt may be in line for the same fate--a scenario made more believable in light of the fact that Aunt Violet has yet to sign her will naming an heir, something which has the vultures (aka relatives) circling. 
Violet, meanwhile, is frantic about her cats, whom she insists have been disappearing, and she implores Temple to find them. (As a point of special interest to animal lovers, eccentric Aunt Violet is a one-woman cat-rescue operation--with somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty or so feline companions sharing her home--and her untimely demise with no will in place would not bode well for her furry family.) Naturally, Temple agrees to do whatever she can for Violet and her cats. 
With her PR business running smoothly plus the new side job to keep her occupied, it’s really Temple’s personal life that’s hitting a pothole-the-size-of-Rhode-Island bump in the road. Her ex-flame (“Mystifying Max”, the magician) suddenly pops up--months after what everyone believed to be his certain demise during an illusion-gone-wrong--suffering from amnesia. The only thing he's sure of is that someone wants him dead... something which Temple is determined to prevent. 
That’s not all for the tiny tornado otherwise known as Temple, though--not when a third mystery rears its ugly head. Another body is found in one of Detective Molina’s old cases--and both Temple and Max find themselves drawn into her investigation. (Now is a good time to point out that this case--as well as Max’s current predicament--began in previous books and are recurring plot lines. Fortunately, the author does a pretty good job of providing enough background so that newcomers aren’t completely clueless... while longtime readers won't be buried by endless repetition, either.)
Meanwhile, on the furry front, Midnight Louie (aided by his Girl-Cat Friday, the delightfully-sassy Louise) is occupied with the imminent peril faced by Violet’s clowder (that’s the term for a group of cats, by the way)... and with how to rescue each member before so much as a whisker can be harmed. 
Will Temple figure out what’s going on in Violet’s house before she suffers an unfortunate “accident”? Can Temple’s loves--past and present--somehow put aside their petty jealousies and rein in the raging testosterone long enough to keep their girl out of harm's way? Will Max be able to walk away from a killer again... or has his luck finally run out? And, can Midnight Louie and company rescue the rescues... before it’s too late??
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As a general rule, I steer clear of anything that sounds too “cute”--which is the category I usually lump all those mysteries with “themed” titles into. (Ones about desserts, knitting, and shopping spring to mind.) Thus, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to read Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta; cat or no, the potential for death-by-cute-overload worried me.

Happily, that didn't prove to be the case. Sure, Temple is a little breezy--it is Vegas, after all--but the author has created a smart, funny, spunky, determined, and genuinely nice gal in Temple, and I really like her. Her suitor situation is an interesting one, as well, what with two desirable fellows alternating between friends and lovers... and I’m curious about how everyone got to where they are now over the course of the preceding (gulp) twenty-two books.
Of course, the piece de resistance is undeniably Louis, the clever detective (who just happens to perambulate on four furry paws). Douglas lets him be a cat--a smooth-talking (to other felines) and urbane black-furred gentleman, who still retains his streetwise ways--and it’s clear she really “gets” cats, both in what they actually do (such as observing the ritual of turning in circles before lying down) and how they might think if they shared our vast vocabularies (that the prescribed three turns are an important ritual in tribute to Bast, the Cat God). Midnight Louie’s personal thoughts, as well as his interactions with other cats, are both fascinating and utterly delightful, and cat owners are sure to fall in love with this ebony charmer.
On the whole, Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta is a fun book with a lot happening--perhaps a somewhat-challenging read for newcomers, but spot-on perfect for longtime fans. I know that I have definite plans to catch up with Midnight Louis and his Miss Temple again in the near future. :) 

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4 out of 5 Mousies

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