Murders, Multiplying Cats... and Parallel Worlds
When Detective Shawn Danger (yep, his real name) goes to the Sylvain mansion to investigate, though, it’s a whole different sort of excitement for him. Given the notoriety surrounding the mysterious Haviland Sylvain, Shawn is keenly aware the police department--the whole community, for that matter--will be placing top priority on solving this one. A lot of pressure? Sure, but that’s just the start of it, because things are about to get weird... very, very weird, in Nina Post’s sublimely-quirky spin on the standard police procedural mystery, Danger in Cat World.
Most people--plenty of cops included--would be pretty annoyed by a phone ringing off the hook at 4:44 a.m. Shawn isn’t exactly a “normal” anything, though; he’s obsessed with work, has no love life to speak of, keeps a trampoline in his living room (which he routinely bounces on to help him think), and lives with his white cat, Comet. So, instead of throwing the offending phone across the room and rolling over to catch a few more winks, he cheerfully bounds out of bed, yanks on some clothes, and heads for the door, pausing to give Comet the necessities--food, water, and a little love--on his way out... which is when he notices something decidedly odd. A cat he’s never seen before--a brown Maine Coon--is sitting on the trampoline, staring at him with enigmatic golden eyes.
Curious about the stranger (and how he or she got in)--but with no time to get to the bottom of things, he sets out some more food, double-checks the litterbox, and leaves Comet and friend(?) to their own devices.
At the scene, all thoughts of strange tabbies fly away, because the Sylvain mansion is something else. Immense--with a foyer that’s larger than his whole house--with priceless objets d’art wherever he turns, it’s a wonder to behold. More importantly, it doesn’t appear to have been broken into, vandalized, or burgled... at least not until Shawn makes his way upstairs and into the young widow’s personal suite. Blood on the floor, her lifeless body posed, and every single thing in her rooms slashed, broken, or otherwise destroyed, the scene is one of great and terrible anger. (Not a spur-of-the-moment sort of anger, though. According to the crime scene techs, this was the work of a thoughtful, prepared killer--one who left no fingerprints or any other obvious clues.)
She isn’t the only victim. Lyle, a beloved tortoise who’d been in the family for more than half a century, is also found dead, part of his... erm... prep-school jacket shoved down his throat.
After ascertaining there are no more bodies, Shawn begins interviewing the suspects--Haviland’s small but motley assortment of household employees, a couple of whom had very... peculiar duties, to say the least. Of the five, one is missing, while the other four range from nervous to bereft to flaky to downright creepy.
Then there’s the matter of the old, 1950s-era TV in Lyle’s bedroom, which seems capable of showing only, well... a parallel universe... with all the same characters as, erm, in this one... but with different things happening.
But the biggest Twilight Zone moment is back at Shawn’s house. With each passing hour since the case began, another cat appears--each, a brown Maine Coon, identical to the first--so that after working the case twenty-four hours, Shawn has twenty-four tabbies in his house. He hasn’t a clue how or why it’s happening (seriously, who ever heard of such a thing?!)... he just knows his small abode is incapable of holding many more.
As the suspects begin to crack and weird meteorological events start taking place all over town--in addition to the growing army of cats that have taken over his home--Shawn knows it’s all about to come to a head... and he has to get this right, whatever it is, or something awful and impossible and irreversible is going to change not only this world, but what happens in another.
Unbelievably, I didn’t realize this wasn’t my first Nina Post story--I saw the title, read the cover, and thought it sounded right up my alley--until I reached the end and found an excerpt for Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse... which I reviewed a couple months ago (see here). (Yeah, cue big “Doh!” moment.) From there, though, it all made sense; the same delightful wackiness, mixed with a big dollop of the familiar, then shaken up and served in a precariously-balanced glass on a lopsided tabletop.
Central to Danger in Cat World, of course, is the earnest young detective, Shawn. He’s a regular guy--complete with family problems out the wazoo and a stalled love life--who is immensely likable, sympathetic, hilariously funny, and who likes cats. All of the characters are entertaining, though--from the eccentric hired help, to the legal courier who catches Shawn’s eye, to the dead woman, herself.
And then, there’s the whole quantum physics thing (those parallel worlds). So quirky, so unexpected, popping up in the middle of a police procedural mystery... and so cool!
My only problem with Danger in Cat World? The author’s repetitive use of “they” when referring to a single person of unknown sex. (One person is a "he" or a "she"; multiple people are "they". Period.) While I roll my eyes at much of the so-called “political correctness” (which often borders on the ridiculous), this is a matter of grammatical incorrectness, blatantly ignoring long-established rules--something one should never do. Ever.