This one might be hard for some people to swallow. Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey mystery series features cat sleuths who talk … to humans.
That’s right! Sapient cats talk to select human characters during the course of the story and telephone the police to report anonymous tips! As the description for this eleventh book in the series states, “There’s nothing ordinary about a cat who solves crime.” If you can get passed this key plot component, you might be okay.
The story opens with feline Joe Grey complaining to his human ‘owner’ Clyde about the new neighbor next door. Joe is suspicious. “Chichi Barbi hadn’t driven down here from San Francisco for an innocent vacation, with no idea that she’d be living next door to Clyde Damen. No way he’d believe that degree of coincidence.”
Chichi once stole five hundred dollars from Clyde—a fact Joe is quick to remind him of—and now she’s trying to cozy up to her former beau whilst house sitting in Molena Point, CA, a sleepy resort community with a bounty of eclectic shops. Clyde, however, is now dating carpenter extraordinaire Ryan Flannery. Joe likes that Ryan brings out the best in Clyde, but she’s not one of the people privy to Joe’s ‘special abilities.’
Chapter Two shifts to the tail end of Ryan’s week with the girls. She’s horseback riding on her way back to Molena Point with her sister, Hanni, and Charlie Harper, the wife of Molena Point’s chief of police. Charlie is privileged to know about the ‘talking cats.’ She encounters a ‘feral’ cat in a cage, and knowing its true nature, Charlie springs the feline. Later, all three women discover the dead body of a motorcyclist. His death would seem an accident, but for the scratch marks on his neck.
Meanwhile, Joe has been spying on Chichi who appears chummy with two disreputable characters, redheaded Tommie and a Latino, Luis. Turns out the two men are part of a gang out of Los Angeles who have decided Molena Point with all its antique and specialty shops is an ideal target for a number of heists.
And in Chapter Seven, they execute a dry run. A fire is set at the local high school while someone breaks into one of the town’s shops. After her husband is called out to investigate, Charlie thinks of the not so ordinary cats—Joe Grey and his friends, Dulcie and Kit. “They’d be right in the middle, you could bet on it, drawn to the crime scene like kids to a fire. Three little cats, so small, three rare souls, so strangely blessed with human talents, out in the night peering down from the trees or rooftops, keen with predatory enthusiasm for whatever crime was coming down.”
Naturally, moments before the bedlam, Joe witnessed Chichi acting suspiciously. But just how far is she involved?
Some suspicions are confirmed when we learn the identity of the motorcyclist and his connection to the L.A. gang. The circumstances of his death might lead you to think a cat did it. However, the death of the motorcyclist isn’t really the focus of the story, which is more of a crime caper than murder mystery.
Cat Breaking Free is an entertaining story with a lot going on from the everyday lives of the series’ characters to the planned heists and the police sting finale. Along the way, there’s an elderly woman and her granddaughter being held hostage, a band of sapient cats looking for escape, and two murders connected to the L.A. gang.
Some might find the number of characters daunting if they haven’t read previous entries in the series. In fact, the first fifty pages deserve a careful read. A lot of names and details are given—many are likely related to series events, but also to the current storyline. For some reason, I found Chapter Five particularly daunting, but once passed it, the story really held my interest.
Again, there’s not much mystery to solve here. It’s more about watching the story elements play out. As Joe Grey’s friend Dulcie puts it, “They never add up until the last shoe drops, the last mouse runs out of the hole.”