Carolyn Hart’s newest mystery, “What the Cat Saw” (Berkley Prime Crime), combines the paranormal component of her “Bailey Ruth Raeburn” series with the use of romantically paired detectives found in her “Death on Demand” books. This first volume in a projected series features former journalist Nela Farley and newspaper owner Steve Flynn.
Only Jugs, the cat previously owned by Haklo Foundation Chief Operating Officer Marian Grant, knows that Marian’s death was not the accident it appeared to be. “Dead . . . dead and gone . . . She loved me . . . board rolled on the second step . . .” are the thoughts Jugs telepathically shares with Nela Farley when she arrives at Marian’s apartment.
Nela acquired her ability to understand the thoughts of cats shortly after her fiancé died in Afghanistan. This sudden psychic power troubles her, but she believes it to be just a temporary product of her grief.
An unemployed journalist, Nela has arrived in Craddock, Oklahoma at her sister Chloe’s request. Chloe works at the town’s Haklo Floundation; but after winning a free trip to Tahiti, she now needs Nela to substitute for her on the job.
Chloe has arranged for Nela to live at Marian’s home, cat-sitting with Jugs. Unfortunately, someone attempts to rob the apartment on the night Nela arrives. After the police leave, she discovers a valuable diamond necklace inside Marian’s purse.
At the Haklo Foundation Nela learns that the disappearance of that necklace, which belonged to Haklo trustee Blythe Webster, is but one of a series of acts of vandalism which recently occurred there. Those incidents lead Nela to suspect that Marian was indeed murdered.
Nela’s belief is shared by Steve Flynn, the owner of the “Craddock Clarion,” the town’s newspaper. A former “L.A Times” investigative reporter, Steve returned to Craddock when his father’s stoke necessitated his taking over the family business. Still bitter from his recent divorce, Steve is nonetheless attracted to Nela at first sight.
Nela realizes how much she needs Steve’s help when she discovers that the local police consider her sister Chloe a suspect in Marian’s death and believe that Nela has acted as an accomplice in the crime. To clear her sister’s name as well as her own, Nela and Steve begin their own investigation of the staff of the Haklo Foundation.
In an interview appearing in the blog, “Mysteries and My Musings,” Carolyn Hart explains her downplaying of the paranormal premise of “What the Cat Saw.” “I suppose it is odd,” she says, “but I never consider myself a paranormal writer because the late Bailey Ruth Raeburn who returns to earth to help people in trouble is simply a sleuth who happens to be dead and my cat in WHAT THE CAT SAW is, as one reviewer said, simply a cat who watches and sees as all cats actually do.”
More noticeable in “What the Cat Saw” is the effective combination of Hart’s two lead characters. Nela Farley and Steve Flynn are both among the walking wounded, each damaged by past emotional involvements. Their mutual attraction and shared profession, however, suggest that they can become a captivating team of crime solvers, much like the “Death on Demand” duo, Annie Laurance and Max Darling.
Annie and Max will make a return appearance in “Dead, White and Blue,” to be released in May 2013. This 23rd title in the “Death on Demand” series Hart began in 1987 has the added distinction of being Carolyn Hart’s 50th published novel.
FTC disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. “What the Cat Saw” was released in the U.S. Oct. 2, 2012.