Harvest House Publishers
I’ve just discovered one of the most annoying characters in fiction, and he’s not even human.
Authors who write novels about cats or children naturally risk losing readers who find either annoying. You’d think Gilbert Morris, whose novel When the Cat’s Away features both cats and children, would try to make these characters as appealing as possible. The children, however, are overly precocious, and Jacques the Ripper, the feline hero of the novel, is an ill-tempered, unlovable animal with a decidedly misogynistic streak.
When the Cat’s Away opens by explaining how strangers Kate Forrest and Jake Novak came to inherit a beautiful Alabama beach house, the only stipulations being they share the house and take care of the animals who find shelter inside, including the vicious Jacques and his more kindly companion Cleo. Kate and Jake, both in their late-twenties, are complete opposites. Kate is a Christian and a widowed mother who loves animals and is domestically challenged. Jake is a seeker, a gourmet chef, and an ex-cop who hates animals. Naturally, romantic tension abounds.
Morris’ Jacques & Cleo, Cat Detective series is meant to be the Christian answer to Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who books. As in Jackson’s series, the emphasis in Morris’ novel is placed on characters rather than plot. Unfortunately, Morris’ novel is too thick with stock characters and melodrama involving the above mentioned precocious children, a rebellious teenage girl, a foppish British expatriate, and too many men and women on their deathbeds. There are so many characters crammed into the novel that even the author seems to lose track of them. At one point in the novel, Kate attends a dinner during which she contemplates entering Cleo in a cat show, and she meets a man named Victor Mandel. Mandel introduces himself as a “gangster out of Philadelphia,” and Morris seems to imply this character will be significant, but this is his only appearance in the book, and he is never even mentioned again during the course of the novel. What’s with that?
At least in Lillian Jackson Braun’s novels, the mystery plot is interwoven throughout the character drama. In When the Cat’s Away, the mystery plot seems to be thrown in as an afterthought. No crime, or even threat of a crime, exists until more than halfway through the novel, when cats entered into the show, including Cleo, begin to disappear one by one, climaxing in the killing-off of one of the novel’s more interesting characters in order to provide the obligatory corpse, just a moment before the culprit is revealed. The mystery unfolds in a manner that seems rushed and sloppy, and the crime is not solved through logic and deduction, but rather through Jacques following his instinct to the killer’s house, with Jake Novak hot on the cat’s trail.
Until this point, the cats play a very small role in the novel. Cleo and Jacques have occasional pieces of “dialogue” with each other, during which Cleo comments sweetly on the humans around her and Jacques threatens to pick fights with either the humans or the other animals.
The only truly entertaining character is Jake Novak, who balances being a master chef and a surrogate father to Kate’s son with being a tough-talking ex-cop who throws punches and cracks wise like a character out of a Raymond Chandler novel. The character would be better off if he was in his own series, not surrounded by troubled youngsters and mean-spirited cats.
Morris’ novel moves along with traces of wit and warmth, but without an iota of suspense. Attempts to insert Christian messages into the story frequently come off as heavy-handed and overly preachy. Fans of crime novels and animal lovers alike will be left as dissatisfied as a cat without its cream. – Sean M. Cogan, Christian Book Previews.com
When White Sands, Alabama, is chosen as the location for an international cat show, cat lovers from all over the world flock to the beach. Jake Novak is disgusted at the idea of people fawning over cats, but his downstairs housemate, Mary Katherine Forrest, is delighted. And when the favorite pedigreed cat is kidnapped, however, the cat–loving world is shocked. Then other favored contestants disappear and Jake is hired to solve the catnapping.
As the plot thickens, the friends of Jake and Mary Katherine are drawn into the chase—Beverly Devon–Hunt, Enola Stern, and Oceola Plank join forces to run the catnapper to a blazing finish—aided of course, by Jacques the Ripper...