Atticus Claw Breaks the Law by Jennifer Gray is a middle grade mystery suitable for cat lovers of all ages (available September 6, 2012).
When Atticus receives an anonymous message summoning him to a meeting in a sleepy English coastal town, he packs his bags and sets off. The world’s greatest cat burglar likes a good mystery and this time curiosity has got the better of him. The writer of the message, it turns out, is none other than Jimmy the Magpie, gang leader. He is mourning the death of his friend Beaky, who has been run over by a Rolls-Royce. Now he wants Atticus to steal all the jewels in town and leave the humans baffled. What could be more straightforward? But when Atticus moves in with Inspector Cheddar and his family, he starts to wonder if a life of crime is really for him . . .
The first thought that crossed my mind when I saw this book was: this sounds fun. And it is fun. But, it’s also thought provoking, deeply human and, unavoidably, feline.
Meet Atticus Grammaticus Cattypuss Claw, a cat unlike any other. Atticus is a thief and a cosmopolitan, somebody who likes to live as a prince. At the beginning of the story we find him living the big life in Monte Carlo, but before that he’d been to Moscow and Milan, Montreal, Miami, and Madrid.
He’s been all over the world. He doesn’t need anyone, but apparently someone needs him. Thus he receives a message delivered by a pigeon summoning him to the English town of Littleton-on-Sea for a job. As he reads the message with one eye he watches the messenger with the other:
The pigeon shivered. He blinked at Atticus. He had been told to deliver the note to a brown-and-black-striped tabby with a chewed ear, four white socks and a red handkerchief with its name embroidered on it tied around its neck. He was sure he’d got the right cat. It looked a nasty piece of work; but then most cats did as far as he was concerned.
Yep, the pigeon got it right. But it didn’t know what else to say to the cat, apart from what was on the message, and it was the last line that caught Atticus’ eye: “It will be worth your while.”
So Atticus shoos the pigeon away and then hops on a train that takes him to the northern coast of France from where he sails to England. He hitches another couple of rides and arrives in Littleton-on-Sea, where he meets the customers, a gang of magpies. Jimmy is the leader of the pack.
Atticus thought about walking away. He’d never worked for a bird before. People: often; dogs: sometimes; cats: occasionally; and once a pig who paid him to steal every truffle in Italy—but never a bird! A cat working for a magpie? The idea was ridiculous. And yet . . . Atticus’s curiosity got the better of him again.
But it’s not just his curiosity that makes him take the deal, it’s the reward as well: six sardines for each item he steals. What more can a cat ask for? A home, of course. So he sets off to find a family to adopt. And soon enough he finds his targets; a couple of kids, a boy and a girl, walking home with their nanny.
What he doesn’t know is that they are the Cheddars, the kids of a police inspector. When he finds out though he’s more than happy to remain exactly where he is, since he thinks: “ . . . where better to hide from the law than right under its nose?”
Sooner rather than later he gets to work. And the first job is way too easy for someone as talented as him: “Humans would call it a piece of cake. He called it a piece of stake.”
Atticus feels happy at first in his new home, and he likes the working conditions. The kids and their mom love him, and so does the nanny; the inspector not so much but that’s okay. And the sleepy little town is not that boring after all. The people are kind of strange, but so what? People are strange everywhere.
Soon enough though things will begin to change. He’ll start to have feelings for the kids, and he’ll also meet a lovely lady who will bring his romantic self to life. At the same time, he’ll start having trouble with the magpies. They simply make him mad. And they’re stupid. Well, most of them are, apart from Jimmy; he’s not only clever but also dangerous; Atticus can smell it.
What is a cat to do? The truth is that he’ll do a lot, and then some more; and he’ll have the biggest adventure of his life, during which quite a few things will change in his psyche.
In this book we have all the ingredients of a great story: stupid cops and brilliant villains; feelings of pure love and deep hatred; many twists and turns and a grand finale that can take the cat’s, (sorry, I mean the reader’s), breath away.
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Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese literature, and crime fiction. Follow him on Twitter: @lakisf. He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.