The Cat Sitter and the Canary is the 11th book in the Dixie Hemingway series (Available December 20, 2016).
Depending on the number of feline clients you can accrue, being a cat sitter can be a lucrative activity. It’s a worthwhile and harmless profession, but you will inevitably need an actual human being to invoice—cats are notoriously unreliable when it comes to paying the bills. It would appear, however, that some cat sitters—like Dixie Hemingway—are nearer to harm’s way than one would presume.
Dixie lives and plies her trade on Siesta Key—an island off the west coast of Florida, near the shore of Sarasota. She used to be a deputy with the Sarasota Sheriff’s Department until she hung up her badge and entered the world of cat sitting.
Dixie's not really fussy. She’s happy to sit any type of animal—furry, feathered, or otherwise—so the term cat sitter actually covers a range of pets who need looking after and caring for when their owners and guardians are otherwise engaged. But as innocuous as cat sitting sounds, it would seem that the quiet life was actually the one she had when she cruised the streets of the tourist town keeping an eye out for the bad guys. A long haul from the one she has now:
Dogs use their tails to communicate all kinds of things, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the particular signal Charlie was communicating was, “Hello Stranger.”
I slowly turned and peered over my left shoulder. There, in the middle of Caroline’s front hall, surrounded by a sea of envelopes and flyers and plastic wrapped catalogs, was a man.
His back was flat on the floor and his legs were laid out straight, but his left arm was at an odd angle, almost as if it didn’t belong to the rest of his body. He wore a light-blue, three-piece suit, with a green-and-yellow striped tie. There was a white silk scarf laid across his face, so I couldn’t see whether his eyes were open or not. As I leaned in closer, I realized the envelopes and mailers around his head and shoulders were soaked in blood.
I glanced down at Charlie. “Stay.”
I knelt down and touched my thumb and forefinger to the man’s narrow wrist, then, as calmly as possible, I pulled the door shut and locked it. I walked Charlie down to the Bronco, put him in on the passenger side and then walked around the back, glancing across the street. Mr. Scotland had disappeared. I got behind the wheel and put my backpack down on the floorboard, and then I reached for the car keys in the cup holder between the seats. I started the car and backed about four feet down the driveway.
Where the hell are you going?
I shook my head as I cut the engine and sighed. I had no idea. All I knew was that I wanted to be as far away as possible. I got out and walked back up to the porch so Charlie wouldn’t hear, and then I pulled out my cell phone.
“911, what is your emergency?”
At first glance, Blaize and John Clement appear to write a traditional cozy—what with sunny touristy islands and a range of furry animals—but just as you pull on your mittens, grab a cup of tea, and settle down for a lazy languid read, you realize you are faced with something quite different altogether—a proper whodunit. It soon becomes clear that you are in the wrong place if you want a slow, comfortable read where everything fits nicely together.
The story takes you on a trail worthy of any detective thriller. Things are never quite what they seem, with some clues taking you up a road to nowhere, while others send you down a dark alley with just your heavy breathing for company, wishing you had taken a different path. It is good, clean, tight writing with more than a hint of menace, and Dixie Hemingway comes across a wide range of characters, many of whom do not have her best interests at heart.
I didn’t move. I just stood there, my feet glued to the floor. The sound we’d heard was gunfire—of that I was certain. A siren had started up in the distance, just barely audible over the chirruping of the crickets, so it was hard to tell exactly how far away it was—or from what direction—but I figured south, probably taking the longer but faster route up Midnight Pass to avoid Ocean Boulevard traffic.
I told myself to breathe. Blood was coursing through my body harder than I thought possible—I could feel it behind my eyes and in the tips of my fingers—and there was a loud banging in my ears, like a bass drum pounding to the beat of my heart.
I cursed myself for being so stupid. The moment there’d been even the slightest hint that someone was after me, I should have listened to Detective Carthage. I should have stayed home. I should have called each and every one of my clients and told them I’d have to send someone else to look after their pets until this whole thing was over.
As with all finely crafted thrillers, you will not see the end of this tale coming—even though there are plenty of other tails to distract you along the way.
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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.