Cat About Town by Cate Conte is the first novel in a frisky new Cat Cafe Mystery series set in a small New England town, where an unlikely citizen is called in to solve the purrfect crime.
Cat About Town is the first Cat Cafe Mystery in a planned series from Cate Conte, the pseudonym of cozy author Liz Mugavero, who writes the feline-friendly Pawsitively Organic books.
At the outset, readers are introduced to “cat whisperer” Madalyn (“Maddie”) James, who has returned from San Francisco where she co-owns and operates an organic juice bar to the East Coast for her grandmother’s final days and funeral service. Daybreak Island, just off the coast of Massachusetts, is the small town where she grew up and where her family still make their homes. Maddie is staying with her grandfather Leo—the town’s former chief of police—and is distressed to learn that Frank O’Malley, President of the Chamber of Commerce, wants Leo to sell his house so that a new business venture can capitalize on its prime location.
Incensed by the blatant opportunism of O’Malley’s preying on her bereaved and increasingly forgetful grandfather, Maddie sets up a lunch with him in the hopes of appealing to his humanity rather than his business sense. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly pleasant encounter, and Maddie storms off—but not before uttering a few caustic words: “You won’t mess with my family. Stay away from my grandfather, and stay away from his house. Or you’ll regret it.” When she later finds O’Malley’s very dead corpse during the town’s annual Food Stroll, an ice pick protruding from his back, she realizes that she has a perceived motive for murder. And so does her grandfather.
Despite rather somber circumstances, Maddie does make a new friend: JJ, a stray orange tabby who quickly becomes her partner in living and amateur sleuthing. She also reconnects with some old pals, including BFF Becky Walsh, editor of the island’s newspaper, and ex-boyfriend Craig Tomlin, who is now a member of the local police force. But beneath the happier aspects of her homecoming lie some fierce ambitions and jealousies that threaten to destroy a town that’s caught between old-fashioned charm and contemporary consumerism. Can Maddie salvage her family’s good name, or will curiosity kill the cat? (Okay, never the cat—it is a cozy, after all!)
Though touted as a Cat Cafe Mystery—generally in reference to themed cafés where cats can be watched and played with for a fee—this book is more of a setup for future installments than a delivery on that premise. Indeed, Maddie has a business on the West Coast to attend to and is expecting her stay to be temporary. But the company of her family and friends, a bit of romantic intrigue (Craig isn’t her only suitor), and the promise of a new career venture may just prove too irresistible to leave behind. All the things that attract Maddie to Daybreak Island will similarly romance readers; so too the subtle yet loving undercurrent of book lust that runs throughout the narrative.
Like the best of its subgenre, Cat About Town achieves an intimacy of time, place, and people that immediately draws you in and makes you want to stay a while despite the inevitable crime(s) at hand. There’s an undeniable comfort to Cate Conte’s storytelling that will leave readers wanting—perhaps even kneading—more.
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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.