Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cat Seeing Double

Well, for only the second time since I started my blog, I’m calling it quits on a book before I’ve read all of it. Sorry to say that Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s mystery Cat Seeing Double just isn’t doing it for me. I’m rather disappointed, because the concept behind this book and series offers so much promise.

The gimmick (most every mystery series tends to have one) for Murphy’s “Joe Grey” series involves cats who can talk to humans. The three cats within the book who are capable of this only reveal it to a few humans. They don’t quite fit in with regular cats and the part of the book that addressed this turned out the most interesting part for me. Frankly, if the book had chosen to explore more of the cats’ existence and origins, I’d have probably enjoyed it more. Yes, I had no problem with the cats being able to talk. I think part of this was because the human characters come across so two-dimensional, that I was hungry for a decent character no matter what its species.

Cat Seeing Double comes rather late within the series. It’s the eighth book, and Murphy doesn’t offer much sympathy for readers who haven’t read the previous books. Within the first three pages, she names about seven characters. As if that doesn’t create enough confusion for a newbie to her series, she references events in the past, present and future all within these three pages. From a writing standpoint, it’s a big ol’ mess that leaves one wondering why an editor didn’t point out she was clearly starting at the wrong point in the book. The references to the future give away all the surprises, including the murder of an estranged husband.

Much of the book is told from the point-of-view of Ryan Flannery. Ryan would be the wife of the aforementioned husband-to-die. She’s also the prime suspect. That creates another problem for me as a reader, because with much of the book being told from her point-of-view, I felt no suspense. She’s not guilty, and I pretty much know she won’t be found guilty either. So yes, there might be the suspense of “What if she’s wrongly convicted of the murder?” Well, for that to matter, I need to like the character, and frankly, I was wishing for a double homicide instead of just Ryan’s husband. She amounted to little more than “rescue bait” within the first half of the book, which was all I could stand to read.

Ryan wasn’t the only person I didn’t like as a character. Frankly, I just couldn’t believe in many of these characters. Of all the players in Murphy’s book, the cats are not only the most interesting but the most developed. Had she ditched the mystery and focused on these cats and their lives, misfits within both the worlds of cats and humans, I’d have enjoyed this more. Of course, then it wouldn’t be a mystery novel anymore. It would be a fantasy novel.

Another element that turned me off was the overuse of one word: evil. The people behind a bombing on a wedding are called "evil" a bit too much. I’m not suggesting that the attack on the wedding isn’t wrong morally, but evil is too powerful a word. It’s not unlike the way newscasters constantly find ways of inserting the word “tragedy” into any story where someone dies and thus weaken the word’s impact when it is appropriate.

Reading Cat Seeing Double, I sense Murphy’s “Joe Grey” series has fallen into the same problem that befalls many series. The book is too caught up in the soap opera of the characters’ lives, and the mystery is shoved into the back seat. This creates a need for Murphy to do scenes from the point-of-view of characters that just don’t really add anything to the book. Most mystery novels work best with a sparse selection of POV characters. This book definitely needs that.

The mystery offers up a lot of potential holes, and I really wanted to finish the book so I could gripe about these, too. Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to get into this too much. After all, Murphy might make good on these events that don’t seem to make sense within the first half. Nonetheless, much of the mystery elements feel too contrived for my tastes.

Other Books by Shirley Rousseau Murphy:

This book also suffered because of the amount of writing I’ve been doing. Murphy’s book couldn’t compete with my desire to write. I’d put it down for several days while I was busy writing, and the idea of getting back into Cat Seeing Double just made me groan. I sat down this morning, determined to finish it... but a half hour later, I found myself just skimming through the pages. I couldn’t take it any longer.

Despite all of my complaints, I’m not necessarily going to give up on Murphy’s “Joe Grey” series. The cats really do offer a lot of promise, so I might someday venture back to try the first book. After all, Murphy’s managed to make this into a successful series, so she’s obviously doing something right for some people. Besides, I might well have just stumbled upon the "dog" in the series (Sorry, the pun was just too good to resist!).

I’m also intrigued by a cat book she wrote which was strictly fantasy called The Catswold Portal. This appears to have been one of her early books, originally published in 1993, and was just re-released in paperback last year.

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