Thursday, October 4, 2012

Another elegant mystery from Carolyn Hart

Oklahoma writer Carolyn Hart never disappoints. Her writing is elegant, her plotting is careful, and she sets many of her books in Oklahoma. She is a former newspaper reporter and her eye for detail is always evident.

My favorite of all her books is LETTER FROM HOME, with parallel stories set during World War II and present time. It’s a little gem.

Her newest mystery, WHAT THE CAT SAW, has just been published, and while it’s not a cat story as such, it does feature an interesting cat.

Meet Jugs, a brown tabby with oversized ears. Mostly he does cat things -- eats, sleeps, disappears through the cat door when he wants to go outside for a bit of fresh air. He's a charmer but he doesn’t hijack the story. He’s just there, being a cat. The difference is that Nela Farley, the protagonist of WHAT THE CAT SAW, reads his mind, and an interesting little mind it is.

When Nela arrives in the small Oklahoma town of Craddock she’s running away from her shambles of a life in California. She has lost her job and she has lost her fiancĂ© to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Her sister, Chloe, needs someone to fill in for her own job while she and her boyfriend take a week’s free vacation in Tahiti. Nela is grateful for the diversion.

She gets more than she bargained for – a cat whose thoughts alert her to a murder made to look like an accident, a fabulous necklace that disappears, reappears and disappears again, and a red-headed reporter who reminds her of old-time movie star Van Johnson.

WHAT THE CAT SAW might be considered a variation on the traditional locked room mystery. Much of the action takes place in the offices and on the grounds of Haklo, a philanthropic foundation headed by the founder’s great-granddaughter, Blythe Webster. It’s a family enterprise, with succeeding generations piling up money in banking, cattle ranching and oilfield wildcatting.

Chloe’s apartment, temporarily Nela’s, is on the top floor of a two-story garage behind the Webster mansion. The apartment was formerly occupied by the late CEO of Haklo, who died from a fall down the stairs and left behind her beloved cat, Jugs. Nela picks up the cat’s memory that his mistress stepped on a skateboard on one of the steps.

Nela has barely unpacked before an intruder breaks in. After scaring him, or her, away by calling the police, she finds that the intruder completely ignored a fabulous diamond necklace tucked into a purse sitting in plain sight.

Thus begins Nela’s introduction to Haklo Foundation, an organization beset by arson, vandalism, destruction of artifacts, obscene material mailed on foundation letterhead – and a missing necklace. Unhampered by local loyalties, Nela suspects everyone on the Haklo staff and quietly begins to check them out. Her every move is tracked by a suspicious cop and an inquisitive reporter.

Carolyn Hart’s elegant writing shines in this tightly plotted mystery. There are many characters but Hart is careful to develop each one in memorable fashion. Cat owners will have no problem with the role Jugs plays. As has been said, cats were goddesses in ancient times and they have never let us forget it.

For all the news about Carolyn and her books, go to her web site:

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