Berkley Prime Crime Mystery
Darla Pettistone is doing a great job with the bookstore she inherited from her Great-Aunt Dee. She even inherited a black cat named Hamlet. Like all cats, Hamlet is pretty sure he’s the one in charge.
Darla is in desperate need of hiring a clerk to help her, but Hamlet gets the final approval for any hiring and he’s a fussy one. He finally chooses Robert, a teen boy who has a goth look to him, loves books and more importantly immediately loves Hamlet. The two bond.
When Darla finds one of her regular customers dead and surrounded by cat paw prints, she’s convinced that Hamlet is witness to a murder. Together, with the help of their friends, they do a little investigating on their own. It doesn’t take long for Darla to realize she can’t trust everyone and her own life is in danger.
This is a fun cozy mystery series and I especially like how Hamlet communicates with Darla but not with words. He tosses books off the shelves to give her clues to the mystery. It’s cute. There’s a great cast of characters and readers will fall in love with them.
The storyline keeps you guessing and there’s even some romance thrown into the mix. The words flow from page to page with ease and make for a delightful way to spend an afternoon. This book is fun, fun, fun! Ali Brandon is a great voice in the cozy mystery world!
FTC Disclosure: The author provided me with a copy of this book to review. This did not influence my thoughts and opinions in any way. All opinions expressed are my own.
GUEST BLOG POST
TO BE OR NOT TO BE: BUILDING A BETTER LITERARY CAT SLEUTH
BY ALI BRANDON
AUTHOR OF A NOVEL WAY TO DIE, BERKLEY PRIME CRIME
Psst. Don’t tell anyone, but Hamlet the Cat--star of the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime---is a literary love child, er, feline.
His mother is the beautiful Thomasina (the 1960s Walt Disney version), and his father is the dashing Siamese, Koko, of “The Cat Who…” fame (did you know that all black cats claim some Siamese in their recent ancestry?). Hamlet also points to the 1950s children’s fantasy feline, Carbonel—another black cat—as a great-great-grandfather. He’s pretty sure, too, that Carole Nelson Douglas’s Midnight Louie is a second cousin. And let’s not forget the eponymous feline of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous short story, The Black Cat. That sly beast had what it took to bring a murderer to justice, so he’s got to be a distant relative of some sort.
Which is all a lighthearted way of saying that we authors are influenced by what we read, and that those influences can sometimes be found in our work…particularly, in our characters. Bits and pieces of the thousands upon thousands of fictional people we’ve known in the past swirl about in the primordial soup of our imaginations. That same flotsam floats to the surface for inspection when the time comes for us to create characters of our own.
But that’s not to imply that we simply clone our imaginary folks from what other authors have done before. Quite the contrary. Sometimes, we don’t even need to scrounge through the flotsam for suggestions, because our fully developed characters have already sprung, Athena-like, from our brains.
Other times, however, we take advantage of the soup. We examine what’s already been done, decide what works and what doesn’t, and then we piece together a character that we hope readers will see as uniquely ours.
When I first created Hamlet, I did a little homework to familiarize myself with the current state of feline sleuths. After reading several books and skimming quite a few more, I realized there really were a heck of a lot of cat detectives out there. Time to decide, then, how I could make sure that my particular cat stood out from the pack (or clowder, if you prefer the technical term). It was important to nail down his furry MO from the start.
Decision Number One: talk, or not talk? A few years back, I wrote a fantasy short story that featured two talking cats, Thomas and Selina, who decide to raise a mummy cat from the dead (Once, We Were Worshipped, available in my Kindle anthology, Who’s Behind the Door?). I had great fun with the pair, but that wasn’t what I was shooting for with this series. In a fantasy piece, talking cats are all well and good, but these stories were going to be set in Brooklyn. It was to be a pretty straightforward series…cozy, but just a bit hard-boiled around the edges. I felt I needed realism in my characters, which included my cat sleuth. So, fun as the Midnight Louie-esque shtick is, I decided ix-nay on the alk-tay.
Decision Number Two: loveable, or…not? While lap cats make lovely pets in real life, in fiction they can be boring. Always ready for a purr or a snuggle, but not necessarily prepared to leap into action when a killer is on the prowl. I envisioned Hamlet as a cat with a mind of his own, a feline who wouldn’t back down. And since many female readers are partial to bad boy characters, anyhow, I figured a slightly ornery cat could still rank high on the endearing scale. So, I determined that Hamlet was going to have a bit of “bite” to his personality.
Decision Number Three: how was Hamlet going to actually solve the mysteries? This final question was the hardest one to answer, especially since he was going to be a “real” cat. It was enough that we’d have the willing suspension of disbelief over the fact that Hamlet always managed to be on the scene when a crime was committed…or, at least, always seemed to have some intel as to identity of the guilty party. Obviously, if Hamlet did not talk in these books—not even among his animal peers—I was going to need some other way for him to get across what he knew to the humans around him.
One advantage I immediately had was that the series is set in a bookstore. And so, I settled upon a deliberate homage to the aforementioned Koko, who communicated with his human by sinking his claws into a dictionary. I decided that Hamlet would tell what he knew by pulling down pertinent book titles from the bookstore shelves. Whether or not his humans would be clever enough to correctly interpret his clues was their problem. Hamlet’s work was done!
Those decisions made, Hamlet was ready to solve his very first murder. And solve it, he did.
Hamlet’s second adventure, A Novel Way to Die, is on the shelves right now, and I’ve just finished writing the third Black Cat Bookshop mystery, which will be published in fall of 2013. While I still throw out the occasional nod to his literary forebears, Hamlet has pretty much morphed into his own man, er, feline. And that’s the way it should be. And maybe, one day, another feline literary love child will claim Hamlet as one of his furry ancestors.
Ali Brandon is the national bestselling author of DOUBLE BOOKED FOR DEATH, her 2011 debut offering in the Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. The follow-up book, A NOVEL WAY TO DIE, was published November 2012 and hit the New York Times Extended List for bestselling Mass Market paperbacks. At least four more Black Cat Bookshop Mysteries are scheduled to follow.
Writing under her real name, Diane A.S. Stuckart, she’s also the author of the popular Leonardo da Vinci historical mystery series, which has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as a Florida Book Award Silver medal. Additionally, she is the author of several published works of short fiction and five full-length historical romances.
A native Texan with a degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma, Diane a/k/a Ali now lives in South Florida. Visit her at www.dianestuckart.com or www.alibrandon.com . And don’t forget to “Like” Hamlet the Cat on Facebook: facebook.com/blackcatbookshopmysteries
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