December 14, 2011

Curiosity helped the cat

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Hamlet is supremely aware of literary nuances, and can be counted on to pick just the right book from the shelves. Only thing is, Hamlet’s a cat, and his sleek moves are not always clear to his human companions at Pettistone’s Fine Books, now owned by one Darla Pettistone after her great-aunt Dee died and left her the bookstore in Brooklyn—as well as its resident cat.

Double Booked for Death is the first outing for the brand-new Black Cat Bookshop Mystery series written by Ali Brandon, one of several pen names belonging to Diane A.S. Stuckart, also known to readers as the author of the Leonardo da Vinci historical mysteries.

Darla is set to realize every bookstore owner’s dream after famed teen author Valerie Baylor agrees to sign her latest Haunted High YA novel at the store, and hundreds of screaming teens dressed in black capes crowd the sidewalk, waiting for the author (similarly known for her distinctive goth look) to arrive.

The feline sleuth seems to know his humans, too, arriving on the scene just in time to disrupt a counter display or two at opportune moments.

But a killer in—guess what?—black-caped attire intervenes, relegating Baylor to the status of murder victim. Too many suspects crowd the scene, from the writer’s odd entourage that includes a mysterious makeup assistant named Mavis, to a jealous bookstore employee, to a caped protestor accusing Baylor of plagiarism.

Darla and her tenant, friend and “store security” agent, Jacqueline (aka “Jake”), do what amateur sleuths usually do in fiction: mess around and interfere where it’s none of their business. Jake’s friend, police officer Reese, is heading up the official police investigation. But Hamlet’s on the case, albeit surreptitiously, and his timely interference and paws-on choice of reading material push the detecting in a new direction. The feline sleuth seems to know his humans, too, arriving on the scene just in time to disrupt a counter display or two at opportune moments.

Bookstore owners, current and former, may cringe a bit at the author’s somewhat pie-in-the-sky descriptions of the business of bookselling, but author Brandon’s clever casting saves the day. Readers are in for a treat if Brandon continues to develop her stable of promising characters, including bookstore manager Professor James T. James; antiques seller Mary Ann; and the very attractive Reese, whose broken nose adds a bit of intrigue to his curly blond hair and wraparound sunglasses. And, last but far from least, Hamlet himself, who deserves more respect from his colleagues next time around.

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