Grey Howl

By Clea Simon

(Severn House, $27.95, 208 pages)

Who is this author?

Clea Simon got her start as a reporter and nonfiction writer before she found her true métier: writing cozy mysteries that feature amateur detectives aided by their feline companions (including a kitty who has already crossed that darn Rainbow Bridge.)  A Harvard grad and Boston lover, she lives there with her husband and her cat, Musetta. She writes frequently for the Boston Globe and also contributes to as American Prospect, Ms., San Francisco Chronicle, and, among others. Her essays also appear in anthologies, such as “Cat Women: Female Writers on Their Feline Friends.” She is the author of three series of mysteries, all enlivened by cats and the occasional dog. They feature animal psychic Pru Marlowe, freelance writer Theda Krakow and Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz, whose mystery titles all include the word “grey” and involve ghosts as well as cats.

What is this book about?

Anyone who has ever done time working at a college knows that academic rivalries and jealousies can be intense, occasionally leading to the killing of reputations and, at least  in many mysteries, to actual killings. So readers won’t be surprised when a literature conference in Cambridge, MA, (where else?) is plagued by a sabotaged presentation and the disappearance – make that suicide – no, make that murder — of a visiting scholar. But (just as with the Spanish Inquisition), nobody expects the ghost of a cat to show up. That would be Dulcie Schwartz’s sainted Mr. Grey, who helps her expand her conference role from grad student working as the university liaison to the conference to sleuth who solves the case.

Why you’ll like it:

Simon refers to her books as “fun feline mysteries,” which is exactly what they are, and she has chosen a genre that has wide appeal to lovers of a good, puzzling story and the wise cats who help solve the mystery. Here she mixes in academic life, always a fat target because of the pomposity of the players, and the results are satisfying. This book is the lucky seventh of the Dulcie/Grey series, and those who sample it will likely want to read the previous six books (and two other series) as well.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “Academic politics and the world of literary scholarship provide the background for Simon’s charming seventh Dulcie Schwartz mystery. Harvard grad student Dulcie, who’s been researching The Ravages of Umbria—a gothic romance—and the role of women in 18th-century society, is looking forward to a prestigious academic conference in Cambridge, Mass., at which she’s to present her first paper. On the eve of the conference, Marco Tesla, a visiting scholar, is found dead with a broken neck, having fallen from a balcony. Detective Rogovoy and Dulcie, with the help of three cats she communes with for assistance (one of whom, Mr. Grey, is deceased), determine that Tesla was murdered and try to uncover who, among the scholars vying for the position of department chair, is the culprit. Extracts from The Ravages of Umbria add to the fun “

Says Kirkus Reviews: “More adventures in the dangerous groves of academe. Doctoral candidate Dulcie Schwartz is thrilled that she is getting the chance to read a paper she wrote on aspects of a gothic novel by a so-far-unidentified woman author who’s the subject of her thesis. The literature conference is being held for the first time at a prestigious university in Cambridge, Mass. Dulcie has been pressed into service as a liaison and fixer of problems by her nervous department head, Martin Thorpe, who’s fighting to keep his job. Dulcie would prefer Renée Showalter, a Canadian professor who’s made available to her some highly interesting documents that will help in her research—at least, until she meets charismatic Paul Barnes, another candidate for Thorpe’s job who hints that he’d like to work with Dulcie. When a paper that Stella Roebuck had planned to read vanishes from her computer, professor Roebuck, blaming her former lover Barnes, demands that Dulcie’s boyfriend, Chris, a computer expert, find it. Then Marco Telsa, Roebuck’s newest lover, falls off a balcony at an evening party, and the police suspect murder. Dulcie, who often seeks advice from the ghost of her deceased cat Mr. Grey and her new cat, Esmé, is worried about Thorpe, who appeared to be drunk at the party, and Chris, who’s acting strangely. Although she’s survived several murder investigations, her immersion in all things gothic gives her a distinctive slant on sleuthing that puts her in peril. Though Dulcie’s rather scatterbrained approach to sleuthing may put readers off, her seventh provides a plethora of suspects that keeps them guessing.” says:  “As the visiting conference attendees arrive, Dulcie finds herself in the middle of battling egos, romantic engagements and rival studies. When one of the professor dies in what is initially declared as a suicide, Dulcie has little doubt that it was in fact murder, especially considering the clues and information she receives from her trusted companions.

“Mr. Grey, the ghost of her most beloved feline companion, continues to whisk in and out of her life providing advice and comfort, and his talent for telepathic communication has been passed on to the very living La Principessa Esmeralda, also known as Esme, Dulcie’s new tuxedo cat companion who more than lives up to her lofty name.

“In this seventh mystery featuring English and American Literatures and Language graduate student, Dulcie Schwartz, her computer science boyfriend Chris, and her feline companions, Simon continues what feels like a long episodic narrative that explores both Dulcie’s investigation into the life of a gothic novel writer as well as her introduction into a whole new world of ghostly and corporal communicative cats.

“Animal lovers will find the felines–one who acts wisely and the other who remains true to her catty temperament–completely endearing, while mystery lovers will appreciate the battles of the academia and the internal political squabbling. This is an entrancing mix that seems reminiscent of Amanda Cross’s academic mysteries and Lillian Jackson Braun’s helpful investigating cats. Cat and mystery lovers rejoice!”

When is it available?

You can hear this one howling “come get me” from the shelves of the Downtown Hartford Public Library or its Mark Twain branch.

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