Clea Simon,
Panthers Play for Keeps:
A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir

(Poisoned Pen Press, 2014)

Pru Marlowe busies herself with animals. When she isn't training a dog named Spot for service to a rich man who's going blind, she's walking a little bichon who likes to be known as Growler, even though his human calls him Bitsy. Pru is not just a veterinarian's assistant or an animal lover. She's additionally a communicator, an animal psychic. So far she's been successful at letting no humans in on her secret. But whether or not she can refrain from revealing her talents is an issue that is constantly in jeopardy. Especially now, given this most recent turn of events.

Pru and Spot are walking in a forest preserve when they come upon the body of a dead woman. When the authorities are called in to determine the cause of death, they come up with an unusual verdict: at least, an unusual one for this part of western Massachusetts. The woman had been mauled by some kind of big cat, they say. A mountain lion, a panther, a cougar, whatever you want to call it. Smaller bobcats have been sighted on occasion in this area, but anything bigger may be a stretch of someone's imagination. What really happened here? Pru is determined to find out.

This isn't the first time she has gotten involved in such investigations. (For evidence, see the three previous episodes in this series: Dogs Don't Lie, Cats Can't Shoot and Parrots Prove Deadly.) Pru knows the territory and how to navigate among the local people. She has a terrific advantage over others because she can get help from the animals themselves. She tunes in to them telepathically and asks them simple questions. They respond in kind. And more often than not, the animals know. You just have to be able to understand them.

Pru is also savvy in dealing with local police detective Jim Creighton. The two have evidently had an on-again, off-again close relationship: one that here appears to be mostly off. Some past transgression has caused a rift. But both are professional enough to try to put their feelings aside in order to work together to learn the truth. That is, until Pru gets jealous of new femme-about-town Laurel Kroft. And until Pru also thinks that she can get closer to the killer on her own. For surely the "big cat" theory was just a ruse for an act that an individual initiated. Prime suspects include anyone connected to Richard Haigen's estate -- where Spot is soon scheduled to be deployed -- and a local thug with questionable ties, Gregor Benazi. Off Pru goes to see what she can find out. And then, naturally, a second murder occurs that resembles the first. The plot thickens.

As with other mystery series where animals "talk," italics are used to indicate any communications between Pru and her fur-bearing confidants. The back and forth volley is sometimes a bit tricky to follow, in order to remember exactly who is speaking. But the technique is genuine. I've used an animal communicator a few times to help with pets, so I'm familiar with the process. Obviously author Clea Simon knows it, too. And she weaves a decent mystery here. I wasn't wowed, but I was curious enough to keep on reading until the end. And I hadn't quite figured out the proper culprit. Or culprits. No spoilers here.

I hadn't read the previous three books before this one, and I don't think I missed having more background information on the setting and the main characters. But other readers may be intrigued enough to go back and catch up with Pru and Jim Creighton and all of the animals that Pru talks to. Nevertheless: Read any of the episodes in the Pru Marlowe mysteries, and you'll look at your dogs and cats in a slightly different light from that point on.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Corinne H. Smith

24 May 2014

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new