Grey Howl: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery By Clea Simon: Review/Guest Post/Giveaway

Mar 22, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Mysteryrat's Maze, Pets

by Cynthia Chow
& Clea Simon

This week we have a review of Clea Simon’s latest Dulcie Schwartz Feline mystery Grey Howl and a fun guest post from Clea called When Cats Attack, that ties in to her pet noir series. Details on how to win an ebook copy of this book at the end of this post.

Grey Howl: A Dulcie Schwartz Feline Mystery By Clea Simon

Review by Cynthia Chow

As the Association of English Language Literatures Academics biannual conference descends on Harvard University, graduate student, Dulcie Schwartz, finds herself not only presenting a paper but being its unofficial host. Dulcie’s thesis advisor, Martin Thorpe, never stable at the best of times, is otherwise occupied with being the interim chair and completely fearful of the state of his position within the university. Dulcie is in the final stages of her dissertation concerning the identity of the author of an under-appreciated gothic novel, as well as her discovery of another unpublished piece by the mysterious author. That Dulcie believes that she, along with undergraduate student, Mina Love, may both be descendants of that same author adds an added connection and makes the final paper even more vital to Dulcie’s life.

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 loves rejoice!

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

When Cats Attack
By Clea Simon

The division between felinophiles and felinophobes has never been made so obvious as it was recently by the case of Lux the cat. Lux, as all cat people by now certainly know, is the 22-pound Himalayan who made headlines when his human family called 911. Cowering in abject terror, they had been chased into a bedroom by a seemingly blood-crazed Lux. “Get rid of that crazy cat,” some people said. Others knew better.

In my latest Pru Marlowe pet noir, Panthers Play for Keeps, I have a version of the same debate. A young woman has been attacked – fatally, in my book – apparently by a cougar, a wild cat. And before the authorities can do anything, people are massing with shotguns, determined to hunt down and kill what may be one of the few rare wild cats left in New England. Only Pru knows that there might be more behind this animal attack than first appears, and that some basic cat psychology could save everyone from harm and heartbreak.

Clea Simon

As I’ve said, it’s not exactly the same thing. Lux’s family only suffered a few scratches, but in Pru’s case, a woman is dead, apparently mauled by a vicious beast. However, the principle is the same: a simple effort to understand why an animal goes on the offense has been overlooked. A little bit of empathy, of putting oneself in the place of the other, is the key to peaceful cohabitation.

In the case of Lux, as I write this, it looks like we will get our happy ending. Lux, it turns out, was provoked. His family’s child had pulled his tail, and he had responded – quite reasonably, I believe – by turning and scratching the child. After all, Lux must have felt, this was his tail. He was startled, perhaps hurt and certainly violated. He was entitled to dissuade the young creature who was disrespecting his personal space.

But while Lux’s action was a reasonable one – and might have actually taught the child not to pull a cat’s tail – the family father compounded the insult and the injury by kicking the poor cat. No wonder the cat then went “mad,” howling and lashing out. The father didn’t defend him from the aggressive child. Not at all. He had only made everything worse, but now, after national attention and many offers by strangers to adopt poor, aggrieved Lux, peace is at hand. The family has publicly stated their commitment to keeping Lux in their home.

As a first step, the family is going to check with a vet. Lux may have reacted so strongly because of an underlying medical condition, so this is a smart move. Then, they are going to consult a pet psychologist, who will help all the creatures in Lux’s family get along a little better. I am betting – hoping, really – that this pet shrink tells them what Pru would have: that Lux acted quite reasonably and that it is their job to learn how to behave.

Now, Pru doesn’t have quite the luxury that Lux’s family does. Although her understanding of animals is aided by a certain special sensitivity, she has not been invited to sit down with a marauding puma, and nor are the townsfolk of Beauville, Massachusetts, likely to seek such a peaceful solution. But she understands that the same basic principle holds true: when a cat, even a wild panther, attacks a human, it’s usually because the human has provoked the attack. We have invaded the animal’s territory. We have scared the animal. We threatened its young – or, in rare instances, we have moved so far into its territory that we have become part of its eco-system. Prey or predator, the same as any other animal. “As one of Faulkner’s hunter characters says, “Ain’t nothing in the woods going to hurt you if you don’t corner it…”

Not that Pru will have much of a chance to tell the hunters of Beauville any of this. No, she must reach out to that panther – that wild animal – and find out what is motivating the attack. Because she knows, as the public now understands about Lux, that when cats attack, they do so for a reason. Those of us who love cats – who love all animals – must make the effort to understand and to coexist.

Watch for a review of Panthers Play for Keeps here in KRL next month.

To enter to win a copy of Grey Howl, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Grey,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen March 22, 2014. U.S. residents only.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.

Clea Simon is the author of fifteen mysteries that feature cats. Her most recent are Grey Howl: A Dulcie Schwartz feline mystery (Severn House) and, out this month, Panthers Play for Keeps: A Pru Marlowe pet noir (Poisoned Pen Press). She can be found at or follow her on Twitter @Clea_Simon.


  1. Interesting post

  2. Good luck to the winner as I’ve enjoyed a couple other of Clea’s books and now have an 8-hour audio version of one of them to enjoy as well.

  3. Worth another try, thanks!

  4. We have a winner
    Lorie Ham, KRL Publisher


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