by Cynthia Chow
& Clea Simon
Clea Simon’s Pet Noir books seems like a perfect fit for us at KRL since we have strong mystery and animal sections. This week we are reviewing Clea’s latest book Parrots Prove Deadly & Clea has shared a guest post with us called Respecting the Animal Within. At the end of this post is a chance to enter to win a copy of the book.
Parrots Prove Deadly by Clea Simon
Review by Cindy Chow
Almost licensed animal behaviorist Pru Marlowe has mostly adjusted to her ability of being able to sense animals’ emotions. Although she fled the big city life of Manhattan and all of its noisy voices for Massachusetts, she has since become able to view her gift as an asset to her profession of training and modifying pet behavior (even if their persons are usually the actual culprits). Her latest client has hired her to retrain Randolph Jones, a foul-mouthed parrot whose owner just passed away in the LiveWell retirement complex. Jane Larkin, whose own apartment does not allow pets, needs Pru to sanitize Randolph’s conversation or her brother Marc Larkin will refuse to allow the parrot anywhere near his children. Although Pru has never before attempted to work with the long-living, vocabulary-mimicking birds, she’s willing to give it a try, especially when she senses a strong feeling of guilt and rage emanating from Randolph.
Far more startling is Randolph’s continual repetition of sounds that would seem to be Polly Larkin’s last words as she struggles and the final sound of a falling walker. While managing to negotiate Randolph’s stay in LiveWell for another month Pru begins to look into the facility’s doctors, caregivers, and missing medications. When Polly’s acerbic and temperamental “frenemy” Rose hints at impropriety at LiveWell by the doctors and Polly’s own children, Pru has more suspects than she can imagine.
Although Pru only senses the emotions of animals and is not an actual pet psychic, she is able to have actual mental conversations with her cat Wallis, either because they have been close for so long or, as Wallis believes, because he is a cat. With his advice Pru is able to utilize the clues animals give to help her understand exactly what is going on at LiveWell and why Randolph feels culpable in Polly’s death. Pru is someone who feels a tremendous responsibility for the animals in her care to the extent that she is willing to undergo painful rabies shots rather than sentence a raccoon to the testing that will be fatal no matter the results. Pru’s skills will be challenged as she must interpret the clues the animals give her, all pointing to the guilty if only she is smart enough to understand them. She has learned to fine tune her abilities though, regarding them as guides rather than as distractions.
Author Clea Simon creatively crafts the mythology of Pru’s talents in a way that seems believable and is completely unique. Pru uses the animals’ emotions and feelings towards their people as a gage and instrument in her investigations, but she still must prove wily enough to interpret their sometimes vague but always accurate perceptions. Pru never completely forgets that they are in fact animals though, and does not anthropomorphize them as thinking or acting like humans. Even with Wallis Pru always knows that as much as he can communicate his thoughts to her he will remain true to his nature and would still follow his instincts and stalk down Randolph given the opportunity.
In this third Pru Marlowe Mystery, Wallis is the one who identifies how it is Pru who has actually become domesticated to the point where she has allowed Detective James Creighton into her life. The relationship between Pru and Wallis proves to be the strongest and most connected, as their similar natures qualify them as relentless detectives always ready for the hunt.
Respecting the Animal Within
by Clea Simon
Respect. That’s the key to my Pru Marlowe pet noir mysteries, the goal I aim for. Respect for all my characters and, specifically, for the animal ones.
Because in the Pru Marlowe pet noirs–the newest of which, Parrots Prove Deadly, comes out this month from Poisoned Pen Press–I aim to make the animals true to themselves, and I’ve tried to create a protagonist who understands their basic beastly natures. Pru works as an animal behaviorist, doing her best to understand the instincts that drive the creatures she works with. Fear and the desire to mate, hunger and the urge to protect one’s own young–these are motives she can relate to. Only humans, she notes, act out of greed. Out of unprovoked anger or excessive lust. Taking this into consideration, it makes sense that Pru actually prefers animals to most people. As she explains it, humans lie, cheat, and steal–and expect the world to conform to their wishes. Animals are just who they are.
In Parrots Prove Deadly, those animals include, of course, a parrot, whom Pru meets when she’s called in to retrain him by the children of his previous owner. Randolph, as the mature African grey is called, has a problem: he curses. A lot. Now, that’s not a problem from his point of view. As a parrot, he gets attention for his foul mouth. He probably, Pru figures, learned his salty language from someone who gave him love and treats for each phrase. But it’s a problem in the larger world, because nobody wants to adopt him. And the other things he says–phrases and words that imply that maybe his previous owner did not die of natural causes–just may be setting this beautiful bird up as the next victim. Pru understands this–and knows the latest theories on parrot cognition and language skills. Often, she wishes she could sound off as freely as Randolph does, and she certainly wants to learn what he knows.
Pru is joined in her sleuthing by Wallis, an elderly tabby who has just as bad an attitude as Randolph–but who expresses it in a subtler feline fashion. She is also aided by Growler, a Bichon Frise who sees himself as a much tougher figure than his owner would ever expect, considering that he looks like a little white puffball. And Frank, a ferret, whose keen senses make him a notably better sleuth than his human keeper could ever be. Pru interacts with these characters more willingly than with any of the humans in her little town. She respects them.
Respect does not always mean love–or even like. Pru is not a sentimentalist, and although these books are nominally cozies (with little overt violence or sex), they are not cute. Pru’s understanding of nature is that it is cruel–“red in tooth and claw.” And whenever she lapses into taking an emotional view of anything, Wallis is there to remind her: we are all either predator or prey; watch out, or you’re likely to become someone’s dinner.
Of course, I am not Pru. I would never harm or kill one of my animal characters. Not because I don’t think these things happen, but simply because I couldn’t stand to write a scene in which an animal was hurt. But that doesn’t mean that danger isn’t out there–from whoever knows the truth about what Randolph saw, or even from other animals. Wallis certainly seems to eye Randolph with a meal in mind, licking her chops, and murmuring about how good a bird can taste. Pru won’t let her act on her instincts. Randolph is a client, after all. But she understands the urge. It’s animal nature. She respects that.
To enter to win a copy of Parrots Prove Deadly, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “Parrots”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 20, 2013. U.S. residents only.
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