by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the latest 2 Sisters Pet Valet Mystery by Dane McCaslin, along with a fun Behind the Book interview with Dane! Details at the end of the post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of the book and a link to order it from Amazon.
Cat’s Meow: A 2 Sisters Pet Valet Mystery By Dane McCaslin
Review by Cynthia Chow
After two decades of teaching English to Portland high school students and taking early retirement, Gwen Franklin had an abundance of free time and a best friend determined to make use of it. While the five – or maybe six – time divorcee and business mogul Nora Goldstein definitely didn’t need the income, she was able to convince her bestie of over five decades to form the pet-sitting and pet-walking Two sisters Pet Valet Services. Sisters from other misters, their completely opposing personalities balance one another out as they seem to jump from one disaster to another. This time it’s Gwen’s former student Shelby Tucker who lands in the hot seat after a social media battle with a local celebrity news anchor. Big haired, big personality, big everything Babs Prescott body-shamed reporter Shelby on Instagram, and Shelby’s furious reaction makes her the top suspect when Babs is found dead in a parking lot following a news conference.
Extremely protective of her former students, it doesn’t take much for Gwen to find herself investigating the many locals whom Babs infuriated not only with her meanness but through her actual journalist investigations. Gwen’s abundance of classical mystery fiction lore gives her a step-up on how to detect clues and trap criminals with nuanced questioning, while Nora has her business connections and sway over every eligible bachelor within reach. Gwen is always asking herself WWMMD – What Would Miss Marple Do – and using the answers to have them digging into some of Portland’s many scandals. Particularly infuriating for her is learning of predatory teachers hiding their own MeToo shame within the schools. No one more than Gwen believes that these institutions for education should be safe places of those hungry for knowledge, and not where grades are a currency for predators.
This second of what is to be a trilogy is a fun romp that handles serious topics but always maintains its ebullient humor and a light tone. Nora’s ex-student and current dog walker Brent Mayfair seems to have coasted through high school solely on his football skills, or perhaps he took too many hits to the head. Far more competent is Nora’s new friend Louisa, a mega mogul herself with some savvy skills and impressive acquaintances. Even more exciting for Gwen is meeting Dr. Roger Smithson, a man who delights in accompanying her on her dog walks and whom Nora is ready to steamboat into the role of her “Sis’s” new boyfriend. The friendship between the women and the interactions with their quirky staff and friends are the reasons to return to this series, which is full of their outrageous antics, snarky quips, and Nora’s questionable lycra fashion choices. Pet lovers will find much to enjoy as the books make the most of the Portland setting and its quirky, unpredictable population.
Behind the Book interview with author Dane McCaslin:
KRL: This is book 2 in the 2 Sisters Pet Valet Mysteries, how did you come up with the idea for the setting and main characters in this series?
Dane: I love Portland, Oregon! The town is situated close to the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, the beautiful Multnomah Falls, and acres of pine trees. After several visits to family who live there, I knew that I needed to set a book in this place. Since I’m now a “lady of a certain age,” I decided to make my main characters that age as well. Gwen Franklin, like me, is a retired English teacher, and her best pal Nora Goldstein is a much married, much divorced lady of means. Between the two of them, they’ve developed a small pet valet business and solved a handful of murders.
KRL: How did you come up with the idea for the latest book, Cat’s Meow?
Dane: Cat’s meow is a delightful phrase that began somewhere in the early part of the twentieth century and refers to someone who thinks they’re the top of the crop. Our societal focus seems to be fixated on all things attractive, and there is a never-ending supply of beautiful folks who garner our attention. It’s no different in my neck of the woods. After watching a newscast where the main concern of the very pretty anchor seemed to be the correct placement of her hair and her, ah, other assets, I decided that would form the perfect starting point for a cozy murder plot.
KRL: What made you decide to include social media in the plot?
Dane: Gwen reluctantly let herself be dragged into the twenty-first century via a new smart phone, and she’s now become quite adept at perusing Instagram. It’s there that she sees a picture of past student (and current journalist) Shelby Tucker, posing next to a very self-assured local news anchor. Shelby looks none too happy in the post, however, and when Gwen discovers the reason why, she completely understands her irritation. It seems the news anchor, one Babs Prescott, has made some unkind remarks about Shelby’s looks. When Babs turns up dead soon after the picture was taken, all fingers point straight at Shelby.
This is the beginning of the action, so to speak, and it felt right to let it begin on a platform that most folks are familiar with.
KRL: Do you have a favorite bookstore in Portland?
Dane: I don’t. There are quite a few there, from Powell’s to Mother Foucault’s to Cameron’s, and all are delightful. Crooked House Books has a shop cat, which I adore, and Secret Forest Books has wonderful reading nooks, but there’s a bookstore for all tastes in Portland.
KRL: Your main character asks herself the question “What Would Miss Marple Do”, are you a big Agatha Christie fan?
KRL: Yes! In fact, it was one of her books, Hickory Dickory Death, that first introduced me to the world of cozy mysteries. Of course, I was only eight at the time, the book belonged to my mother, and I’d snuck off to read it. But I can say without a doubt that this was the beginning of a life-long love for Dame Agatha’s writing and all things cozy.
KRL: Do you have a favorite Agatha Christie book? Favorite detective?
Dane: My favorite book featuring Miss Jane Marple is Murder at the Vicarage, and my favorite book with Hercule Poirot is Death on the Nile. They are absolute classics, in my opinion, and are the perfect examples of the amateur sleuth at work. I enjoy reading both detectives’ exploits equally. In fact, I pay homage to them with the names of two of the pets in my series: Brent Mayfair’s dog Aggie and Gwen Franklin’s dog Herc.
KRL: What kind of research did you have to do for this book?
Dane: Research for cozies can be both intensive and causal. By this I mean that since I’m not writing a “police procedural” or placing my main character in a particular career that would require intimate knowledge (such as a coroner or forensic scientist), I’m off the hook in these areas. When I do write about police officers, though, I look to my brother, a retired officer whose role covered everything from street patrol to undercover work to school resource officer. Otherwise, I use my common sense, my own experiences, and my local library’s online resources. And Google. Love that search engine!
KRL: Other than fun, do you have a specific goal with this series? Any type of message, or information you want people to take away from it?
Dane: At the risk of sounding rather cliché, I’d like for cozy readers to know that there are sleuths who are older than twenty-something out there, and that these characters can get into just as much trouble as their younger counterparts. In other words: Fifty is the new twenty! And of course, I have fun writing the series. I’ve got a rather sassy sense of humor that saw me through over twenty years of teaching high school students, and I like to think that I’ve translated that into my writing. If I can get a laugh from just one person, I’ve done my job.
KRL: Where can people find you online?
Dane: Like Gwen, I approached this whole social media thing rather warily at first, but I’ve since become adept with my Instagram (@danemccaslinbooks), Twitter (@mccaslin_dane), and Facebook (Dane McCaslin) accounts. I also have a website: www.danemccaslinbooks.com. In addition, my publisher, Kensington Books, keeps an updated page, and the address is www.kensingtonbooks.com/author/dane-mccaslin.
KRL: What are you working on next?
Dane: I just finished the first round of edits in the third book in the 2 Sisters Pet Valet Mysteries, Playing Possum. There’s lots of mischief, murder, and mayhem starring Gwen and Nora and their friends. This book takes the dynamic duo up to Seattle to settle a will, and I had a blast writing this! It’s releasing on October 5, 2021, and it’s available for pre-order wherever books are sold, as well as on my publisher’s website (see above).
To enter to win an ebook copy of Cat’s Meow, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “cats,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 24, 2021. U.S. residents only and you must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
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Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.