by Cynthia Chow
Info on how to win a copy of this book at the end of this review.
When Jillian Hart took on the assignment of helping to remove a colony of feral cats from Mercy, South Carolina’s abandoned Lorraine Stanley Textile Mill, she was expecting the heartache and difficulty of confronting cats too wild to live with humans but lack the instincts to survive completely on their own. What is unexpected is the discovery of a human living amidst the feral cats, all the more shocking for it being Clara Jeanne Sloan, a woman long since gone missing after her own daughter’s disappearance.
A former mill worker with limited intelligence, Jeannie and her daughter Kay Ellen lost their home with the Mill’s closure and when faced with the prospect of being separated they, chose to leave their temporary housing with their church’s pastor. As a result, when Jeannie reported that her teenage daughter was missing, the police’s search was less than extensive and eventually closed with the belief that Kay Ellen had simply run away. Jeannie’s disappearance soon after caused little notice and even less of an investigation, with her absence looked upon as much as a relief as a result of her own doing.
With a heart as open to the troubles of humans as well as to her beloved feline friends, Jillian utilizes all of her connections to quilters and charitable volunteers to relocate Jeannie without upsetting her further, while also enlisting the help of her friend Deputy Candace Carson and security expert Tom Stewart. Unfortunately, before Jillian can present Jeannie with her options they discover that she has fallen and broken her hip in the Mill, leading to the further shocking discovery that she was not the only human body present. The small skeleton of what may possibly be a young woman had been bricked into an old chimney and Jillian fears that Jeannie may have had too good of a reason to protect her “holy” space.
Just as disturbing to Jillian is that she seems to be sensing the presence of a phantom cat, and while she does fear a little for her sanity, the awareness of its existence by her own cats, Syrah and Merlot, seems to bolster her belief that she is being followed by the ghost of Jeannie’s beloved cat, Boots. Jillian’s female cat, Chablis, is much more concerned with dinner and a comfy lap.
As Jillian and Tom attempt to discover the fate of Jeannie’s daughter without upsetting the Police Chief Mike Baca or the irascible Deputy Morris Ebeling, they encounter the prejudices of Mercy that have never died. During the time of the Mill, the village and town of Mercy became divided, with the town people looking down upon the villagers they considered to be poor, uneducated white trash while the villagers, unsurprisingly, developed a great distrust of their neighbors. The animosity has never entirely dissipated and an additional murder further separates Mercy as the plans for the Mill will affect its residents quite differently. Jillian must also determine how to compassionately solve the problem of preventing Jeannie from endangering herself, while allowing her to retain her independence.
Sweeney again successfully balances a novel devoted to the love of felines with a serious and complex mystery that confronts difficult issues without being too preachy. Jillian herself is a very likable character whose recent widowhood prevents her from taking the next step with Tom Stewart, but may now finally be willing to relent and forgive herself enough to dare to love again. Jillian’s friends are always ready to support her, especially when she again must confront her irrational nemesis, Lydia Monk, the assistant coroner with deplorable fashion sense who has never forgiven Jillian for “stealing” Tom away from her.
This is a charming novel that highlights the love of felines with a mystery which tugs at the heartstrings. For a mystery that features a custom cat quilter as the heroine, the novel nevertheless tackles very serious themes and contains a strong plot which engages the reader until its very satisfying conclusion.
To enter to win a copy of The Cat, The Mill and the Murder, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, with the subject line “Cat”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen June 8, 2013. U.S. residents only.
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