by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of the latest Cat in the Stacks Mystery by Miranda James aka Dean James, along with a fun interview with Dean. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and links to purchase it.
Cat Me If You Can: A Cat in the Stacks Mystery by Miranda James
Review by Sandra Murphy
Charlie, Helen Louise, and Diesel are on their way to Ashville, North Carolina, to meet the Ducote sisters and the rest of their book club members for a week long discussion of favorite authors. The Ducote sisters reserved every room in the hotel for the group.
The first thing amiss is finding what looks to be a dead woman on the couch in their suite. It turns out to be, Cora, the maid, who says has narcolepsy. If she sits down, she falls asleep. Several guests are shocked to find her reclining in their rooms. Charlie’s relieved to find out she’s fine if a bit silly.
Ellie is one of the members. When her boyfriend, ex, she says, fiancé he says, shows up uninvited, he causes a scene. At the request of the Ducote sisters, he’s allowed to stay if he behaves. However, his body is found the next morning, in his room.
Charlie has helped solve murders a few times, but he’s at a disadvantage in Ashville. He doesn’t know anyone, has no rapport with the police, and realizes, this is close to a locked room, Agatha Christie style murder. In a hotel with no outside guests, the killer is among them.
The group is a mix of ages, marrieds and singles. The Ducote sisters are older, wealthy, and a force to be reckoned with. They’re traveling with their ward, Benjy. Zac is young, rather arrogant, and good looking. Paul Bowen is Melba’s date for the event. He’s few years younger than she is but doesn’t seem to notice. She seems smitten. Johnny Ray Floyd with his family, Ellen, Burdine and Elmore, and Celia round out the group.
When a second body is found, Charlie and Helen Louise are determined to help find the killer before another murder happens.
This is book thirteen in the popular series. Diesel, a Maine Coon cat, steals every scene he’s in, as it should be. Charlie and Helen Louise are a delight as an older couple who are deeply in love. This time Charlie has to solve the murders with only the help of Helen Louise and the Ducote sisters, no help from convenient gossip. His main problem is he likes the members of the group and has a hard time picturing who among them is a killer.
Another enjoyable addition to the series, this story is slightly different than usual in that the setting is away from Charlie’s hometown, adding an extra layer of suspense. Warning first time readers—you’ll fall in love with Diesel…oh yeah, and all those people with him, too.
Interview with Miranda aka Dean James:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Dean: About fifty years, if you count my adolescent attempts at writing mysteries in the vein of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.
KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?
Dean: My first novel, Cruel as the Grave, was published in 2000. The heroine, Maggie McLendon, discovers after her father’s death that she has family she never knew about. She goes to visit them in Jackson, MS, and while she’s there, her wealthy grandfather is murdered. The killer is obviously a family member, and Maggie sets out to discover who did it.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Dean: I’ve written primarily mysteries, both novels and short stories. I did write one children’s book for ages 8 to 12 as an assignment in a class, but it was never published.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?
Dean: I grew up on a farm in north central Mississippi, and I wanted to set my Cat in the Stacks series in a small Mississippi town in the same general area. My publisher suggested I write about a librarian with a cat, and from that Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat were born.
KRL: Why did you decide to use a pen name with this series?
Dean: The publisher wanted me to use a female pen name because of the perceived market for the books, i.e., women who prefer to read cozies written by women. Plus, my own name, Dean James, disappears on the internet when you search it. You get lots of hits about a dead movie star instead.
KRL: Oh how funny. Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Dean: My primary goal is to entertain, but there are undertones sometimes of serious issues that you can’t help writing about, especially if you want to write about characters who aren’t cardboard.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Dean: I have a full-time day job as a medical librarian, so I have to fit in my writing time around that. Since I spend most of my day at work at a computer, I tend to write more on the weekends when I’ve had a chance to rest.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Dean: I don’t generally outline, though I do have ideas when I start a book about things that will happen. I jot down notes to myself. I set out to be a historian and my training taught me to be logical and analytical. I write straight through, no skipping about, writing scenes here and there. This approach helps me keep things mostly straight. There are always small lapses, though, that I have to go back and fix.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Dean: Mid-morning through early afternoon.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Dean: I got a few rejections, but I broke into publishing with non-fiction. That eased the path somewhat into selling fiction.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Dean: I never had a nasty or unpleasant rejection, though I did get a badly mimeographed one when I was about twelve. I sent the “book” I had written (actually a long short story, but I didn’t know any better) to the publisher of Trixie Belden. They weren’t impressed!
KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?
Dean: At a library fundraising event, I was approached by a woman who looked at my books on the table, then looked at me, and informed me that she was “up to here” (indicating her neckline) with books about cats. What can you say to someone that rude and ignorant? I simply smiled.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Dean: To keep writing and entertaining readers as long as possible. I would like to write more books in two of my other series, and I also have an idea for a new series that I’m itching to try. But with my current job and publication schedule, I don’t have much time for that.
KRL: Writing heroes?
Dean: Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, and Georgette Heyer.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Dean: Depends on what I need to know. At my day job I have access to a lot of resources, plus I have found that experts are often willing to answer a question or two for a book.
KRL: What do you read?
Dean: Mysteries (cozy, historical, occasionally paranormal), historical fiction, historical romance, history non-fiction, science non-fiction about archaeology and ancient hominins.
KRL: Favorite TV or movies?
Dean: TV – Bewitched, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, As Time Goes By, I Love Lucy, To the Manor Born; movies: The Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby, Some Like It Hot, Singing in the Rain, Pillow Talk, and many more.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Dean: A couple of things: first, read, read, and read. Both good books and bad ones and learn to tell the difference. Also write the kind of book you find entertaining; don’t write to a trend.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Dean: I am deeply thankful to the readers who have made Charlie and Diesel successful. I couldn’t do it without them, and they inspire me all the time.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Dean: That I have tattoos.
KRL: Ooh fun! Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Dean: I have three FB pages, but the two important to readers are the Miranda James and Diesel Harris pages. I do have a website at www.catinthestacks.com, but it’s woefully out of date. I’m working on getting it completely revised and brought up to date.
Thanks again for inviting me to participate!
To enter to win a copy of Cat Me if you Can, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “cat me,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen October 3, 2020. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT WILL TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week!
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