This is the time of year when I write a column about books as a pretense to advertise the annual Friends of the Library (Big) Book Sale, from Oct. 3 through Oct. 6.
There, the advertising is done, though I have to engage in one shout down and one shout out, since we've run into difficulties this year.

This is the time of year when I write a column about books as a pretense to advertise the annual Friends of the Library (Big) Book Sale, from Oct. 3 through Oct. 6.

There, the advertising is done, though I have to engage in one shout down and one shout out, since we’ve run into difficulties this year.

No fear, dear Book Buyers, we’ll have plenty of books, especially mysteries, teen and children’s titles. But a snag in getting tables to display them. The city, with its restructuring and reduced personnel, is unexpectedly reluctant to supply us with tables—breaking with support that goes back decades. After negotiation, protracted by unanswered phone calls and emails, we learn we can have some tables this year, but they are in two locations and we will have to pick them up and bring them back. With a membership whose hair tends to run to grey or white and a dearth of pickup trucks and muscles to load them, we decide to check out other options.

So a shout out to the Heritage Church and its pastor, Chad McCarthy, who will recruit arms with muscles to load and unload a pickup with their tables for our sale. Thanks!

As well, you should give thanks for those tables; otherwise you would have to squint and even squat to see all the titles on the floor. You can see those tables and the books displayed there on Thursday night—early for members of the Friends, after 7 for non-members—and all day Friday and Saturday. Finally, Sunday, for a set fee ($20, I think), you can cart off as many books as you want.

Now to the literary part of the column. This year, in recognition that my most devoted readers like cats, I decided to sample Cat Books. More specifically, Mysteries With Cats.

Only sample, you ask? True. As a fan of both Classic (English-style) and Hard-Boiled or Noir (American-style) mystery and crime novels, I am quite reluctant to suspend disbelief for resolutions that require the help of pets. Besides, I associate dog, horse, cat, and spider books with Junior High years, a time I prefer not to revisit. Course, I still believe that collies have a finer moral sensibility than most humans, thanks to the novels of Albert Payson Terhune.

I was led into this sampling by a wonderful mystery that makes fun of series mysteries and the expectations of their fans. The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams, by Lawrence Block, riffs on Sue Grafton’s alphabet titles, suggesting new ones (“H is for Preparation”), echoes Lillian Jackson Braun’s “Cat Who” series and gives his protagonist a cat named Raffles who prowls his bookstore. Since his bookstore is hit by a huge rise in rent, Bernie, the burglar, has to turn to what he does best to keep it afloat. (We are on his side.). When he has to solve a mystery of a body in a locked room, discovered while he was burgling, Raffles seems to help by unexpected gyrations in the bookstore. Bernie insists that Raffles has no part in the resolution, but the last line of the novel has him petting “his cat.”

From Block, I was led into the world of the most popular cat author, Lillian Jackson Braun, followed by Rita Mae Brown, and Oklahoma’s own Carolyn Hart. My key question for each was “How much would I have to stretch belief to accept these cats?” I am pleased to report, not much.

Braun’s The Cat Who Went Underground features two Siamese, Yum-Yum and Koko. Braun limits them to doing the sort of things Siamese might naturally do. They are sensitive and fully deserve the minced chicken or salmon bits with sauce their owner serves them. (Siamese do NOT eat “cat food,” okay?). They like to observe humans from on high—the rafters, the top of a moose head. They can sniff out where a body is buried and interrupt a police interrogation of their owner by suddenly going “crazy.” All of which works, naturally, to help their human discover the murderer.

I appreciated the fact that they didn’t actually claw, bite or otherwise apprehend the killer. Nice traditional focus on the activities of a small village, the crime, and the survey of logical suspects. Braun’s novels appeal to readers of classical or English-style mysteries, I should think.

Then I read a novel from possibly the second most popular cat mystery series by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie (a cat), The Purrfect Murder. This series features two house cats, Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and a Corgi, all female. Sneaky Pie’s “contribution” seems to be the rendering of dialogue among the animals. The pets accompany their mistress most everywhere she goes and talk (in italics) with other animals, both pets and wild animals, including rats, an owl, a black snake, horses and dogs. In this way, they (and we) gain more information than the human characters, particularly from critters who happen to live at the crime scene. Although their owner, Harry, is able to talk to them—and they understand—they cannot talk to her. But, being with her, they can help her out of tight spots, such as pulling a wadded handkerchief out of her mouth before she chokes on it.

For me, Brown is the better writer, giving one the sense of piedmont Virginia, the animal and floral life, trees, the sky in different seasons. The crimes occur in a small town, with clear class lines and political differences. So a classical style plot with a more active protagonist and more character development. A character list in front is appreciated. If you can put yourself back in your Junior High or Disney mindset about animal sentience, the dialogue and foibles of the animals work well, adding humor to the investigation of some rather nasty murders.

Carolyn Hart is not known for Cat Mysteries, although anyone who has visited her website knows she is owned by cats. Having read many titles in her Death on Demand series and her fine novel set in Oklahoma, Letter From Home, I was interested in her 2012 title, What the Cat Saw, also set in Oklahoma. (I should acknowledge here that she gave me a copy of the book, with a nice dedication, which can’t help but bias me.)

With her main cat, Jugs, Hart finds a middle road between Braun’s Siamese who help through natural action and Brown’s cat-Corgi trio who act and also know, but can’t communicate. Hart features a human protagonist who struggles with the fact that she can pick up the thoughts of cats when they look at her. She doesn’t want to believe in such transferences, but she acts on them, nonetheless.

With the help of cat thoughts she doesn’t want to acknowledge, she solves a murder and other associated crimes and manages to fall in love. I’m happy to report that Jugs, the cat, does not nail, scratch or bite the culprit, though he alerts his human to her danger. An entirely satisfactory wrap-up.

I was pleasantly surprised by my reading and will definitely read more of Brown, probably a title or two more by Braun, and continue to read the non-cat mysteries of Carolyn Hart. Titles by all three, by the way, will definitely appear on the tables of the Friends’ upcoming book sale at the Shawnee library.

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at billha47@hotmail.com.