I admit that I was primarily attracted to this book because it is labeled as "pet noir." Noir is defined as crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings. Read my review to see what pet noir is and how this debut book in a pet psychic series rates.
Author: Clea Simon
Copyright: April 2011 (Poisoned Pen Press) 260 pgs
Series: 1st in Pru Marlow Mysteries
Sensuality: mild references
Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth, Pet Noir
Main Characters: Pru Marlowe, animal psychic
Setting: Modern day, Berkshires
Obtained Through: Library
Pru was working on her degree to be an animal behaviorist, but when Pru starts hearing the animals it isn't the sunny world of Dr. Doolittle for her. She ends up sleep deprived and overwhelmed and consequently drops out of school with only a few weeks remaining to have completed her degree, and pulls up stakes to go to her small hometown. The idea was to get away from New York with its multitudes of pets while going home to take care of her ailing mother.
The story begins with Pru restraining Lily, the pit bull of her best customer in her animal behavior business. Lily is hysterical because she witnessed the murder of her human. Since Pru discovered the body and Lily, frantically trying to awaken Charles, is covered in blood, the police believe that either the dog turned violent or Pru trained the dog to kill Charles. Pru is still coming to terms with her growing ability to hear animals while she starts piecing together who would want to kill the kind-hearted and geeky Charles. Lily is not much help since she is traumatized, so Pru must deal with people - not her strong suit. Her relationship with her crotchety cat Wallis goes through rough spots, but that is all Pru has to bounce ideas around with.
Pru Marlowe is mostly why this is considered Pet Noir. She is a little hard-boiled, a splash anti-social, and sowed some wild oats in her youth. Pru is a bit resentful about this "gift" of talking with animals, but Charles' murder forces her to come to some degree of utilizing it. Wallis, the snippy tabby cat of Pru's, has plenty of attitude and doesn't understand Pru's drive to help Lily. Wallis has some serious snark and is a solid character in her own right. There is the Officer Creighton that may qualify as a love interest in following books since a little flirting was done in this book. The hard part for characters is that Pru really only has a cat for her sidekick and the other characters are either suspects or minor characters thus far. This results in the story leaning heavily on just Pru, which leaves the book feeling a touch flat.
The Berkshires is a standard small town thus far and doesn't add much to the story per say. The plot has some good twists I did not see coming and I did not suspect the killer until just before the confrontation. The pacing had a few periods where it slowed a tad, but picked up before long and suspense builds as the story develops.
The "pet noir" aspects probably are not what you really expect. The noir part is only partially met with Pru being fairly cynical, but bleak or sleazy settings are not a main feature. The pet psychic part is more a vehicle to get a few clues, sometimes obscure and not obvious. Except for Wallis, Pru's cat, the animals aren't chatty and their minds work differently. Not a Beverly Hills Chihuahua style at all, more serious and much less silly animal fluff. Undoubtedly, this is not for everybody, but it just might surprise you.
The killer confrontation had some tense moments, which was closer to the noir label. The wrap-up could have had a little more to it, the end came quickly after the killer was revealed. The premise is great, but the story would have benefited from a stronger supporting cast and a more enticing ending to bring the reader back. Overall it was a solid mystery with a good plot that didn't succumb to stereotypes with the pet communication.
Rating: Good - A fun read with minor flaws. Maybe read an excerpt before buying.