Halloween brings an appropriately grotesque second case to those purrfect partners, Hettie Bagshot and Tilly Jenkins, whose earlier adventures were chronicled in The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency (2017).
Milky Myers, suspected of massacring his whole family ages ago, is reputed to haunt the old house currently occupied by Irene Piggledrip. His story, along with the séances Irene holds to display the spectral wisdom of her familiar, Crimola, sets the stage for the interruption of Hettie’s visit to the Friendship Club, where she’s come to give a talk about how to keep yourself safe in a dangerous world, by post-cat Teezle Makepeace’s cries of murder. Someone has stabbed Friendship Club secretary Mavis Spitfire to death, outfitted her in a pumpkin costume, and shoved loose pages of Strange But True, the notorious collection of tales in which crabbed gossip Marmite Sprat has kept the story of Milky Myers alive, into her mouth. There’s no dearth of suspects, from Mavis’ heirs apparent, her grimly pleased sister, Mildred, and her spoiled niece, Lavinia, to Irene, the actual legatee named by a will less than two weeks old, and Lavinia’s landlady, Friendship Club president Bugs Anderton. Even in the capable paws of Hettie and Tilly, the plot never exactly thickens, although a second member of the community will be strung up in Irene’s backyard and a third will end up flavoring a kettle of curry. Readers seeking a break from the obligatory wordplay, some of it inventive, some truly cringeworthy, can savor an unexpectedly moving scene between Hettie and the Rev. Jacob Surplus, the vicar of St. Biscuit’s, in the church graveyard.
Is it a coincidence that the principal characters are not only all feline, but overwhelmingly female? Or just an unusually explicit hint of how well Morton knows her target audience?