Chesterton’s Father Brown once chided a dog-lover for acting as if the animal’s name were spelled backwards. Dog only knows what he would make of Murphy’s feline mysticism. This sixth installment of her fantasy-mysteries (Cat in the Dark, 1998, etc.) begins when the kitten ward of that sentient cat detective duo Joe Grey and Dulcie discovers the bodies of Helen Marner and her daughter Ruthie, who’d been riding horses with now-vanished teenager Dillon Thurwell. Tracks, footprints, and weapon all point to Molena Point Chief of Police Max Harper as the perp. Although Harper and Joe may have had their differences, the cat knows the cop is being set up. Even worse for Harper, though, it looks as if a deadly conspiracy of fraud and murder-for-hire links the small town’s police department and Crystal Ryder, one of Harper’s new friends, to escaped convict Lee Wark, one of Harper’s old enemies. Feline-friendly Kate Osborne, a former Molena Point resident, spots Wark stalking her at San Francisco’s mysterious Cat Museum, whose board wants to buy the old Pamillon estate in Molena Point, where the kitten found evidence of the missing Dillon. But who exactly is selling the estate? And how does the non-English–speaking cougar prowling the Pamillon place fit in?
Murphy’s fine writing can make her feline fantasy worthwhile. But this outing gets wrapped up in a tangle more arachnid than feline, with a huge multispecies cast—or “clowder”—that seems to have taken all its social cues from daytime drama.