Book Review: The Tell-Tail Heart: A Cat Cozy, Monica Shaughnessy (2014)

May 26th, 2014 5:47 pm by Kelly Garbato

A Cat of Letters

four out of five stars

“There are no coincidences, only cats with impeccable timing.”

Philadelphia, 1842. A series of most unusual and gruesome murders has left the city on edge. In a fortnight, the bodies of two women have been discovered: each with their throats slashed – and their expensive, prosthetic glass eyes stolen right out of their sockets. Speculation runs the gamut: could “The Glass Eye Killer” be building an automaton, one stolen body part at a time? Maybe he’s making a patchwork doll? Or perhaps it’s something about these fake eyes (both pale blue) that triggers the madman to kill? Either way, with little to go on, it appears that the local police won’t soon unmask the killer or his depraved motives.

Little Cattarina – “Catters” to her Eddie – is thrust into the middle of this human mystery when she stumbles upon a wayward glass eye while prowling the floors of Shakey House, a local pub. Much to her surprise and delight, the pilfered eye drags Eddie (as in Edgar Allen Poe) out of his funk. The Glass Eye Killer inspires him to begin a new story, which will eventually be known as “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

(“It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! He had the eye of a bird, a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell on me, my blood ran cold; and so — very slowly — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and free myself of the eye forever.”)

As the mystery begins to eat away at Eddie – and draws the attention of the constables, who briefly focus their suspicions on him – Cattarina sets out to catch the killer, thus clearing Eddie, proving her worth as a hunter, and saving all of Philadelphia. Such a big burden for a feline to shoulder! Luckily, Cattarina is up to the task. She may be a “kept” cat, but Catters hasn’t lost her street smarts.

The Tell-Tail Heart: A Cat Cozy is charming, well-written (and edited! I’ve become accustomed to spelling and grammatical errors in ebooks, but there are few to be found here.), and an all-around fun read. Normally I go for darker fare – dystopias dominate my fiction shelves – but I quite enjoyed the change of pace. Probably I won’t make a habit of cozy mysteries, but between the unusual perspective (Cattarina is the narrator) and the Poe connection, this one really sucked me in.

The murder mystery is engaging enough, but it takes a backseat the Cattarina’s unique voice, which is both believable and easily relatable. For example, when Catters frets about her inability to communicate with Eddie verbally, using human language – particularly when it comes to wife Virginia’s declining health – her frustration is palpable. The feline politics, particularly the feral cats’ prejudice against “kept” cats, is highly entertaining as well. (“It’s not like that. Eddie and I have an evolved symbiotic relationship that transcends-” Cattarina protests at one point.)

The historical fiction (if it could loosely be called that) aspect is equally intriguing. Initially, it’s a little weird to hear THE Edgar Allen Poe referred to in the familiar “Eddie.” As The Glass Eye Killer case unfolds, it influences the development of Poe’s latest story in unexpected and quite grotesque ways. (Recall that the story begins with a pale blue eye, but ends with a tell-tale heart beating beneath the floorboards.)

Shaughnessy offers a glimpse into Eddie’s home life with his beloved Sissy and her mother Muddy. As with his writing, Sissy’s health ebbs and flows; Catters worries about her almost as she does Eddie’s happiness. The real Virginia Poe contracted tuberculosis in January 1842 – not long before the events in The Tell-Tail Heart – and died five years later, at the age of 24. Knowing this, the already-likeable Sissy becomes a much more sympathetic and tragic character. If, as the title suggests, this is indeed the first book in a series, it will be interesting (and not a little sad) to see how events in the Poe household develop.

Buy it for: fans of cozy mysteries; cats; cozy cat mysteries; and Edgar Allen Poe.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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2 Responses to “Book Review: The Tell-Tail Heart: A Cat Cozy, Monica Shaughnessy (2014)”

  1. Monica Shaughnessy Says:

    Kelly: Thanks for the kind review! If you don’t mind, I’d like to excerpt it on my website, etc. Love your blog. I’ve been a vegetarian for over 25 years. :-) Keep up the good work.

  2. Kelly Garbato Says:

    Sure, be my guest! :)

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