Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wow - Thank you, Richmond Times-Dispatch!

I was honored to have both of my new books reviewed in the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch. Book critic Jay Strafford got the difference in voice, the difference in characters, and he liked 'em both. THANK YOU!!

Mysteries: Felines, canines and plotlines

Published: April 03, 2011

Anyone who has ever been the human companion of an animal, particularly of a dog or a cat, knows that inter-species communication is no myth. This reviewer knows a Chihuahua who becomes ecstatic and zips into the kitchen at the words "cottage cheese." And we all have been made aware in hard times how our pets realize instinctively that we need comforting.

Which brings us to Boston-area crime novelist Clea Simon, who infuses her mysteries with human-pet interaction and whose books are models of the whodunit genre. In a somewhat rare occurrence, she has published two books simultaneously, one the continuation of a series and the other the beginning of one.

"Grey Zone," the third entry in the series featuring Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz, finds our heroine still working on her doctoral thesis, still teaching undergraduates, still missing her beloved late cat, Mr. Grey (who's known to remain communicative), and still growing accustomed to Esmé, her new kitten.

But life isn't all purrs and research. Her new faculty adviser scoffs at the direction her work seems to be going: Dulcie is now trying to prove not only the identity of the 18th-century novelist she's studying but also that the mysterious woman was murdered. Then there's the problem of the Harvard Harasser, who's making life miserable for female students.

Meanwhile, a former student of Dulcie's, Carrie Mines, goes missing, and a psychology professor, Fritz Herschoft, appears to have taken a dive out his office window. But the cops rule out suicide, and a plethora of Dulcie's pals are among the suspects.

Dulcie, of course, is too inquisitive — and she cares too much for her friends — to simply leave matters to the police. In doing so, she risks her life. But in the end, Mr. Grey and Esmé come through, and all comes right.

Simon's talent sparkles in a true puzzler, Dulcie shines with sympathy, and the story stresses the gravity of sexual harassment.

"Grey Zone" shows again that the animals in our lives are much more than our pets. It's a lesson that they know innately and prove every moment of their — and our — lives.

* * * * *

Fans of Gary Larson's "The Far Side" comic strip are likely to remember his parody of "Perry Mason," in which a cow leaps up in the back of a courtroom and says, "All right, I confess! I did it! That's right! The cow! Ha ha! And I feel great!"

In "Dogs Don't Lie," the opener in Simon's projected series featuring animal behaviorist Pru Marlowe, it's not a cow but a pit bull who's the suspect.

Pru, who's 33, has returned to her hometown in western Massachusetts after finding her New York City life a bit overwhelming. And she's not just a behaviorist; she's an animal psychic who can hear what animals are saying (and they can hear and communicate with her, too).

Far-fetched? Not really, given Simon's emphasis on strong women and animals in her books. This time, Pru has been training Lily, a pit bull rescued by computer programmer Charles "Chuck" Harris from a life of abuse. But when Pru visits Charles' house for a training session with him and Lily, she finds a horrifying scene: a dead Charles, his throat ripped out, and a distraught Lily, her muzzle covered with blood.

Pru is convinced of Lily's innocence and sets out to prove it (with some timely help from her senior tabby cat, Wallis — and, when the cops get doubly suspicious — her own). As is her wont, Simon peppers "Dogs Don't Lie" with a cast of credible culprits. Was the real killer Delia Cochrane, who claimed to be Chuck's fiancée, or Mack Danton, Chuck's business partner, or Chris Moore, Delia's previous boyfriend, or someone else entirely?

"Dogs Don't Lie" differs from "Grey Zone" — but not in ways that affect either's likability. Pru is independent, somewhat antisocial and fully smart-alecky, while Dulcie is none of the above. With that distinction driving the tone, "Dogs Don't Lie" has a more tongue-in-cheek feel.

With a clever plot, a surprising conclusion and another amiable heroine, "Dogs Don't Lie" has all the earmarks of the beginning of a successful series. It's a doggy departure from her body of work, but Simon brings her usual skills — and her great heart — to another story that animal lovers and mystery fans will lap up.


Ellen said...

Very nice reviews! I like the line about life not being all "purrs and research"!

Clea Simon said...

Thank you, Ellen. I was really thrilled that the reviewer seemed to appreciate and really get both books.

Dog said...

Thats a huge honor, must be so great seeing your hard work in the papers.

Clea Simon said...

It is, Dog! I'm thrilled by it.