CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 16. . . .December 18, 2015
To Catch a Cat Thief.
Winnipeg, MB: Rebelight, 2015.
96 pp., trade pbk. & ebook, $10.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-9948399-0-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-9948399-1-6 (ebook).
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Mary Thomas.
“It's summer, Penelope.” Grandma Bev closed her book. “We could spend eight weeks together going to the beach every day or doing picnics or camping in the back yard. But I have an idea that might be even groovier than telling ghost stories and roasting marshmallows over an open fire.”
My mind flashed to the picture of Tina's way cool Batgirl project, and my heart sank a little. I glanced up at her and blinked a few times. “What's that?”
She hopped off the stool again and went to the book case in the living room, returning a few moments later with a very old hardcover book clutched tightly against her chest. She slid it onto the counter top in front of me. “This is the very first detective novel I ever read. I was the same age as you are now when my grandfather gave it to me. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This edition was published in 1910. From the very first paragraph, I was hooked on detective stories and how a brilliant mind can solve a mystery.”
My eyes drifted over pages that had turned yellow from the passage of time. I reached out to turn the first page but held back for a moment, afraid to touch the book because I didn't want to damage it.
“So you want me to read detective novels all summer?” I asked. My shoulders slumped. I kind of hoped we could go to the lake or do some day trips to a few country fairs. I didn't expect to spend my summer going through dusty old books at my grandmother's house.
“Consider it research,” she replied, still beaming. “I live in a city where cats are disappearing, and I'll bet you a trip to the spa that nobody knows why. Call me crazy, but this is a mystery and we could try to solve it, Penelope. We could become detectives in our own right and find out why we're seeing missing cat posters all over town. Maybe it isn't the aliens. Maybe it's something even more sinister than that. We could put our heads together, sweetheart. You and I could solve a real-life mystery -- and wouldn't that be the trippiest thing in the world to tell everyone about when school starts in September?”
I gazed into my grandmother's eyes and at that moment, it no longer mattered to me whether aliens had taken the cats or not. I loved my grandmother with all my heart, and at least I'd have a chance to prove to her that the town's cats weren't food for extra-terrestrials. She really wanted to do this with me. It was important to her.
So I did what comes naturally when you love your grandmother. I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a big hug. “Okay, Granny. Let's find the missing cats. It'll be fun.”
The first thing that a reader, at least one older than the intended audience, needs to establish is just what sort of cat thief is being referred to in the title. Is it one of those burglars beloved of 60s romance-thrillers who slip over Paris rooftops and in bedroom windows to steal the jewels of rich society women, or is it someone who is actually taking kitty cats from their loving owners? As the excerpt above makes clear, these are actual cats that are vanishing, all of them admittedly cats who prowl about outside of an evening, disappearing from their neighbourhoods with no clue as to where they have gone. No mangled bodies, but no cats either. Penelope's grandmother is nobody's fool, in spite of being a carryover from the hippy era – vocabulary, tie-dyed clothing, musical taste and all -- and she realizes that Penelope would have preferred a more exciting summer than just the same-old, same-old and staying with an elderly relative. After all, Penelope's parents have gone off on an extended “second honeymoon”, and while Penelope doesn't exactly think she should have been invited along, she would have liked to go to one of the really exotic – and expensive! – summer camps like some of her friends. However, the mystery that Grandma Bev is going on about is a real one; why shouldn't they investigate using the precepts from Sherlock Holmes's stories as their guide with a few additions, such as the possibility of extra-terrestrials and/or the connivance of Big Business.
It is a fun story, with the particularly amusing aspect that it is the kid who is the one to put the brakes on the wilder fantasies of the older generation instead of vice versa. Penelope is the one who checks on the Internet to find that the UFO that they saw when they were out scouting one evening was, in fact, a police surveillance drone being tested. Grandma Bev, however, in checking the area for the radioactivity that would have been left behind if it had been a UFO, discovers that there is something that sends her Geiger counter crazy, and the fact it turned out to be from an illegal dump of discarded smoke detectors doesn't take away from the fact that they did discover that someone had been breaking the law. Not wanting to spoil the denoument, I won't say who or what had been absconding with the cats, but Big Business and genetic modification of seed grains – two other of Grandma Bev's hobby horses - did, in fact, have a hand in their disappearance. Not death, however. All felines were returned to their owners unharmed and happy, happy, happy!
It is hard to believe that there are still flower children – now grandmothers – around using words like ‘groovy’ and ‘trippiest’, driving a 'Groovy Cruiser' stencilled over with flowers and peace symbols. And maybe there aren't. But Grandma Bev is a delightful character, and Penelope is a lucky kid to been able to spend a summer with her. (The fact that Penelope seems to realize this is perhaps the only truly unbelievable aspect of the book!) In spite of the fact that Penelope isn't just embarrassed by her crazy grandmother, she is eye-rollingly true to life, someone any girl would be happy to have for a friend.
Mary Thomas, who lives and works, from time to time, in Winnipeg, MB, is looking forward to sharing this book with her eldest granddaughter in England in the new year.
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