When Lilian Jackson Braun passed away last year, she left behind not only a lengthy legacy known as The Cat Who…series, but a gaping hole in the Detective With Supranormal Cats sub-genre of cozy mystery fiction. Sofie Kelly’s delightful little series, known simply as The Magical Cats Mysteries, which first appeared in 2011 with Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, seems poised to step into that hole and fill it.
To me, cats and murder mysteries go together really well—cats are naturally curious, always investigating minute spots on the floor or what might possibly be under a couch cushion. I draw the line at anthropomorphizing the cats, a la Rita Mae Brown (I may talk to my resident feline all the time, but if she ever starts answering me in anything other than yips and meows, I’m heading straight for the nearest psych ward, and if she ever starts narrating her own adventures, I assure you we’re ALL in deep doo-doo), but I am not adverse to cats sniffing out the occasional clue. And cats and librarians seem to go together particularly well.
If you’re not a fan of cats and mysteries, you might still find this well-written series to your liking. Kelly is generous with clues for readers who like to sleuth along, and her characters are well-developed, a little quirky, and generally affable folk who populate a small town called Mayville Heights in Minnesota. One thing Kelly does right from start to finish is to create a town—she gets the small town stuff absolutely right in all of the books. The little cliques, the importance of a town festival, the close-knit neighbors, the central points for socializing—they’re all here.
The featured character is Kathleen, the librarian, but unlike many series with librarians at the center, Kathleen is also new to Mayville Heights and something of a fish out of water there at first as she works at adjusting to Midwestern winters and small town life. As the series continues, Kathleen’s relationship with the town develops as much as her relationships with her friends do. As cozies go, these books are quite successful in bringing together all of the usual elements, including a love interest with the hunky town cop, but they go that extra step as well: by the time I got to the third book (2012’s Copycat Killing), I felt like I was among friends in a town that I knew.
That’s a really important element in this type of series—cozies tend to run to a certain formula with standard tropes, and so it is vital for an author to find a way to keep the audience involved with a series. Some do it with recipes, some do it scrapbooking or quilting or herbs, but to me, the really successful ones do it by establishing a relationship between the audience and the characters. Lilian Jackson Braun did that—The Cat Who… books continued to run up the bestseller list long after the author had lost her touch at creating intriguing puzzles. Kelly is at the beginning of her career, but she’s wasted no time in establishing that link between the reader and her characters.
Oh, and about those cats—Owen and Hercules also have their quirks (one’s a catnip addict, the other one loves Barry Manilow music), but they also have magical abilities. One appears out of thin air, and the other can vanish through solid walls and doors. On the other hand, my cat appears to do that as well, so you’ll have to decide for yourself just how magic Owen and Hercules are. But they are certainly a big help to Kathleen as she noses through mystery after mystery.
The fourth Magical Cats mystery, Cat Trick, is due out in February. Which means that there’s plenty of time to catch up on this series before then.