You Should Be Reading: Sofie Kelly

Written by Donna

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November 8, 2012

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.
Curisosity Thrilled the Cat

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.

Copycat Killing

Copycat Killing

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.

Cat Trick

Cat Trick

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.

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3 Comments

  1. Rosary

    And I thank you for turning me on to these, and I turned on some members of my bookclub to them as well. Kelly is fun to read, and the fish out of water Kathleen is believable as a character and as a librarian! Another fun cat cozy series is Miranda James “Cat in the Stacks” series–and no magic, but that same fabulous job at capturing a small town–this one set in Georgia. And if people think these cat cozies are easy to write, I’ve run across a stinker of a series by Rebecca Hale–not even the cats make this series readable!

    • donna

      Ooh, I love the Miranda James series, too! I love the twist of having the librarian in that one be a guy.

      I think the Kelly books just get it all *right*, if you know what I mean. The characters are realistic, the town is realistic, they have real problems, not just murders, and even the cats are realistic, “magical” abilities aside. And she writes with a sense of humor, which I appreciate in this kind of book. She’s doing a great job with them.

  2. Rosary

    She is doing a great job with them! I’ve not read any of Rita Mae Brown’s cat mysteries, but I did read some of Shirley Rousseau Murphy’s Joe Grey cat series–bleah. In the James series, I like how the cat is NOT magical, but still important. Charlie isn’t quite as charming as Kathleen, but whenever I see the new ones, they’re mine–that goes for both. I’m starting a cozy series by Kate Carlisle about a bookbinder–we’ll see what’s up.

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