"The Cat, the Lady, and the Liar"
by Leann Sweeney
Obsidian, 257 pp., $6.99 (paperback original)
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Jillian Hart and her three kitty cohorts have become as comfy-cozy as one of the "cat quilts" that Jillian designs and creates to order.
Her purposefully de-stressed life as a 43-year-old widow transplanted from Houston to a lakeside home in (fictitious) Mercy, South Carolina, does attract the distressed, however, or those simply in quest of calm in a harried world.
Even her once-obstreperous stepdaughter, Kara, has removed herself to Mercy after staff downsizing at the metro paper where she worked as a reporter.
Kara-- who has been assisting Jillian's honey, Tom Stewart, with his security-system-installation business-- is poised to take over the town newspaper, and the revivification of her reportage is woven into the plot, along with a sudden romance.
Jillian is just doing a favor for a local, independent, animal-rescue operation at which she has volunteered since Leann Sweeney's "Cats in Trouble" series debuted, two other books back.
The rescue founder, Shawn Cudahee, is having zero luck making inquiries concerning a well-tagged cat recovered from the side of a highway.
So, what's up with the owners? Why aren't Cudahee's messages being returned? Is the household fit for the cat's return?
In an attempt to answer those questions, Jillian descends upon what turns out to be an antebellum manse in the nearby town of Woodcrest, thereby immersing herself in a troubled family of hangers-on, malcontents, and manipulators.
Not astonishingly, Jillian is soon running out of the double doors, across the verandah, and speeding away, in full empathy of the abandoned kitty's exit.
However, one of the family members (the cat's owner) latches on to Jillian, and then someone in the household is murdered, and then Jillian's up to her neck in the family's machinations and the ensuing police investigation.
That includes her good pal, Candace, a truly conscientious young detective with the Mercy P.D. who nevertheless comes across as an endearing sort of female Barney Fife in her over-enthusiasm for evidence collection and by-the-book law enforcement.
Meanwhile, Kara is putting screaming headlines in the newspaper, and Tom (a former policeman) steps into his alternate role as a P.I., when the recovered cat's owner hires him, along with Jillian, to investigate her family.
Tom and Jillian make a nice team, and Jillian's lakeside home provides a pleasant center of gravity.
Sweeney's cast of Mayberry-esque characters perform admirably in this likable, down-to-earth, traditional mystery that goes down as easily as a glass of Jillian Hart's sweet iced tea on a late summer's afternoon.
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