"The Cat, the Professor, and the Poison"
by Leann Sweeney
Obsidian, 275 pp., $6.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Anything that concerns cats concerns feline-ophile Jillian Hart, so she's true to form when a hungry kitty leads her to an old farmhouse and a disgraced professor who's holding lots of other kitties in experimental bondage while he attempts to make a better pet food.
Unfortunately for him, the professor's spending other people's money faster than he's making headway on his research, which results in a murder.
And homicide can lead to further homicide when it's not carefully executed, and a cover-up comes into play.
Jillian herself is treading dangerously around a killer, as her upset over the experimental animals' welfare draws her too close to the murderer's identity.
This second "Cats in Trouble" mystery finds the young widow buddying about with police officer Candace Carson, whom Jillian befriended during the murder investigation in "The Cat, the Quilt, and the Corpse," which involved the stabbing death of an avaricious cat napper, with Jillian emerging as the prime suspect.
Since then, the dead man's salmon-pink Victorian manse in the fictitious upstate South Carolina town of Mercy has become a charming bed and breakfast that serves "a nice lunch" as well.
Jillian and her late husband relocated from Texas to a lakeside property in Mercy after he took an early retirement. The murder in the first volume, although a trial for Jillian-- who felt compelled to clear herself-- ultimately proved fortuitous for her in that it brought her out of her shell: Her self-inflicted seclusion in her comfort zone with three spoiled feline friends and her at-home business of sewing cat quilts.
As the story in this second volume unfolds, not only is Jillian thick with Candace, but she's also continuing to develop a thing for home-security specialist Tom Stewart.
Sweeney introduces a major new character: A family member whom Jillian thought she would probably never see again. Said personage-- and no spoiler here-- integrates nicely into the action of the plot and undoubtedly will serve as a major player in-- if not the springboard for-- future plots.
The author carefully and compellingly builds the story as Candace and Jillian add to their store of discoveries during the course of the murder probe. Suspects continue to emerge, making for a mystery that the reader is unlikely to solve until the proverbial big picture becomes much clearer to the two ladies.
Sweeney has created a likable protagonist and an engaging supporting cast. Dedicated pet owners will understand the sometimes unusual exigencies, strange circumstances, and conflagrations that result from their devotion, and thus will find a kindred spirit in Jillian Hart.
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