by Claire Donally
When I was asked to pitch some ideas for a cat mystery, there were certain elements I wanted in the mix. I knew parts of the book should be from the cat's point of view. Initially, I had the idea of Sherlock Holmes in a fur coat, but when it came to the writing, my cat's thoughts were less about logic and more about cat interests. Smells, comfort, what fools these two-leggity people be, getting one's own way... falling in love with someone for no apparent reason. Well, maybe because they smell good.
I wanted the human lead character to be an out-of-work reporter. Too many friends have found themselves in that situation or dangerously close to it, struggling to find a related field where they might use their skills and knowledge and still make a living. These notions made it into the Sunny & Shadow stories. Others, like my human working for a low-rent private eye and setting the stories in a fictionalized version of my own neighborhood, didn't make the cut. Apparently, where I live is neither picturesque not small-town enough, so off the series went to Maine. And in a blue-collar town like Kittery - excuse me, fictional Kittery Harbor - well, a private eye just didn't seem to work.
Fine. But now another question arose. If Sunny Coolidge, my protagonist/reporter worked in a big city and lost her job, why would she come back to a small town? Real life provided that answer - taking care of a sick father. I wrote my second novel while also taking care of my dad during his final illness. Definitely, one of life's lemons, but the conversations we had during those months told me more about him than living with him the thirty years before.
As the only free-lancer in my family, I've found myself alternating between writing numerous books and working as a part-time home health attendant, first for my father, then my grandmother, and now my mom. In both fields, the work is demanding, makes those demands at odd times... and the pay doesn't leave you pricing yachts.
However, this difficult work has also provided grist for the writing mill. If, as Wordsworth said, poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility, comedy is stress reconsidered with a bit of distance. When Mike Coolidge, Sunny's father, complains about the pill police and food police, that comes out of real (and sometimes loud) conversations. The three a.m. angina attacks were also reality based, but Mike no longer suffers from them - nor, thank heaven, does my patient.
But there's always something: in this case a fall, a broken bone, and seven weeks in physical therapy rehab. For a writer with a twisted sensibility like mine, the thought hit me on my first visit. "What a wonderful place for a murder!"
Thus the fourth Sunny & Shadow mystery, LAST LICKS, was born. Research was simple - basically keep my eyes open, watching how therapy was administered, how patients responded. Mom was in a good facility, with a thoughtful, caring staff. But we're talking about human beings here, and I had a chance to stand in the background and watch them interact. The therapist who was interested in one of his colleagues and always getting shot down, the very kind music therapist, learning when the aides were overworked and when you could ask them for special help.
And, of course, there were the therapy animals. They usually didn't make their way to the PT floor, but Mom encountered them when I wheeled her down to the garden or the other common areas. There were plenty of dogs, always eagerly nosing around for someone to pet them. I also saw a single cat, whose residence was a cage on the route to the garden and who usually gave us a supercilious once-over from her hammock inside. On occasion, she'd vacate that location to startle people by sitting statue-like on pieces of furniture, favoring her victims with a "what's-the-matter-with you?" look when you jumped.
And if she made it to the facility's front parlor, she somehow had the ability to beat everyone to the most comfortable seat - pretty remarkable for such a languorous creature - and spend her time looking at the tank full of giant fish, doubtless thinking exciting thoughts.
Over the weeks I met additional cats who visited other floors, including one poor little guy who was undergoing cancer treatment, sick and apparently starved for attention but not lacking self-confidence. He gave me a little nip to tell me to stop wasting time signing out one evening and devote more time to petting.
Add in a news story tucked away years before about a nursing-home cat who could apparently predict which patients weren't long for the world, and I had a pretty good locale and set up for a murder mystery. Then came the motive, opportunity, and means mechanics, not just to determine whodunit, but who wanted to do it, when, and how.
Maybe I'm developing a soft spot for a crusty character, but after giving him a heart attack, I didn't want to put poor old Mike through the stress of rehab. So I got the notion of injuring Sunny's demanding loud boss. Plus, what a lousy, impatient patient he would be!
I've written novels set in different eras and locales that required plenty of research. Only occasionally have I been able to turn something I've lived through into a story. It's interesting to take an experience that caused a lot of strain and difficulty and reconsider it through a creative lens (and some comedy).
Sort of taking lemons and making lemonade - finding the right balance between tart and sweet.
Last Licks (Sunny & Shadow Mystery - Book 3) by Claire Donally
Publication Date: 05/06/2014
Publisher: Penguin Group
Imprint: Berkley Prime Crime
Genre: Cozy Mystery
(Received for an honest review from Berkley Prime Crime)
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Indiebound
Claire Donally on the WEB: goodreads
Books in the series:
Sunny & Shadow
1. The Big Kitty
2. Cat Nap
3. Last Licks
Coverart: Click the Image for a larger, clearer view of the covers in this series.
Sniffing out a murderer…
When Sunny Coolidge’s curmudgeonly boss, Oliver Barnstable, lands in rehab after breaking his leg, Sunny is stuck shuttling between their offices in Kittery Harbor, Maine, and the facility where Ollie is recuperating. And if putting up with temper tantrums from her boss wasn’t enough, his rehab roommate, Gardner Scatterwell, is a shameless flirt.
But when Scatterwell dies unexpectedly in the night, Ollie is convinced it wasn’t from natural causes. He gives Sunny a new assignment—find out who killed the old tomcat.
And speaking of cats, Shadow, Sunny’s feline partner in crime, takes a peculiar interest in the rehab’s resident angel of death—a calico cat called Portia, with an uncanny talent for cozying up to patients right before they pass away. Together, Sunny and Shadow will have to nose out clues to discover if Portia’s jinx had anything to do with Gardner’s passing—or if all his catting around finally got him fixed.
That Claire Donally is quite the secret keeper. After three books I am still no closer to knowing who this author is... intriguing. Just like the latest book in the Sunny & Shadow Mystery series, Last Licks. Readers will be absorbed in the story of Portia, that cat who knows when patients are not long for this world. Donally has a way with writing feline behavior that gives this series a touch of authenticity that is sometimes missing in this kind of writing. Fans of the series will enjoy Sunny's ornery old boss and have a soft spot for finding his roommate's killer. A great addition to the series.
What I liked:
I have liked this series since the beginning. It has always had a good sense of originality and was entertaining. Donally is able to bring her feline characters are well as her human characters to life with ease. Starting out, the series was a little light on the mystery aspects, but Donally has proven that great potential often leads to a great series. The third book in the series, Last Licks proves that out. It is easily the best of the series so far. Rooted in real life experiences and bearing the fruits of hardwork this is my favorite book by this author under the Claire Donally name. I suspect I may be a fan of others as well.
The rehab scenery was so well written and detailed that it was easy to see that Donally had experience with her topic and I think that made all the difference. Readers can feel the urgency and uncertainty of the patients, and the addition of Portia the cat, was an amazing idea. Often setting is just one part of what makes a great cozy read, but in this one, not only does Donally give readers the small town of Kittery Harbor, but the rehab facility where Sunny's boss is re-cooperating. It could have had the antiseptic feel of most of those kinds of places, but Donally was able to make it real through description and atmosphere. It was very well done.
Shadow as usual is an important member of the team. Sunny may be the one going back and forth and figuring out the clues, but often it's the feline intuition of her cat that brings it all together. In this book, readers are treated to another feline character in Portia, the cat who can tell who is about to die. The idea that animals are able to tell that sort of thing, is not new, but I thought Donally used it in a remarkable way. This added a whole new dimension to the story and made it just that much more intriguing.
As usual Sunny can't seem to tame her curiosity. She makes such a great sleuth. In the beginning I worried she didn't have that hard nosed attitude that most reporters have. She was a bit timid as a character, but she definitely has gained some pluck. She isn't afraid to ask the hard questions or to go into danger to prove her point or to find the next clue. I think she has developed into a lead character that fans can stand behind and root for. I liked her a lot in this one and I think she will only continue to get better. Donally's slow build up has proven to be the right touch with this character.
What I didn't like:
I can definitely say that this is my favorite of the series so far. There isn't much to criticize because all of the elements came together to provide the reader with a great reading experience. The murder, the evidence, the psychic cat, everything played off each other and made for a fantastic read.
It took me a little while to completely warm up to this series, but I'm totally there now. If you haven't tried this series, now is your chance. Donally can write a feline character like few others in the genre and this one has picked up speed along the way. Can't wait to see what's next for Sunny & Shadow.
Last Licks is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.
I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
About the Author:
Under many different names, Claire Donally has written mystery, science fiction, and fantasy stories - some of them also including cats. She lives in a quiet, non-picturesque neighborhood in Queens, New York and is presently between feline companions. The only animals presently in the house are dust bunnies.
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