The clock said 6:30 a.m, but light through the window said it was predawn. No problem, I thought. It’s a cloudy morning and the sun is still low. But then the clouds turned thicker, darker, like smoke from a forest fire. Moments later, pounding rain sent birds into a nearby fir tree to hide. Just one raindrop could ground a bird. What next? Would the earth erupt? Would an archaeopteryx fly by? Had Armageddon begun? What should I do? The answer came in an instant. I wrapped myself in an afghan, settled into my most comfortable chair, and started reading a cozy mystery with great animal characters. Why not? Instead of a last meal, I’d enjoy one last book.
CHOOSING THE LAST BOOK BEFORE ARMAGEDDON was easy. Waiting on my Kindle was the only Shirley Rousseau Murphy “Joe Grey” cozy mystery I hadn’t read. Reading was magical just as it always is, except this time, there was a bonus: When I finished the book, the dark rain ended and the birds flapped out from beneath fir branches. I added the book to my five-star list, not because it had warded off Armageddon, but simply because it deserved it.
FIVE STARS FOR A COZY MYSTERY? A cozy is never a serious tale of personal, philosophical struggle, but is that the guideline for a good book? No. It’s the writing that counts. It must be evocative, the plotting must be strong, and for sure, the characters must be sympathetic. You have to care what happens to them, and I cared about Joe Grey and his cat friends, Dulcie and Kit. I ask you, when Armageddon looms, do you want a depressingly soul-wrenching novel or an engrossing cozy with delightful characters and a happy ending?
CONSIDERING WHICH ANIMAL COZIES to recommend, I noticed that adult books use cats and dogs almost exclusively, which is understandable because they can be companions to the sleuths in a way that other animals can’t, but I also noticed many more cats than dogs. (Can’t dogs help solve mysteries too?) When it comes to children’s books, however, all types of animals can be involved, probably because children aren’t interrupted by fact.
ANIMAL COZIES FOR ADULTS
“Joe Grey” series by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Murphy manages to make talking cats perfectly conceivable because she never forgets their nature, their desire to hunt, their natural nosiness, even their periodic cat spats. Joe Grey is a salt-of-the-earth kind of cat, not given to fanciful thinking like his pretty tabby lady, Dulcie, and he’s certainly not a chatterbox like Kit (introduced further on in the series). The cats are always the first to discover the crime and then the ones to solve it. Each has a special relationship their humans to whom they’ve divulged their speaking ability, and so the humans always help the cats solve whatever crime has been committed. The adversarial and yet loving relationship between Joe and his human, Clyde, is always especially interesting, but each character in Murphy’s books is fully realized, whether cat or human.
List of all books in the “Joe Grey” series
“Sneaky Pie Brown” series by Rita Mae Brown
With 29 books in the Sneaky Pie series and a 30th going on sale next summer, you can get through a lot of gloomy days in the company of Mrs. Murphy, a black-and-gray tabby with detective skills, Pewter, a querulous and slightly overweight gray kitty with an inflated ego, and Tucker, a Corgi who patiently puts up with her furry sisters. All three do much chatting with one another, while Harry (Mary Minor Harristeen) hears only meowing and woofing. Harry, in the meantime, can’t control her urge to investigate crimes, and her small menagerie is always eager to help. The mysteries are good, the characters well drawn, but the stars of the show are the animals, my personal favorite being Pewter, the contrary little troublemaker. (You might find the last several books in the series not as good. Perhaps Brown has grown tired of them.)
List of all books in the “Sneaky Pie Brown” series
“The Cat Who” series by Lillian Jackson Braun
Braun began this popular series in 1966, writing a total of twenty-nine books before her death in 2011. The main character is James Qwilleran (“Qwill”) who inherited a large estate, quit his job as a reporter Down Under, and moved to “just north of everywhere” in Michigan along with his two Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum. We never hear the kitties’ thoughts, but they seem a bit psychic as they get involved in things that help Qwill see other possibilities as he tries to solve a crime. “The Cat Who” books are like popcorn: Bet you can’t read just one.
List of all books in “The Cat Who” series
NOTABLE ANIMAL COZIES
“Mystic Notch” series by Leighann Dobbs
Bookstore owner, Willa Chance, solves mysteries in the town of Mystic Notch with the help of her cat, Pandora. (Currently 7 books in the series.)
“Paws & Claws Mysteries” by Krista Davis
Holly Miller moves to Wagtail where cats and dogs are welcome everywhere in the town, but there are mysteries to be solved. (Currently 6 books in the series and another on the way in 2021.)
ANIMAL COZIES FOR CHILDREN
“Bunnicula” series by James & Deborah Howe (1st book w/Deborah Howe, remaining books by James Howe)
This bunny isn’t exactly a vampire. It’s just that he has a thing for sucking the juice from vegetables. You might say he’s a V-8 sort of rabbit. He grows bat wings when he goes into his vampire phase, can fly, and has telekinetic powers. Found by the Monroe family in a theater showing the Dracula film, he’s brought home with them to join the family, which includes Harold, the dog, who narrates the stories. Also part of the family are the cat, Chester, who isn’t quite fond of Bunnicula, and Howie, a dopey dachshund. Delighting children for years, the Bunnicula tales have mystery, humor, and no one gets hurt. (3rd grade & older)
Books in the “Bunnicula” series
“Geronimo Stilton and Thea Stilton” series
Geronimo Stilton is The Rodent Gazette’s editor, and his sister mouse, Thea, is the paper’s special correspondent, both mice having their separate adventures and mysteries that need solving. Hugely popular with children aged 7 to 10, these are graphic novels, a blend of straight text and picture book where the graphics and asides in the books may annoy adults, but children don’t have such reservations. Use “Look Inside” on Amazon to get a feel for these tales.
To hell with Armageddon. You’ll do just fine as long as you have a pile of books with which to weather the storm.