Thursday, February 13, 2014

Death Walks on Cat Feet: Review

Death Walks on Cat Feet (1956) is a cozy little mystery by D. B. Olsen starring elder sleuth Rachel Murdock (and her fussy sister, Jennifer). D. B. Olsen is one of the names under which Julia Clara Catharine Dolores Birk Olsen Hitchens wrote--other works appeared under Doroles Hitchens, Dolan Birkley, and Noel Burke. As D.B. Olsen, she wrote several Rachel Murdock stories (all with "Cat" titles) and a series featuring Professor A. Pennyfeather--of which I simply must find an example. I've seen brief reviews of the Rachel Murdock series and they seem to refer to the books as "cat mysteries"--but I have to say, that even though Rachel and her sister have a cat and a cat does feature in the mystery in a prominent way, this isn't what I would call a "cat mystery" in the way that Rita Mae Brown or Lillian Braun Jackson books are. And the cats aren't simply amusing window dressing as are the cats in the Frances and Richard Lockridge stories. Rachel's cat Samantha is a pet (and nothing more) and Tom Boy is a clue--there are no cats solving mysteries here.

This story starts off with a bang. Rachel and her sister are driving home when the bus in front of them comes to a screeching halt and a distraught blonde woman flies off the bus towards a man standing in front of a pet shop display window. Before Rachel can quite figure out what is happening the man has grabbed the woman by the arm and sent her crashing through the glass. Rachel's inquisitive nature makes her stop the car and rush to the blonde's aid (over the protests of her sister--who fears, rightly so, that Rachel will get them involved in another "indelicate situation").

The blonde runs off, but later gets in touch with Rachel (after recognizing her from newspaper photos taken during some of her previous exploits). Her name is Ruth Rand and the man who sent her sailing through the pet store window is Bax Bonnevain--husband of Ruth's beloved niece. A niece who went missing three years ago. Ruth is convinced that Bonnevain has done away with Lila in the hopes of selling all her things and hooking up with his lovely neighbor and she wants to hire Rachel to prove. Rachel agrees--but only to discover the truth. Her search will take her back to the pet shop to a booking parlor and to a winning day or two at the race track. She'll also meet Tom Boy--Lila's cat who could save Rachel a lot of time if only he could talk. But in the end, Tom Boy will be the clue that allows Rachel to discover what really happened to Lila Bonnevain...and who is responsible.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rachel Murdock. She's a white-haired lady (of unspecified age) who is forthright and sharp. She proves that she can outsmart a shady bookie, wrangle answers out of unsuspecting witnesses, and can't be taken in by the smoothest liar. Her sister Jennifer tries in vain to keep her out of trouble--and provides just the right amount of comic relief. It's rather nice to have an elder sleuth in the vintage time period who is so active and self-possessed. Full marks for plotting, but a slight reduction in the fair-play clue department. A few more well-hidden pointers would have been nice. 3.75 stars.

This book fulfills the "Amateur Detective" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

Challenges Met: Vintage Mystery Challenge, What An Animal, Mount TBR Challenge, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Century of Books, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, My Kind of Mystery, 100 Plus Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Women Challenge, Book Bingo


J F Norris said...

For a minute there I thought you managed to find a copy of Paul Haggard's book of the same name! That an odd book I reviewed two years ago and I know it's VERY hard to find. I should have known it was a different book, different writer but same title. I've never read any of Olsen's books. She was the original cat mystery lady, wasn't she? The Cat Saw Murder is the earliest one I know of way back in 1939.I don't think there were any earlier cat mysteries.

Man of la Book said...

Sounds like a fun book, thanks for the review. I'm on the fence about mysteries, I used to enjoy them but no so much lately.

fredamans said...

Great review!
Sounds like a fun mystery, and Rachel sounds like my kind of character!