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Welcome to the purr-perplexing literary world of cat mysteries

Illustration for article titled Welcome to the purr-perplexing literary world of cat mysteries
Photo: Anadolu Agency (Getty Images)

You can put a cat in just about anything to good result. Museums, movie advertisements, music videos—even interviews about grim Polish current events become much better with the addition of a little bit of that feline magic. It turns out this holds true even in the world of mystery novels, something that Hillary Kelly details in an article at Vulture that looks to figure out what the deal is with the apparently long-existing subgenre of “crime-solving cats.”


After discovering a woman reading a book with the wonderful title Meow If It’s Murder at a hospital and discovering “a grouping of three tall, steely Barnes & Noble bookshelves crammed with dozens of cat-detective series” a while later, Kelly decided to investigate the phenomenon of stories about hard-boiled kittens.

She found that cat mysteries belong to a larger school of crime stories dubbed “cozy mysteries” that “share an unspoken mission—to lull readers with snug, idyllic settings; to offer murder and treachery without gore or shock; to wipe away that glaze of trauma with which traditional detective stories leave us slicked.” The detectives are usually amateurs, the plot involves “any comfortable, domestic interest” (Kelly mentions scrapbooking and, enticingly, “crafting criminality”), and takes place in a small-town.

Cats, which we must remember spend three quarters of their lives sleeping in fluffy, purring balls of zen-like calm, are a natural fit for the genre. And so, “cozy mysteries” feature cats that either help hunt down criminals (“ ... as in Meow If It’s Murder, where feline Nick spells out clues with Scrabble letters”) or perform the role of “loyal sidekicks to their companions, furry Watsons who act as sounding boards for theories.”

As to their appeal, Kelly highlights how cozy mysteries—including the cat-centric among them—are a comforting contrast to the nihilistic bent of the more prevalent “glut of bleak, violent Scandinavian crime dramas and mental-illness-driven American domestic thrillers.” It’s a good theory and likely correct, adding a bit more shape to the more obvious maxim: everything’s better with cats.

Read the full article here.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.