If the central character in a murder mystery is of the furry feline persuasion, then you might expect the book to fall squarely into the category of ‘cosy crime’. A cast of intelligent, inquisitive cats who chat to their humans and run a parallel police furce (sorry – force) kinda sounds like it’s time for a nice cup of cocoa and a snuggle under the rug.
But Glass Cats comes yowling at you with way more teeth, claws and feline fury than that. Bok Choy is the one-eyed novice investigator, one of the pampered pet ‘glass cats’ whose only experience of the wider world is what they glimpse behind windows; cats encapsulated in a crystal cage. When Bok Choy leaves the safety of his entirely indoor existence for a walk on the wild side, the first feline he meets threatens to slash him sideways and let him bleed out in the gutter. The human outlaws are no better: thieves, low lives, sadistically violent tormenters and mean-hearted murderers – no honour between them and no compunction about killing to make a big buck.
While it’s far from twee, Glass Cats isn’t exactly X-rated and it certainly has its softer side, exploring the frequently tender relationship between animals and their humans. Quirky comedy exploits some absurd situations to great effect – Bok Choy’s now-deceased former owner comes back as a ghost who gets a kick out of poltergeisting, and who harbours utterly explicit views on revenge when it comes to killing the culprits responsible for her untimely demise. A crafty old cat manipulates the inmates at an old folks’ home, giving the feline investigative team access to human tools (and fresh fish!) while taking advantage of an elderly fella with dementia. That sounds kinda cruel, but its handled with a delicate touch; funny in a slightly appalling way; touching, too.
The plot bogs down here and there when the author gets somewhat distracted with entertaining cul-de-sacs in the lives of the minor characters. The cats also lose a little of their sharp focus in the later chapters, and feel more like small people wearing fur suits than genuinely semi-feral ferocious beasts. In this book, cat society nearly mirrors human culture. I enjoyed the story well enough but didn’t quite attach to any of the characters. Perhaps if the cats had been more extreme, more feline, less friendly… perhaps then I would’ve loved it*.
As it was, I liked Glass Cats far more than I expected to. Ignoring the fantasy element, there’s a strong crime-thriller plot with a murder to be solved and plenty of investigative twists and turns. Author Justin White has a light hand on the tiller; his style is entertaining and engaging but he doesn’t flinch from examining the tougher truths about modern society. I would happily pick up another book written by him.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Glass Cats by Justin White is available as an ebook
*check out Larry Niven’s Kzinti, or CJ Cherrhy’s Hani for other ferocious fictional felines